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How the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia leveraged its new relationship
with Drexel University during its Bicentennial

In 2012, the 200th anniversary of the oldest natural science museum in North America coincided with a significant affiliation with a major university. How could the Academy take advantage of the new relationship yet insure that itsFor 30 years,  own identity would stay intact?

On March 21, 1812 seven gentlemen naturalists founded the Academy of Natural Sciences. The Academy has a public face as a museum and an international reputation as a “library of life on earth” with more than 18-million specimens as well as a world-renowned environmental research facility.

Drexel, the nation’s 14th largest private university, is a top-ranked, comprehensive research institution widely recognized for its focus on experiential learning through its co-operative education program and translational research initiatives. The affiliation led to the establishment of a groundbreaking academic department—Biodiversity, Earth, and Environmental Sciences (BEES), which draws on the traditional strengths of both Drexel and the Academy in the fields of environmental science; earth sciences; ecology and conservation; and biodiversity and evolution.

Only a handful of senior management at the Academy knew about the potential merger with Drexel, but they knew, if it came to be, it would be very time consuming. To their credit, by outsourcing the main tasks for the Bicentennial, they met their goal of increasing brand awareness in the region through extensive media coverage about activities throughout the year. External exhibits reached new audiences and site-specific art installations drew a new demographic. The Academy’s reputation in the natural sciences and as a convener on sustainability issues was made clear. The Drexel partnership is solid because the university was engaged throughout the year. A new fundraiser with the potential to provide increased revenue and new, younger audiences is going to be repeated in the fall of 2013.


Given a number of management transitions, the Academy was behind schedule. The museum had decided to mount a yearlong special exhibition, however little work had been done.  Then, six months out, with no plan or concept, there was a change in leadership in the exhibits department.

  • Outsource the design to exhibit consultants suggested by Drexel.

  • Support exhibits department’s partnership with consultants.

  • Motivate collection managers to assist the planners with specimens for the exhibit.

  • Charge the education department to design a schedule of monthly themes and activities to attract return visitors.


Build greater public awareness about the Academy.

  • Launch “2-for-1” admission days every month to build attendance and expand traditional audiences.

  • Take the Academy beyond its walls with:

    • Exhibits at the Philadelphia Airport and City Hall

    • Banners around Center City

    • “Laser and Light Extravaganza”—designed by a Drexel graduate and themed by the Academy’s collections—on the museum façade for a week

    • “Art + Nature” program for site-specific installations in the museum to draw a different kind of visitor [Ironically, the jury chose pieces by two professors from Drexel.]

    • A mascot, Eddie the T-Rex, to represent the Academy at community events

    • “Random Acts of Science” to pop-up where least expected


Celebrate the history of the natural sciences in America.

  • Launch “200 years. 200 stories” countdown on the website to create early excitement about the Bicentennial.

  • Plan a Bicentennial Day event highlighting key Academy figures and historical moments while looking into a positive future as part of Drexel University.

  • Hire reenactors to portray historical characters such as John James Audubon, Joseph Leidy and Ruth Patrick.

  • Create a special Bicentennial pictorial postmark that the United States Postal Service used to cancel unique postcards.

  • Mark the site where the Academy began with an historical marker in Old City.


Build awareness about the 18-million specimens in the collections and reveal the environmental research taking place.

  • Highlight the Academy’s scientific mission with a two-day symposium on biodiversity.

  • Feature collection tours of the Academy and the presentation of the Academy’s prestigious Leidy Medal during the opening session of the symposium.

  • Schedule the lectures and poster session at Drexel’s Papadakis Integrated Science Building as a way to highlight the affiliation.

  • Offer limited behind-the-scenes tours to the general public.

  • Create a series of talks—New Questions for An Old Planet—demonstrating the Academy’s commitment to sustainability, a key objective of Drexel as well.


Use the Academy’s diverse array of programming to provide opportunities to build visibility while engaging donors and raising funds.


Create unique events to highlight different programs.

  • Lay the foundation for the year with a roster of speakers on Bicentennial Day.

  • Celebrate Women in Natural Sciences (WINS), the STEM/life skills mentoring program, turning 30, at a luncheon.

  • Showcase the “library of life on earth,” by creating a new fundraiser for the Academy that would develop a younger audience. Cuisine from the Collections, paired chefs with Academy scientists to create dishes with unusual ingredients.


Meet fundraising goals with the added burden that the new alliance with Drexel may have given the impression of wealth to some. Recoup event costs for Bicentennial Day which was a free event for invited guests.


Create the Third Century Fund to give Bicentennial Day guests—and donors throughout the year—an opportunity to make a contribution. Over the course of the year, the fund raised over $112,000.


Embrace the new relationship and opportunities with Drexel whenever possible.

  • Use graphic design students, from the Westphal School of Media Arts and Design for collateral.

  • Commission a short video about the Academy produced by a Drexel film and video instructor at Westphal.

  • Work with Drexel’s school of engineering to add a layer of technology that can modernize the museum experience using an iPhone app as an accompaniment to the bicentennial exhibition.

  • Partner with chef/instructors from Drexel’s School of Hospitality to plan menus for a special event.

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