Travel & Tourism Awards 2021 Page 13 LUX 2021 Travel & Tourism Awards The Aurora Fossil Museum is a non-profit natural science museum and fossil education resource centre based in Aurora, North Carolina. We speak to Cynthia Crane about the unique entities which set the Museum aside from other attractions of its nature. Aurora Fossil Museum Foundation, Inc. Best Non-Profit Science Museum - South Atlantic USA Dec20189 Since opening in 1978, the Aurora Fossil Museum has provided educational resources and informal education experiences to people across the United States. The Museum’s mission is to educate the public about palaeontology in an engaging manner, while emphasizing the natural and cultural history of Eastern North Carolina. “Our core values include informal STEM education for all,” explains Cynthia Crane, Executive Director at Aurora Fossil Museum. “We are constantly working to improve the visitor experience and continue our mission to educate. Through striving for inclusivity, we provide a platform for people of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities to engage with science.” The Museum is an admission-free, publicly- funded 501(c)(3) non-profit museum and science education resource centre located in a rural area of Eastern North Carolina. The Museum’s world-renowned Fossil Park is located directly across the street from the museum and contains two large fossil pits full of fossil-rich material provided by the neighbouring phosphate mine. Visitors can keep the fossils they discover as a memento of their visit. Currently, it is the only museum in the United States that has a unique configuration whereby people can visit the museum to learn about the rich natural history of the Aurora, North Carolina area, then they can directly engage with science through searching for marine fossils in the fossil pits in the Fossil Park. An interesting characteristic of the Museum is that it is the anchor of the Town of Aurora. Very few museums are as involved with their community as the Aurora Fossil Museum. “We are directly engaged with and support our community and our community reciprocates when possible,” says Cynthia. “In times of great need, for instance, when we were recovering from the effects of Hurricane Florence, the Aurora Fossil Museum offered the use of our Learning Center to provide a centralized location and hub for the American Red Cross and FEMA. We also worked with our local town officials and emergency response personnel to provide support to the Aurora Community.” Another aspect that makes Aurora Fossil Museum unique is how it utilises its social media accounts (primarily Facebook and Instagram) to showcase visitors, volunteers, interns, community, and staff. “We feel that recognising our dynamic individual involvement helps to increase interest by providing an example of a safe, fun, positive, and inclusive environment. Additionally, we are constantly working to improve the visitor experience and our education efforts by thinking outside of the box.” Through the Museum’s continued effort to form and strengthen its partnerships, and by enlisting input from a variety of individuals, it strives to build on and enhance its services. Constantly engaging stakeholders of all ages and backgrounds for feedback to develop engaging activities, events, and exhibits at the Aurora Fossil Museum. The dedicated staff-base is the heart of the Aurora Fossil Museum and the people take great pride in working as a team. Currently, the team consists of five employees (four part- time and one full-time), each filling a unique component of the Aurora Fossil Museum Team. “Our staff is often the subject of visitor reviews and that feedback portrays a welcoming, helpful, friendly, dedicated, and knowledgeable group of individuals. “Our internal culture is best described as a Team where everyone (Board of Directors, Executive Director, and Staff) works as a cohesive unit for the continued success and growth of the Aurora Fossil Museum.” The Aurora Fossil Museum Foundation, Inc. has not been immune to the effects of the Covid-19 crisis. The Museum closed to the public on March 16th 2020 as the result of the then escalating health crisis. “Because we were previously offering virtual programming (since 2015) and we already had growth of our online footprint (both through social media and our online Gift Shop), it was easier for the Aurora Fossil Museum to pivot on how we carried out our mission.” The Museum’s plan for 2021 is to work on getting back to pre-Covid-19 operation. Although it may never be the same, Cynthia and the team intend to use what they have learned to grow and continue their mission to educate. The biggest fundraiser, the Aurora Fossil Festival has been held at the end of May for more than 25 years and the 2020 event was going to be the first festival under museum management. The Aurora Fossil Museum is currently planning a large Aurora Fossil Festival to be held on May 27-29, 2022. Typically, the Aurora Fossil Festival welcomes approximately 10,000 people from all over the world to Aurora, North Carolina for the festival. The plan for 2022 is to increase participation while continuing to provide a safe, family- friendly, STEM-rich learning environment with the hometown traditions that the festival is known for. “Our vision is to expand what we offer, increase the visitor experience through the construction of a new building, and to establish an endowment to sustain the Aurora Fossil Museum.” Company: Aurora Fossil Museum Foundation, Inc. Contact: Cynthia Crane, Executive Director Website: