Las Vegas Sun

October 23, 2018

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Museum fills vital cultural, educational gap in Las Vegas area


Mikayla Whitmore

Executive Director and Founder of the Natural History Museum Marilyn Gillespie stands in front of a display at the Natural History Museum in Downtown Las Vegas, Nev. on November 9, 2017.

Marilyn Gillespie, of the Las Vegas Natural History Museum

• Title: Executive Director

• Agency address:900 Las Vegas Blvd. North

• Agency phone number: 702-384-3466

• Agency website:

• Hours of operation: 9 a.m. to 4 a.m. daily

• To volunteer: The museum has a volunteer program in which people can give of their time or talents. There are opportunities to give tours to schoolchildren, work on special events, perform clerical duties and work in the animal department.

What is Findlay Good Works?

Good Works is a twice-monthly series in The Sunday highlighting the good works of nonprofit groups that are making a difference in our community. You can also check out the good work of more organizations by visiting

What does your organization do? The museum’s mission is to inspire, through educational exhibits and programs, a better understanding and appreciation of the natural world, the sciences and ourselves.

The 2 million people who call Southern Nevada home are interested in the educational and cultural enrichment a museum provides.

When and how was it established? Twenty-eight years ago, a small group of concerned citizens made a request to the Las Vegas City Council to assist in finding a home for a collection of wildlife and prehistoric exhibits. The city became the museum’s first and strongest strategic partner, with the purchase of a building, located in a marginalized and economically challenged area proposed as the future cultural corridor, to house the museum. Strategic partnerships have grown to include UNR, the Clark County School District and the Bureau of Land Management, among others.

Who are its clients? The museum targets and provides educational programming and events for families and children in public schools. In 2016, nearly 30,000 local students visited the museum on field trips. Through CCSD relationships, the museum targets low-income students attending at-risk schools. In 2016, 67 percent of students who attended field trips to the museum were considered low-income and attended as part of a museum scholarship program.

What are the museum’s initiatives or goals? After becoming accredited with the American Association of Museums, the museum obtained repository status with the federal government. Repositories are collection facilities that meet the rigor of the federal government allowing for storage, curation, research and exhibition of materials excavated on federal lands. Becoming a federal repository has filled an important and needed niche in the Southern Nevada by providing space to store, research and exhibit important heritage-rich and geologically significant materials contributing to the historical and cultural fabric of our community. These valuable collections have warranted an emerging research arm of the museum and fostered an irreplaceable partnership with the university.

Soon, the museum will embark on a virtual curatorial project that will use 3-D imaging to make thousands of specimens available online to researchers. The project will enhance preservation and significantly increase how much, and in what ways, people can access objects from the past.

Also, the museum recently opened the Richard A. Ditton Learning Lab, where scientists, researchers and students of geology and archaeology can perform research, prepare specimens and investigate the past.

What services does the community likely know about? The museum probably is best known for the educational exhibits such as dinosaurs, animals from around the world, King Tut’s Tomb and its collection of more than 100 live animals.

What services might the community not know about? In 2011, the museum initiated the first Las Vegas Science and Technology Festival, which has grown into the largest educational event in the state. The museum collaborates with approximately 75 organizations to put together this citywide, nine-day event. Most people might not realize that the museum is the lead agency, fiscal manager and founder of the festival. This event serves 35,000 people each year.

What sparked your interest in the nonprofit sector? I can remember my first visit to a museum, when I was 8 years old. It had a lasting impact on me which stimulated an interest in paleontology, archaeology and museums. I have been lucky in my career to be able to work in such an interesting field.

What can people do to get involved? The biggest way to support the museum is by visiting, participating in events and programs, and telling their friends and family about their experience.

Whom do you admire? I admire and respect people who go into teaching. They are overworked and underpaid but have the most important job.

Where do you see your organization in five years? I envision the museum in a larger site that will enable it to continue growing.

I envision a place where families can explore Earth’s wild places and past worlds. We envision a museum where students can interact with scientists and experience scientific discovery, exploration and innovation right before their eyes. We endeavor to create a museum in which the past is not forgotten; stewards of the natural world can be cultivated; children living in Las Vegas can explore the stories of the place they live; and the processes of all sciences are explored. This new museum will be called the Nature & Science Museum to better reflect the expanded stories we will tell.

Due to limited space, the Museum reaches less than 2 percent of students in our community. A waiting list prevents thousands of children from experiencing the wonders of the natural world available through field trips and other programs.