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National Buffalo Museum renovations to be completed this spring

An ongoing renovation at National Buffalo Museum has expanded to the main exhibit rooms to prepare for the eventual return of White Cloud, and officials are aiming for late April or May to reopen.

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Construction continues to the main exhibit room of the National Buffalo Museum on Tuesday, and the museum is closed through most of spring. Tom LaVenture / The Sun

An ongoing renovation at National Buffalo Museum has expanded to the main exhibit rooms to prepare for the eventual return of White Cloud, and officials are aiming for late April or May to reopen.

The museum gift shop is open, but the exhibits are closed for the duration of construction, said Ilana Xinos, executive director of the National Buffalo Museum. The lobby redesign and new theater work had already started and should be completed in March, she said.

"Our goal is to have everything completed by Memorial Day weekend," Xinos said.

The museum has so far told a chronological story of bison, and the renovation will provide flexibility for a more engaging experience for the approximately 25,000 visitors per year, she said. The log cabin look will remain but with new carpet, floor tile and drywall.

"We are trying not to lose that style but the building needs insulation," Xinos said. "We are still planning out how we're going to organize (2,000 square feet of) space."

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The theater and documentary film about the history of the American bison cost around $100,000, and the preservation of White Cloud is around $50,000. The total cost of museum renovation and construction will depend on tentative project details, she said.

The work has been funded by individual donations, which includes $30,000 from Dave and JoAnn Vining of Jamestown for the preservation of White Cloud. Other support has come from Jamestown Tourism and museum fundraising.

Documentary filmmakers Darrell Dorgan and Dave Geck of Dorgan Films and Dakom Communications in Bismarck completed a raw draft of the documentary film and presented it to the museum board earlier this month. The filmmakers will produce a finished 16-minute film prior to the museum opening, Xinos said.

White Cloud, an albino bison that spent most of its 19 years with the museum herd, died on Nov. 14 at Shirek Buffalo Ranch near Michigan, N.D. The project to preserve and display White Cloud demonstrated the need to improve the museum's environment for its entire collection, she said.

"Preservation is a big deal for us," Xinos said.

A stationary mount for a White Cloud exhibit could never change, Xinos said. The renovation, which is being done by H&H Holdings LLP of Jamestown, will allow the exhibit to be moved around in the museum, and the backdrop will project appropriate seasonal settings for the exhibit, she said.

White Cloud's passing came at a time when the museum was already involved with the theater and film project and did not provide board members and staff a normal period to plan for the exhibit, she said.

The museum board made the decision about preserving and displaying White Cloud but wanted the renovation to ensure the focus was on the entire museum and not just the new exhibit, she said.

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"We ran into the same problem that all small museums have," Xinos said. "We don't have a big budget and so everything centers on an expensive piece."

The museum board decided to embark on a national accreditation process with the American Alliance of Museums, a peer-based standard of museum operations that Xinos said will bring the credibility needed for leverage in order to pursue opportunities for grants and traveling exhibits from other museums.

"It means we have proven our value as an institution, that we strive for and have achieved excellence as a museum," she said.

The accreditation will help the museum's ability to host temporary, rotating and permanent exhibits, she said. A museum needs to show that it has the ability to care for exhibits with appropriate policies, physical security and environmental controls, she said.

Carroll Wentland, a National Buffalo Museum board member, said the renovation is a step in the accreditation process. The museum must guarantee the accreditation standards especially now that the bison is the national mammal, he said.

"We've put so much emphasis in the (live bison) herd itself that it was time to look at the museum and we took some steps," Wentland said. "Most of the exhibits we get are ages old and therefore we have to be able to preserve them."

Danielle Stuckle, outreach program coordinator at the State Historical Society of North Dakota, said the National Buffalo Museum is the first organization taking part in what will hopefully become a pilot mentorship program to help small museums start the accreditation process. The work involves updating collections and management policies, connecting with community, planning and maintaining collections using industry standards.

"AAM (American Alliance of Museums) recognizes that this can be a difficult process for smaller organizations and they try to make the process more streamlined," Stuckle said. "So they made it a little easier to understand where they need to be at and how they need to develop so they can meet high expectations and build capacity so they are set up for easier success."

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