Zoo’s Virtual Auction Offers Rare and Exclusive Opportunities

Words and Images courtesy of the Virginia Zoo.

November is here, the holidays are right around the corner, and it’s a puuurfect time to start your shopping with the Virginia Zoo’s Virtual Auction. The Zoo’s first-ever virtual auction contains two dozen works of art and experiences that are unique to the Virginia Zoo.

Virginia Zoo Keeper stands with a rhino flip flop animal, an item available in the Zoo’s Virtual Auction. The auction runs November 9 to 20 and benefits the Zoo’s Emergency Operating Fund.
Virginia Zoo Keeper stands with a rhino flip flop animal, an item available in the Zoo’s Virtual Auction. The auction runs November 9 to 20 and benefits the Zoo’s Emergency Operating Fund.

Exclusive orangutan, gila monster or rhino “skin print” paintings, one-of-a-kind experiences like a sloth photoshoot, behind-the-scenes encounters with exotic birds, private tours and more. The auction is a one-stop-shop for those who have it all. All proceeds from the auction will support the Virginia Zoo Emergency Operating Fund that has enabled to Zoo to continue its outstanding visitor experience, uninterrupted since its reopening in June.

A “Dung Dood” sculpture is made from elephant dung! Just one of the rare and unique artwork items available in the Zoo’s Virtual Auction. Proceeds to benefit the Zoo’s Emergency Operating Fund.
A “Dung Dood” sculpture is made from elephant dung! Just one of the rare and unique artwork items available in the Zoo’s Virtual Auction. Proceeds to benefit the Zoo’s Emergency Operating Fund.

Don’t miss your chance to bid on these incredible gifts and experiences of a lifetime!

  • Animal skin prints, paintings and footprints
  • Behind-the-scenes tours
  • Wellness Campus Tour & Vet Meet and Greet
  • Crocodile Training Experience
  • Backyard Makeover by the Zoo Horticulture Team
  • Rhino Hornbill Experience
  • And MORE!

The auction begins November 9 at 9 am and concludes November 20 at 8 pm. Visit bidpal.net/virginiazoovirtualauction  to begin your bidding.

Virginia Zoo auction offers exciting behind-the-scenes tours and opportunities like a sloth photoshoot. Bid on them at bidpal.net/virginiazoovirtualauction.
Virginia Zoo auction offers exciting behind-the-scenes tours and opportunities like a sloth photoshoot. Bid on them at bidpal.net/virginiazoovirtualauction.

About the Virginia Zoo 

The Virginia Zoo, located in Norfolk, Virginia, is home to more than 700 exceptional animals representing over 100 fascinating species. Founded in 1901 and residing on 53 beautifully landscaped acres, the Virginia Zoo has demonstrated a commitment to saving and protecting the world’s wildlife by inspiring a passion for nature and taking conservation action at home and around the world. The Virginia Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is recognized as a global leader in education, recreation, science, wildlife conservation, and animal care and welfare. For more than a century, the Zoo has connected adults, families and school children with the natural world and its wildlife. To learn more, visit www.virginiazoo.org

Nauticus Lauds Teachers: Offers Unlimited Free Admission

Museum Rolling Out Red Carpet for Educators

Words and Images by Nauticus

Licensed teachers throughout Virginia and North Carolina will receive free admission to Nauticus starting October 1 and continuing indefinitely.  The declarative move serves as a sincere “thank you” to regional teachers who have adapted, innovated, and persevered throughout the course of a very difficult year. 

“Our entire organizational focus is education,” said Nauticus executive director, Stephen E. Kirkland.  “And I can tell you as the parent of a third grader, I have a very personal appreciation for how critical our teachers are, especially right now.” 

A woman teaches a group of children at Nauticus.

Nauticus’ commitment to education has also led to the creation of new virtual demos for students, teachers, and families, and through a grant from the Student Access Program, Nauticus is serving more than 3,000 Title 1 students in the Norfolk Public School system by providing free education programs. 

A Nauticus docent shows a horseshoe crab to a Mother and child.

