Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville, VA
Tens of thousands of visitors tour the Virginia Museum of Natural History each year.
Its $28 million, 89,000-square-foot facility features more than 22 million items and a slate of changing exhibits and programs for all ages – both residents of Virginia and beyond. Some of its exhibits are entitled Uncovering Virginia, Animal Secrets, The Hahn Hall of Biodiversity, Allosaurus Skeleton and a How Nature Works Gallery.
The museum is located on Starling Avenue in Martinsville and its slogan is “experience, learn, marvel.” It was established in 1984 as a private institution originally called The Boaz Foundation, and in 1988 secured state agency status by becoming the nonprofit Virginia Museum of Natural History.
It experienced impressive growth over the years and has earned recognition as one of the nation's leading museums.
The Martinsville museum's goal is to translate scientific research into easily understood language and concepts. Visitors leave with a stronger desire to be environmental stewards while also learning lots of cool stuff – like how many and what kinds of trees grow in J. Frank Wilson Memorial Park behind the museum, or how to plant a butterfly garden, says Dr. Dennis Casey, the museum’s director of education and public programming.
The tree inventory and butterfly garden are part of the Martinsville-Henry County Community Nature Initiative that the Virginia Museum of Natural History is implementing with a grant from the Harvest Foundation.
“We’ll be doing a lot more with outdoor programming,” Casey says. “Getting outside and into nature is a big movement in education, and it will be a major emphasis for us.”
The museum’s outdoor thrust includes teacher training and curriculum development, as well as Earth Force, a program that encourages community members to identify and take action on issues that will affect positive environmental change.
The Community Nature Initiative is just one of many educational programs of the Virginia Museum of Natural History.
“We have educational programs for visitors of all ages – kids, adults and families – both on site and through outreach,” says Ryan Barber, director of marketing and external affairs.
Doodle Bugs, a favorite among local families with preschoolers, explores themes from dinosaurs to space.
The Special Saturdays program offers hands-on activities for families, and Family Fun Fridays features learning experiences coordinated with local partner organizations, such as the Dan River Basin Association.
MHC After 3 is an after-school alternative for middle school students that takes place at several different sites in the area.
The Virginia Museum of Natural History is the academic service provider for the program, as well as one of the sites. Thanks to funding by the Harvest Foundation, participation is free.
“It’s really exciting to be part of MHC After 3,” Casey says. “This is a great community-wide collaboration that provides kids with positive choices for after school. Kids come every day, and we do a variety of things focused on whole-child development.”
Also for youngsters, 18 different summer day camps encourage budding scientists, and PTO-funded outreach programs in area schools compensate for those field trips that recession-pinched budgets have put on hold, Casey says.
Find more on the history of Martinsville, VA.