Aquarium nets national award for reaching out Service: The National Aquarium in Baltimore recently won an award for its community programs.

November 12, 1997|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Dr. Stewart Bauman, an 84-year-old Columbia resident who has a degenerative disease, was leaving the National Aquarium in Baltimore in his wheelchair after silently watching the jellyfish and electric eels.

Staffer member Audrey Suhr offered a warm goodbye. The occasion was Aquarium Cares, a free program inviting mentally and physically challenged visitors twice a year to have the entire place to themselves and family.

In response, Bauman, looked at her and spoke words that were magic to his daughter, Nechie King, who had accompanied him:

"I had a lovely time."

The occasion last month was the first time she had heard her father form a complete sentence in three months, she said.

Aquarium Cares is one of 15 community programs that helped the aquarium earn a recent National Museum Service Award. The honor will be marked in a Maryland outreach evening starting at 5: 30 Friday. Planned are information stations, a 6 p.m. award ceremony and regular exhibits. As usual on a Friday night this time of year, admission is reduced to $5.

"His sentence was a gift," said King. Her father is a retired obstetrician who delivered 10,000 babies in Syracuse, N.Y. "He and I had a wonderful experience that day. The aquarium people were endlessly patient and concerned."

David Pittenger, executive director who received the national award with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke on Sept. 29 from Hillary Rodham Clinton at the White House, said the evening will show the aquarium's extensive program of reaching out to thousands of Marylanders.

"It's also a celebration," said Pittenger. The party observes 16 years of what he said has been a people's museum looking for new adventures for people. Fresh people's adventures are in the works.

Scheduled exhibits

Visitors, he said, have less than two months to see the traveling jellyfish show, which moves to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. The exhibit's two-year run ends Jan. 4. After that, he said:

A new two-year "Venomous Animals" exhibit takes its place in TC March in the third-level space vacated by the jellyfish. "Land and water animals including snakes will be displayed in ways not usually displayed," he said, giving no further hints.

A South American river bank, showing life above and below the water level, comes in 1999 as a permanent display.

A two-year "Sea Horses and Sea Dragons" show arrives in 2000.

"The aquarium is a national treasure in our own back yard, but people may not recognize that," said Sarah Edwards Holley, director of community affairs.

She acknowledged that the normal daily ticket price of $11.95 for adults and $7.50 for children is viewed as too steep by some, but she noted that people can take advantage of annual rates and special reductions:

On Dec. 13 and 14, everyone gets in for $1 a day. Every Friday, September through March, visitors pay $5 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Maryland school groups visit free. Disabled or disadvantaged groups get free or discounted rates. Students get discount coupons for spring break visits.

"Friday's the first time we will describe in one organized way how we reach out in different ways," Holley said.

Award recipients

The aquarium is the only aquarium and the youngest museum to receive the award in its four-year history at the Institute of Museum and Library Services, she said. Institute Director Diane Frankel will speak at the 6 p.m. ceremony. Other award recipients this year are the Children's Museum of Indianapolis and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

Staff and volunteers will offer information and answer questions at several stations. The outreach programs include:

Education: Henry Hall Program internships and scholarships for city students; Adopt-A-School programs of free events and admission in the first year and free teacher training the second for city elementary schools; Grade A Student Night of free admission one day in June for students with three or more A's.

Special needs for challenged citizens: Aquarium Cares, Thirty-Minute Early Admission the first Sunday of each month; and Deaf Awareness Saturdays with sign language interpretation.

Membership/volunteers: Opportunities in more than 60 volunteer jobs from diving to educating the public. Volunteers receive benefits of annual memberships.

Urban PondScapes: A beautification and biology program with about 13 inner-city families who have built ponds with fish and plant life on their properties.

Aquarium hours

From November through February, the aquarium admits visitors from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday. The exhibits remain open for viewing two hours after the last tickets are sold.

Information: 410-576-3800.

Pub Date: 11/12/97

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