With free admission, teachers will have the opportunity to enjoy Nauticus’ newest exhibit, Voyage To The Deep, making its United States debut at the museum through January 3rd.   The STEM-based experience (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) transports guests into the deep sea, where they can take the helm of a submarine, encounter mythical sea creatures, and pilot their own underwater robot.  Nauticus admission also includes access to the Battleship Wisconsin, the largest and last battleship built by the United States Navy.   

For more information, visit www.nauticus.org

MOCA’s Modern Art Experience

Words and Images courtesy of Moriah Joy.
Feature image: Titus Kaphar, Columbus Day Painting

There is the notion that art museums are grandiose images of women baring their bodies somewhere in the woods, or that one has to be of a certain pedigree or education level to fully enjoy them. However, the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art throws all those preconceived notions out the door. Not only are pieces extremely relevant and relatable, the staff prides themselves on making art accessible to everyone. Back in May of this year, I had the pleasure of speaking with Brad Tuggle, the Director of Audience Development, about the digital offerings they had to keep the community engaged with their amazing artists even though the physical galleries were not open. This past week, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Truly Matthews, the Curator of Education for MOCA, after touring the exhibits. During my tour, I took photos of some of the most impactful and eye catching pieces. However, the pieces are far more intricate and textured in person than can be conveyed by photographs.

Carlos Vega, Just Discovered- a rainbow background is hidden by a metal top with patterns and holes in it where the rainbow shows though. A woman bends over to see a portion of the piece closer.
Carlos Vega, Just Discovered

One of the things that I learned in my conversation with Truly was MOCA is a non-collecting museum, meaning that any pieces that enter their doors are only there for a short period of time as they travel to different museums. Depending upon when you go and the exhibits they have on display, you may see anywhere from one to three exhibits in their main gallery space. Currently, the Shifting Gaze: A Reconstruction of the Black and Hispanic Body in Contemporary Art and New Waves 2020 (a statewide competition) are sharing the main gallery space, with Hampton Boyer’s first solo show on display in the gallery near the atrium. The reason why this was intriguing to me was because as you go through the natural path of the museum, each exhibit provokes a different reaction from the viewer.

“Art is a catalyst for conversation.”- Truly Matthews

The Shifting Gaze exhibit commands the attention of the viewer as each piece pulls you in to analyze the details and the story. This feeling is beautifully described by artist Ebony G. Patterson, who is a  part of the Shifting Gaze exhibit, as the Flower and the Bee Syndrome, where the viewer (bee) is drawn to the art (flower) either because of its provocative nature or aesthetic beauty. We stay with that piece until we have drawn all the emotional needs or thoughts from it and then move onto the next one. Each piece in this show pulled on a different emotion for me. The pieces by Carlos Vega and Mickalene Thomas are eye-catching because of their sheer magnitude but really connect with themes of pride in the small pieces of who they are.  

Hank Willis Thomas Turbulence (White Strokes) On the left, a photo of the work taken without a flash, it is abstract black with white strokes. On the right, a photo of the same work, this time taken with a camera flash. We can see police officers and a black man being attacked.
Hank Willis Thomas Turbulence (White Strokes). This work is activated by camera flash. On the left we have the work with no camera flash. On the right, a camera flash was used to take the photo.

Since Shifting Gaze has a cohesive theme to the show it makes it easier to understand the creative intention behind each piece. With the New Waves and Hampton Boyer exhibits, the viewer is drawn to the initial reaction of the pieces,  but  sometimes needs to rely upon the outside resources to fully grasp the intention of the piece. Truly explained that one of the areas they focus on heavily in their shows and programming is incorporating the artist’s voice so that there is no misunderstanding of their artist process. This is done in a few different ways. In the New Waves gallery, they have direct quotes on placards that are the artist statements submitted with the pieces as a part of the competition. For Hampton Boyer, there is an audio tour which he recorded for the viewer to hear him directly explain his work. During virtual programming, most of the time they try to have the artist be present during talkbacks for them to explain or discuss the social and emotional impact of the piece. 

