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The Museum’s Centennial Celebration Begins

On April 28, 2015 the Santa Barbara City Council voted to approve the Museum’s Master Plan and updated Conditional Use Permit. 

This final endorsement from the City clears the way for the Museum to begin the revitalization of its historic Mission Canyon Campus.

The first set of improvements to the Museum will include an enhanced arrival plaza, accessibility improvements to the Museum’s Backyard and Nature Club House, site wide landscaping and signage upgrades, and a new permanent Butterfly Garden Exhibit space, which can be used year round for a variety of new educational purposes. 

The ground breaking for this work will take place in the fall of 2016, the Museum’s Centennial Year and a number of the exhibition galleries will be re-open in early 2017.

The Museum is grateful to the City of Santa Barbara for the speed with which the approvals process was completed.  

And we are deeply indebted to the entire Community for their encouragement and support as we begin  the gentle transformation of the Museum of Natural History.

In January 2016, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History will celebrate 100 years of serving the Santa Barbara community and its visitors. The Museum is one of the oldest and most important institutions in Santa Barbara and the Central Coast. In order to sustain and protect the Museum’s scientific and education relevance, and maintain its ability to continue to serve the community well into the future, the Museum has developed a transformational and proportional Master Plan to guide the Museum for the next 10–15 years.

Our Plan will revitalize the Museum and transform the visitor experience by better connecting people to science and nature…indoors and outdoors…by improving site stewardship, creating new gallery experiences, and refreshing legacy galleries. 

Our goals for the Museum’s future campus are to...
• Make a holistic transformation across the campus to create a revitalized and coherent visitor experience.
• Strengthen the connection between the indoor and outdoor experience.
• Demonstrate wise stewardship of a historic and beloved community treasure.

Our plan to achieve our goals include...
• A project based approach to bring manageable change sooner rather than later.
• Improved visitor movement through the campus to activate the Museum inside and outside.
• Renewed and interpreted landscape features and native habitats
• Innovative new gallery experiences and revitalized iconic exhibition spaces

We have submitted our application to update our Conditional Use Permit and... 
• We have requested to annex Museum woodland parcels from the County into the City.
• We will live within our existing footprint.
• We will maintain our maximum annual attendance of 165,547 as permitted for 25+ years.
• We have updated and submitted protocols for events, traffic/parking management, and fire protection/emergency response.

Our Plan is prudent for the Museum and Community.
• Our Plan’s improvements will come sooner rather than later.
• Our Plan’s improvements will be compatible with our site, our neighborhood, and our City’s General Plan.
• Our Plan demonstrates wise stewardship of a community treasure.
• Our Plan undertakes a necessary but gentle revitalization of our Museum.


BUTTERFLY GARDEN EXHIBIT: The Museum’s Butterflies Alive! temporary exhibit is a longtime favorite of locals and visitors, and provides them with close-up, memorable encounters with one of nature’s most amazing ambassadors. The new permanent Butterfly Garden Exhibit will offer visitors an annual opportunity to enjoy a refreshing garden setting and the complex beauty of these fascinating creatures that are important to our ecosystem.


CHUMASH GALLERY: Renaming and rehabilitating Gould Hall, with the advice and assistance of the Chumash community, gives the first people of our land a direct voice at the Museum and gives visitors insights into the past, present and future of the Chumash. Their history, impact, and lifestyle will be further interpreted in a revitalized Chumash ethnobotanic garden and outdoor learning area.
BIRD HABITAT HALL: The Museum’s founding collection is recognized as the finest and most comprehensive collection of indigenous birds on the West Coast. The Hall’s refurbishment will include: improved and refreshed dioramas, increased lighting, interactive media, and new exhibits in the center of the hall. Visitors to the Bird Habitat Hall – veteran birders and fledgling naturalists alike – will be immersed in the sights and sounds of the Central Coast’s abundant, diverse world of birds.

SANTA BARBARA GALLERY: In the existing space of our marine and paleontology halls, the new Santa Barbara Gallery will become the hallmark and standard for gallery reinterpretations. Interactive components will supplement the informative exhibits, showing how the Central Coast was formed, the underlying geology that defines it, and how all its floral and faunal inhabitants are perpetually interdependent in the natural world.

NATURE OBSERVATORY: A new active learning gallery experience utilizing existing building space, will be the gateway from the inside to the outside – connecting the world of indoor exhibits with the dynamic nature of Santa Barbara’s outdoor splendor. Visitors will be able to ask questions of a naturalist, join in a demonstration or workshop, participate in indoor and outdoor learning labs, or investigate the Museum’s grounds on their own.

SCIENCE ON SITE AT CRC: One of the Museum’s core activities – ongoing research in the natural sciences and stewardship of 3.5 million scientific specimens and artifacts – has often gone unnoticed though it has existed at the Museum since its inception. In existing space in our Collections & Research Center, the new Science-on-Site Gallery will bring a part of our scientific research and collections from behind-the-scenes to the forefront for visitors to see and experience first-hand.

Conditional Use Permit (CUP) Application Process Timeline
[X] March 17, 2014: Application and Plan submitted to the City
[X] April 23, 2014: First review by the City’s Historic Landmark Commission
[X] May 7, 2014: Positive Compatibility Analysis by the City's Historic Landmark Commission
[X] June 5, 2014: Concept review by the City’s Planning Commission and Annexation Initiation 
[X] July 22, 2014: Resubmission of Museum's Application to address DART comments
[X] January 8, 2015: CUP Review by City’s Planning Commission
[X] March 24, 2015: CUP and Annexation Review by City Council
[  ] Summer 2015: Annexation Review by LAFCO

Construction Timeline
[  ] Spring 2015: Observatory Dome replacement and Accessibility Improvements
[  ] Fall 2016: Butterfly Garden Exhibit and Accessibility Improvements
[  ] Next 10–15 Years (as funding allows): Implementation of approved Master Plan projects

To learn more about the Museum’s Master Plan, please call President & CEO Luke Swetland at
805-682-4711 ext. 102 or Spokesperson Gary Robinson at 805-682-4711 ext. 125


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