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Museum of the North looks to boost attendance

Posted: April 30, 2013 - 12:02am

FAIRBANKS — The Museum of the North will consider adopting new policies and programs in order to reverse its declining attendance rate.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks campus attraction has lost more than a quarter of its visitors since 2008, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

In the past five years, museum attendance has declined about 25 percent. About 74,000 people visited last year.

The recession helps explain the museum’s declining attendance, officials said. Since 2008, tourism rates have fallen throughout Alaska, and out-of-state visitors have been a consistent source of patronage for the museum.

Last year’s admission rates were about half the level of the Museum’s 1993 peak.

The Museum of the North opened in 1929 and today is home to artifacts and relics that resonate with the history and lifestyle of Alaska’s Interior — two of its biggest attractions are a 3-ton copper nugget and an 8 foot, 9 inch mounted brown bear nicknamed “Otto.”

To make up for lost revenue from tourists, Museum interim director Aldona Jonaitis wants to make it more attractive to Alaskans.

The museum reduced the admission price for in-state residents in April and will start offering programs targeted toward local audiences, including two new in-house displays: one on climbing Denali, the local name for Mount McKinley, and another on winter hibernation.

Hour-long specialty tours will be offered to give visitors a look at some of the 1.4 million pieces that the museum doesn’t display.

Starting in October, the Fairbanks Children’s Museum will be hosted in the Museum of the North’s auditorium.

“We’ve never really been able to make exhibits that accommodate that age,” Jonaitis said. “That’s one thing that I think is going to make a big difference.”

The Morris Thompson Visitor Center in downtown Fairbanks opened in 2008, and has seen its attendance increase during the same time that the museum’s has decreased.

But officials at both see their relationship as complimentary rather than competitive.

Jonaitis says that the visitor center is meant to introduce tourists to the Interior and the museum focuses on education, research and art.

“My belief about communities is that you can never have too many museums — you can never have too many things to do,” Jonaitis said. “I’ve never thought of the Morris Thompson center as competition. I’ve thought of them as complementing each other.”

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