Las Vegas Sun

September 22, 2014

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Museum on the move

The glowing dioramas, quiet hallways and fossils at the Nevada State Museum and Historical Society are a bit staid compared to the flurry of activity taking place behind the scenes.

Last week's resignation of museum director Greta Brunschwyler came as the museum is planning a $46.5 million move to the Las Vegas Springs Preserve and follows Gov. Jim Gibbons' appointment of Michael Fischer as the new director of the Cultural Affairs Department.

The state is seeking applicants for the museum director's position, officially posted Feb. 2. It pays between $55,812 and $83,854 and will call for someone who can steer the transition.

"They're going to be coming into a project that is already in progress," says Teresa Moiola, spokeswoman for the Cultural Affairs Department.

Brunschwyler joined the museum in January 2003 and planned to enliven the exhibit spaces and increase attendance while preparing for its move to the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, which was then scheduled for 2005. As director, she completed the design work, text and context for the exhibits at the new site.

She left the position Friday to become vice president for audience development at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Ore.

Peter Barton, acting administrator for the division of museums and history, says he was surprised to learn that Brunschwyler chose to leave at this time, but says it shouldn't slow down plans for the new location or disrupt operations at the museum. "There's a very competent, very seasoned staff at that museum," he said.

David Millman, collections curator, who was interim director before Brunschwyler arrived, is again serving in that post.

Barton anticipates that some important players may seek the job: "There aren't too many times in one's career when one could be the leader in bringing in a $45 million project. Clearly I think this will attract some serious attention."

But it might be bumpy.

Officials from the Cultural Affairs Department are asking legislators for $11.5 million in addition to the $35 million from a bond measure approved by voters in 2002. The target date for the move is July 2008, and a few skeptics don't see it happening that soon.

Barton says, "There is no indication at present that we're not going to meet that."

The Nevada State Museum and Historical Society opened in 1982. Attendance has dwindled over the years and its location is often blamed. The museum, which is the only accredited museum in Southern Nevada, also suffers from competition from the Strip. State funds can't compare to the millions thrown into themed attractions at hotels.

Museum officials across the country are trying to change the museum stereotype - dated presentations and musty areas. The Nevada State Museum is planning interactive, mixed-media exhibits in spacious rooms for its new location. In addition to biological, historic and Earth science exhibits, the museum houses photographs, news clippings, records and other documents.

An April exhibit on saloons in Virginia City at its current site will feature photographs and three-dimensional items from the historic mining town. That includes guns, coins and what is called the oldest known Tabasco bottle.

Although a little busy with his added responsibilities, Millman says things are running smoothly at the museum.

As for the incoming director?

"It's a big job to move a museum and coordinate exhibits at the same time," Millman says. "But there is a lot that's already been accomplished."

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