Pat Jarrett's Robert E Lee (Shrouded)- A photograph of a monument of Robert E Lee but the monument is fully covered in black plastic.
Pat Jarrett, Robert E Lee (Shrouded)

The museum offers many educational opportunities both in exploring art and being able to create your own. They have a variety of art classes offered through their studio school available for ages 6-99. Some classes offered include the Art of Storytelling, Basic Drawing Techniques, Abstract Art, Oil/ Acrylic Painting, and Photography Made Simple. For more information on these classes please visit https://virginiamoca.org/studio-school

Ebony G Patterson's work He- a large circle with many different colored fabrics and beads hanging off of it.
Ebony G Patterson, He

The museum will also be re-opening the interactive portion of their gallery called Art Lab. In this section, viewers have a chance to interact with the pieces in a now contactless environment. “We weren’t sure what was going to happen with Art Lab because of COVID,” explained Truly, “so the installation took a little more time, and we had to adapt it to fit safety guidelines, but we’re super excited to finally have it open back up.” For those planning a trip soon, the Art Lab will reopen on September 3rd.

With all of the programming available, the level of social engagement and commitment to the community, as well as the beauty of the building and exhibition space, MOCA is becoming one of my new favorite places in the Hampton Roads area. Check it out for yourself and see what you can discover.

Currently, the museum entrance fee is waived due to very gracious donors, however, you do have to reserve tickets in advance to allow for proper social distancing. To schedule your free tour please visit their website.
For a closer look at the exhibits and discussions with the artists check out their Instagram.
Audio tours are available in both English and Spanish.

Beat the Heat – Free Ice Cream for Kids at Nauticus

Courtesy of Nauticus.

Nauticus’ Big Wisky Porch serving up free ice cream in August.
a cup of ice cream sitting on the battleship with the big guns in the background

Norfolk, Va.— Here’s the scoop – Nauticus has a delicious plan for families to beat the heat this summer. Each Wednesday in August, the Big Wisky Porch restaurant will serve up a free scoop of hand-dipped ice cream to every child that visits Nauticus.  

“Our goal is to create a true Americana experience this summer,” said Nauticus executive director, Stephen E. Kirkland. “Touring the nation’s last battleship and then cooling off with a scoop of ice cream on our outdoor front porch just seemed perfect.”  

Nauticus’ new outdoor restaurant, the Big Wisky Porch, overlooks the Elizabeth River and has become a popular downtown spot for lunch, drinks, or dinner. The restaurant proudly serves a variety of flavors of Hershey’s ice cream. 

One scoop of ice cream per child (ages 15 and younger) will be served with proof of admission each Wednesday in August (August 12th, 19th and 26th). Ice cream offer is valid from 10AM – 4PM. Nauticus operating hours are 10AM to 5PM Wednesday through Saturday, and Noon to 5PM on Sundays.  

Admission to Nauticus Battleship Experience starts at a discounted rate of $9 per child, $11 per adult. NEW small group add-on adventures including a Sail Away Boat Excursion, Behind the Scenes Aquarium Tour and more start at $10 per person.   

For more information, visit  https://bit.ly/3g8Mbex


YMCA & Virginia Zoo Swap Members for Second Year

Courtesy of Virginia Zoo.

NORFOLK, VA – The Virginia Zoo partners with both the YMCA of South Hampton Roads and the YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas to swap members during the month of August.

More than 60,000 YMCA members will enjoy free, unlimited admission to the Virginia Zoo during August, plus 10 percent discounts in the gift shop and foodservice locations. Not valid for special events and education programs.

Members of the Virginia Zoo can visit any of the 22 YMCA of South Hampton Roads locations or 14 YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas locations in August to enjoy a safe place to exercise with state-of-the-art fitness equipment, indoor and outdoor pools, group fitness classes, and child care while you work out. Pre-registration is required for pools and fitness classes, but not to visit the Y. Zoo members can also take advantage of discounted member pricing on programs such as personal training and summer camp in the month of August.

Zoo members show their valid Virginia Zoo membership card, photo ID, and complete a guest waiver form upon visiting any YMCA of South Hampton Roads or YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas location. Y members will reserve timed tickets before they arrive at the Zoo and will need to show a valid YMCA membership card and email confirmation. For more information, visit ymcashr.org/zoo-swap.

YMCA members who join the Virginia Zoo during the month of August can take advantage of two extra months – free – on a Virginia Zoo membership. Zoo members who join the Y in August or September will pay no joining fee, a savings up to $100.

