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Museum of Science goes 3-D

Break out the popcorn for 3-D science films coming soon to a theater -- ah, museum -- near you.

Mirroring the current rage in commercial cinema, the Buffalo Museum of Science plans to equip its underutilized 400-seat auditorium to show three-dimensional scientific movies as part of a five-year, nearly $5 million plan to raise the 149-year-old institution's profile. And revenues.

Feature films might even run on special occasions, such as holidays.

Another change intended to boost the museum's drawing power will involve the installation of interactive "science studios" throughout the Humboldt Parkway building, highlighting research under way in area medical, academic and corporate laboratories.

The strategic plan was unveiled by the museum board as it seeks to maintain the momentum generated by "Body Worlds & the Story of the Heart," which drew record crowds last summer and fall, and the current crowd-pleaser "Sesame Street Presents: the Body."

"Our successes of 2009 have already fueled success in 2010, and we are looking forward to many positive changes before we celebrate our 150th anniversary in 2011," said Randall E. Burkard, board chairman.

As it undergoes the makeover, the museum will strive to preserve its endowment "by increasing revenue generated from public participation in the museum and stringent adherence to maintaining and reducing costs," Burkard added.

Like most cultural endowments, the museum's was battered by the 2008 stock market collapse, which dropped the total from more than $12 million to less than $9 million. The total has since rebounded to more than $11 million.

"The endowment should be a cushion," said Mark Mortenson, president and chief executive officer. "We're trying to reduce the amount we need to support operations by incorporating profit-generating opportunities.

The first of those, conversion of the ground-floor auditorium into a 3-D theater, is expected to be completed in time for "Robotic Dinosaurs," a major traveling exhibition opening June 26, he said.

Just as making commercial 3-D films has gotten cheaper, "there's not only a lot more scientific content available in 3-D, but it has gotten much more affordable," Mortenson noted.

The museum intends to begin work early next year on the balance of the strategic plan, assuming it can raise the necessary funds, Mortenson said. Instead of hiring a consultant to conduct a capital campaign, museum leaders hope to secure most of the money privately from corporations and foundations.

"We're trying to do it on our own," Mortenson said.

A key selling point will be the 10 studios, featuring "science happening right here in Western New York," at such venues as Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Hauptman-Woodward Research Institute and Greatbatch Inc., Mortenson said.

Themed interactive spaces will offer hands-on activities and periodic changes in content that will encourage visitors to return to the museum, he said.

The setup will be advantageous to labs "that can't have visitors coming through their buildings," and to the museum, which can use its collection as a teaching tool in the studios, Mortenson said.

e-mail: tbuckham@buffnews.com

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