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Visits to state museums, historic sites down for the year

The Jemez Historic Site is one of the few state-run cultural entities to see a rise in attendance last fiscal year. Shown is the annual Light Among the Ruins. (Robert E. Rosales/Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs museums and historic sites continue to draw a big audience, although overall attendance for the fiscal year that ended June 30 dipped 2% from last year.

According to Cultural Affairs, in fiscal 2019, 992,574 visitors were counted for the eight state-run museums and the six historic sites.

In fiscal 2018, attendance was 1,014,041, largely led by the blockbuster “Da Vinci – The Genius” exhibit at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque.

Five of the cultural sites saw an increase in attendance during FY19.

The two biggest increases are at Fort Stanton (up 15%) and Jemez Historic Site (a rise of 7%), bringing the numbers to 25,379 and 20,152, respectively.

Fort Stanton Historic Site saw a 15% increase last fiscal year. (Richard Pipes/Journal)

The New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces saw an increase in attendance of 6.9% in the fiscal year, with a total of 41,573.

Craig Massey, communications manager at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, attributes the rise in attendance to the programming offered during the year.

“The temporary exhibits were strong in the last year,” Massey said. “We had an exhibit on New Mexico artist Peter Hurd and people were coming down from Albuquerque to visit. The ‘Dressed for the Occasion’ (exhibit) added to the rise in attendance.”

In addition to the temporary exhibits, Massey said the museum added the “Fiber Fiesta” and “Antique Show” to its calendar and will expand on both by making it a two-day event in the coming year.

“We are getting more people from Albuquerque and El Paso, and it’s been good to see the increase,” Massey said. “For us, we work really hard to keep our prices low. We’re competing with the city museums in Las Cruces and El Paso, which are free.”

Massey said the museum is different than most in the area because of its focus on farm and ranching.

“We have 47 acres of land and animals on the grounds involved in a lot of our programming,” Massey said. “We’re trying to make this a museum-type community. Las Cruces isn’t a tourist community as much as Santa Fe and Albuquerque. That’s something we compete with.”

The National Hispanic Cultural Center was able to see an increase in attendance despite having to close its performing arts building for about a month after a fire in March.

The NHCC saw an attendance increase of 5.3%, with a total of 196,191 visitors.

With “Da Vinci – The Genius” gone from the Museum of Natural History & Science, the museum saw a 3% dip in attendance.

The exhibit was extended through last August, which helped the museum.

“We were able to benefit from Da Vinci for two years,” said Margie Marino, NMMNHS director. “We are in really good shape right now and our numbers are right where we’ve been in previous years without Da Vinci.”

Marino is optimistic about the exhibits up currently: “Drugs: Costs & Consequences” and “Brain: The Inside Story.”

Both have been extended through the end of the year because of steady attendance and community outreach.

The museum also is gaining a lot of traction with its new Bisti Beast robotic dinosaur in the museum’s atrium. The dinosaur – which was excavated in 1998 and collected by museum Curator of Paleontology Thomas Williamson – roars on the half-hour daily. The Japanese-made dinosaur made its debut in late May.

“It has changed the dynamics of the atrium,” Marino said. “Every half-hour, visitors line up and the cellphones come out. This may be the best thing I ever did. When I watch the kids stand there with excitement, it’s magical.”

The Bisti Beast robotic dinosaur in the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science atrium is a new draw for visitors. (Adrian Gomez/Journal

The Museum of Natural History & Science remains the most visited museum, with attendance at 293,817. The NHCC is second, followed by the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe with 100,612.

The biggest drops in attendance came at the Fort Sumner/Bosque Redondo site (down 30%) and the New Mexico History Museum (a drop of 17%), with totals of 7,263 and 64,912, respectively.

According to Shelley Thompson, Cultural Affairs director of marketing, “the History Museum (NMHM) numbers are being impacted by the closure of the Palace (of the Governors) for renovations.

“And Fort Sumner/Bosque Redondo celebrated the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Bosque Redondo last June, which made FY18 numbers unusually high for them.”

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