Both the Zoo and the Ys have modified operations due to the current covid-19 health crisis. Expect occupancy restrictions, limited access to certain programs or exhibits, and safety guidelines for visitors. Please visit the respective websites before scheduling your visit for further details.

About the Virginia Zoo

The Virginia Zoo, located in Norfolk, Virginia, is home to more than 700 exceptional animals representing over 100 fascinating species. Founded in 1901 and residing on 53 beautifully landscaped acres, the Virginia Zoo has demonstrated a commitment to saving and protecting the world’s wildlife by inspiring a passion for nature and taking conservation action at home and around the world. The Virginia Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is recognized as a global leader in education, recreation, science, wildlife conservation, and animal care and welfare. For more than a century, the Zoo has connected adults, families, and school children with the natural world and its wildlife. To learn more, visit www.virginiazoo.org.

About the YMCA of South Hampton Roads

The YMCA of South Hampton Roads is a nonprofit, community-based health and human services organization that serves over 250,000 children and families throughout Coastal Virginia, Northeastern North Carolina and as west as South Boston/Halifax County in Virginia. More than 30% of those families receive financial assistance through the Open Doors program, whose funding is made available by the generosity of donors, helping them achieve their full potential in spirit, mind, and body. The Y’s doors are open to people of all ages, backgrounds, abilities, and incomes. To learn more, visit www.ymcashr.org.

About the YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas

The YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas is a cause-driven charity, strengthening communities on the Virginia peninsulas for over 120 years, through youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. Across the Association, 18 facilities engage 50,000 + men, women and children — regardless of age, income or background — to nurture the potential of children and teens, improve our community’s health and well-being, and provide opportunities to give back and support neighbors. The YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas has long-standing relationships and physical presence not just to promise, but to deliver, lasting personal and social change. To learn more, visit ymcavp.org.


Michelangelo’s Frescoes of the Sistine Chapel: A Different Point of View

Words by Penny Neef.
Images courtesy of Andrew Cooper, City of Norfolk
(including featured image), and David Neef.

Almost a year ago, pre-pandemic, worry-free, and full of the joy of travel, I was in Rome. Rome was the last stop on our fantastic trip through the gardens of Italy. I’d been to Rome once before, as a poor college student. I walked the circumference of the Vatican, but only had enough money to do everything free. This time, I was determined to see inside the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. More about that later. 

This year, no travel, lots of worries, no Rome, but the magnificent art of the Sistine Chapel is right here, in Norfolk, at the MacArthur Mall. The Virginia Arts Festival and MacArthur Mall are co-presenting Michelangelo’s Frescoes of the Sistine Chapel August 7-30.

This is the first complete exhibition of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes to be shown outside the Vatican. The exhibit is officially licensed by the Vatican. Michelangelo’s frescoes have been photographed in high resolution and reproduced in close to life size. The very best part about the exhibit is you can get up close. The details and colors are amazing. The Master’s sketch marks and brush strokes are right there in front of you. The genius of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 – 1564) is apparent.

The display of the works on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but recreated on movable exhibits sitting on the floor.
Photo by Andrew Cooper, City of Norfolk.

Back to my trip to Rome, which seems so much longer than a year ago. We booked an evening, after hours “private tour” of the Vatican Museum with the Sistine Chapel as the grand finale of the tour. I pictured empty galleries with a small group and an Italian art historian pointing out details of the artistic treasures of the Vatican.

What a disappointment. Our “private tour” was one of about a thousand private tours that night. We were herded like cattle through the wonders of the Vatican Museum, with barely enough time to stop and look. The worst of it was the magnificent Sistine Chapel. We were warned before we walked in that there would be no photos and no talking. We were not told that there would be a Vatican guard, standing on a platform in the corner on a microphone, yelling at people if they spoke or heaven forbid, pulled out their phone.

It was so crowded in the Sistine Chapel, that we could not move. We could barely look up to the ceiling 70 feet above us. I had such claustrophobia that I could hardly wait to get out. I saw little and appreciated nothing.

I went to the Sistine Chapel at the mall yesterday. I know, I know, MacArthur Mall is not the Vatican Museum and Norfolk is not Rome, but people, we’re in a pandemic. There was a lot to love. The exhibit is set up in the old Forever 21 store on the second level of the Mall, next to Dillard’s. It’s a pretty space, light and bright, with shiny black and white floors and chandeliers.

