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Dino museum drastically dropping memberships

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The Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum is lowering its membership fees in an effort to bring in more people. A family pass for two adults and four children has dropped to $90 a year.

A similar membership currently runs $240, although the included admission to an Aykroyd Family Theatre will now be $2 per person. An individual adult membership will be $30, children $15, seniors and students $20, and a one parent family $60. Children under five years old are still free.

Roughly 200,000 people walked through the museum’s doors in its first 18 months, and CEO Susan Hunter hopes dropping annual memberships will encourage them to return more often.

“Local and regional folks can come and experience the museum… develop that affinity to us, see it as a place that they want to come spend time, [like at] the playground in the summer.”

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Members also get 10 per cent off at the Dine-O-Saur restaurant, which was recently taken over by the museum from a third party. River of Death and Discovery Dinosaur Museum Society board member Kevin O’Toole says there are also plans to expand the museum’s outdoor grounds beyond the playground and patio.

“Over the years Roy Bickell had donated countless items to the museum, and one of his requests was to have a fossil walk. We’re going to definitely start on it, and it will be something that will be quite unique in the dinosaur museum culture.”

Plans include a walking trail across from the playground with benches, replica fossils, and displays with historical facts about dinosaurs. The society also hope to incorporate music outside to create an enjoyable vibe for guests in the summer.

Now open for its third year, Hunter says the museum’s focus has shifted from raising its profile to better engaging the community. That includes more events to draw people to the Wembley location, and creating an experience for them.

“It’s one thing is to have this incredible building and all of these amazing fossils and exhibits,” explains Hunter, “but the other thing is having people engage with the museum and see it as part of the community and the landscape here.”

That can be more difficult during the winter months, and O’Toole notes numbers were down in January when there were periods of extreme cold temperature. However, the opening reception for a special exhibit with Robert Guest paintings brought in more than 110 people on January 12th, when the wind chill reached minus 40 degrees.

“And that was by invitation only; it wasn’t something we advertised,” says Hunter, “so it shows us that people do want to be experiencing those events.”

Through continued funding and bringing more contracts in house, the museum has settled comfortably into its yearly budget of around $1.8 million. The pared down, less formal fundraising event renamed A Night for the Museum, brought in $165,000 last fall. In 2016, the Amber Ball and raffle raised $32,000.

“We can’t operate for less than $1.8 million and have something that’s world class, and we do want to keep our calibre up,” says Hunter. “Our budget varies between $1.8 and $2.2 million, so it falls somewhere in there, and that’s what we can do to not cut away from the bone too much.”

Volunteers are always in need, especially to help clean 300 fossils dug out of the Pipestone Creek Bonebed last summer. O’Toole adds they’d be interested in finding a company to sponsor transportation for school and seniors groups.

“We were doing that at one point in time, but there’s a cost to that too.”

Among upcoming events are a Spring Symposium on March 24th, an AGM on May 10th, and summer camps for children. The museum will also be home to the 2018 Alberta Summer Games opening ceremonies, hosting close to 7,000 people.

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