There is no guard yelling at you to keep quiet. Instead, you will be greeted by a nice person wearing a mask. There will be a limited number of people allowed in at a time, absolutely no crowd. Your phone will take you straight to a website where you can take your time and read about each panel and piece of the Sistine Chapel artwork. 

A sign at the beginning of the exhibit reading Scna the QR code below for the exhibit reading guide. VAfest/michelangelo/guide.
Photo by Andrew Cooper, City of Norfolk.

You can stand close and be amazed at the details. You can step back and appreciate the dynamics of the piece as a whole. You do not have to crane your neck, squint your eyes and stare up 70 feet. I learned so much more about each story from the Bible that Michelangelo, the “reluctant painter” took on, mostly alone, over the course of more than four years.

This was the first time I’ve been to MacArthur Mall this year. It’s sad that so many stores have closed, but the Mall looks good. There are some bargains to be had if you miss shopping. While you’re there, take a mall walk down to the old entrance to Nordstrom’s and take a selfie in front of the three, fun artworks by Kelsey Montague that the mall commissioned last year.

A woman leaning into a pink background. It looks like she is blowing out air or possibly shouting. On the pink background is a swirl of colors, blue and purple and white and black and green, which appear to have come out of her mouth. #MacArthurCenter #WhatLiftsYou @KelseyMontagueArt
Photo by David Neef

Don’t miss Michelangelo’s Frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. The art is fantastic. You can imagine, just for a few minutes, that you are in Rome, with a much better view of the Sistine Chapel ceiling than anyone except Michelangelo.

For more information and to purchase tickets, go to https://www.vafest.org/michelangelo/

Pandemic and Heat Wave Causes Zoo to Alter Operations

Courtesy of the Virginia Zoo.

Norfolk, Va. – The Zoo has seen many visitors since its reopening in late June, however attendance numbers have started to decrease as COVID cases and temperatures increase in Hampton Roads. The Zoo will adapt new operating procedures Saturday, August 1, 2020.

“We can ensure you the safety of our staff, animals and guests are our number one priority,” said Greg Bockheim, Executive Director of the Virginia Zoo. “As we learn more about the virus, watch local trends and deal with the circumstances Mother Nature gives us, we decided to make these proactive changes to our daily operations,” Bockheim added.

During its second stage, the Zoo is adhering to these guidelines:

  • The Zoo will still limit capacity – about 30 percent of its normal visitorship. All tickets must be purchased and reserved in advance for a specific time slot – this even applies to Zoo members. Reservations are available beginning at 10 am with the last reservation at 2 pm.
  • The Zoo will return to its original days of operation, opening to the public seven days a week. However, the new hours are 10 am to 4 pm. This allows for an added hour of deep cleaning without the public on grounds, in addition to the increased sanitizing measures the Zoo has already implemented. Member Mornings are happening through September 6, 2020 and allow Zoo Members an early 9 am entry to the Zoo on Saturdays and Sundays. Reservations are still required.
  • To help ensure the safety of all guests, and to comply with all state and local regulations, all Zoo staff and volunteers continue to wear masks while on grounds. Per mandated regulations in Virginia, all visitors ages 10 and up are required to wear a mask upon entry into the Zoo and indoors. When social distancing cannot be maintained on Zoo grounds and when within 6 feet of those from a different group, visitors are required to wear a face mask or face shield to protect all visitors, staff and volunteers. 
  • Newly opened amenities with limited capacity include: Gift Shop, Africa Restaurant and the Zoo Train when weather permits. The Membership Office will soon offer a walk-up window to purchase memberships, allow pickup of cards and offer other assistance.
  • Other closures or cancellations: The World of Reptiles, ZooFarm, Enrichment Playground and Water Plaza are all still closed. Keeper Chats, ZooLive! Stage presentations and other animal encounters are postponed until further notice. Senior Wednesdays have been cancelled.
  • Food and beverages can be purchased throughout the Zoo. Strollers and wheelchairs will also be available for rent on a first-come, first-serve basis. Run Wild! Nature Discovery Zone is open.

Please visit virginiazoo.org/reopen for opening status, updates and to reserve or purchase tickets.

About the Virginia Zoo 
The Virginia Zoo, located in Norfolk, Virginia, is home to more than 700 exceptional animals representing over 100 fascinating species. Founded in 1901 and residing on 53 beautifully landscaped acres, the Virginia Zoo has demonstrated a commitment to saving and protecting the world’s wildlife by inspiring a passion for nature and taking conservation action at home and around the world. The Virginia Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is recognized as a global leader in education, recreation, science, wildlife conservation, and animal care and welfare. For more than a century, the Zoo has connected adults, families and school children with the natural world and its wildlife. To learn more, visit www.virginiazoo.org


Volunteers Help the Virginia Living Museum Thrive

Words by Louise Casini Hollis.
Images courtesy of Virginia Living Museum.

Do you like to be involved with animals? Are you interested in plants? Well, you’re in luck because the Virginia Living Museum has opportunities for you to help promote and preserve the native plants and animals of Virginia through their education and conservation programs.  

The Virginia Living Museum, a certified Service Enterprise, was founded through the vision of Harry Wason, the 22nd president of the Rotary Club of Warwick, with the aid of the Junior League of Hampton Roads. The museum opened November 13th, 1966 as the Junior Nature Museum and Planetarium. Over the years, the museum added an observatory in 1975, and in 1987 it metamorphosed into the first Living Museum east of the Mississippi River. In 2016, they celebrated their 50th anniversary. “Our mission is connecting people to nature through educational experiences that promote conservation,” shared Shandran Thornburg, Executive Assistant & Volunteer Administrator for the Virginia Living Museum since 2003. 

Mrs. Jackie Weber is talking to guests in our Ozone Garden about the effects of pollution on plant life.
Mrs. Jackie Weber is talking to guests in our Ozone Garden about the effects of pollution on plant life.

Shandran, along with the nearly 300 volunteers that help run the VLM, has a passion for conservation and education. However, because of COVID-19, the museum was unable to welcome visitors and volunteers until recently. Fortunately, the VLM’s full time staff of 35 stepped in to cover the volunteer staff’s duties to ensure that all of the museum ran smoothly. “Our focus is the safety and the welfare of the animals,” assured Shandran, “So, we had staff in different departments [who] worked together and pitched in to care for our animals to just make sure our care was top-rate during that time.” The VLM, also had a steady virtual presence. “Our educators and people that are in the curator positions to care for the animals did a lot of online programming [such as] Facebook Live and ‘Quaran-stream’,” added Shandran. 

The closure also put a crimp in a few of the Museum’s plans. National Volunteer’s Week was in April, and Shandran still wanted to honor her hard working volunteers. “We did it virtually!” she proudly states. “What happened was different departments just did a quick video telling volunteers thank you. One department did it like a ‘Brady Bunch’ kind of thing and had it all on one screen. Our Marketing department helped pull it together and add some music to the videos and things like that and during that week each day we released a live video that we put on the website.” You can see their tributes here

Another obstacle they overcame was mounting the Spring Plant Sale. The museum wound up moving the sale online, and set up a drive-through pickup of the plants in May. “People could buy their plants online and we worked out a system where basically we would have the paperwork. We would assign the people a time and they ordered and they paid for it online. That was a feat of epic proportions to input the scientific names of all the plants,” said Shandran. Currently, they plan to offer their Fall Plant Sale in person.  “We don’t know what the virus is going to do, obviously – we’re just looking to determine if that’s going to be continued in that form or if there will be more of an in-person thing. I just think that we’ll have to continue to watch the Coronavirus to determine what forms that’s going to take,” she said. The Fall Plant Sale is scheduled to be held mid-September with their member preview on September 17th. The general public has opportunities to purchase plants September 19th- 20th and the 26th-27th. Please check the VLM’s website for current information.

Virginia Gall is showing a whelk at the touch tank.
Virginia Gall is showing a whelk at the touch tank.

Practically, the VLM made the most of their closure taking the opportunity to deep clean carpets and give some exhibits a good power washing. It also gave them the time to prepare for their reopening by prepping for increased cleaning protocols and to create one-way paths with signs. Organizationally, Shandran was able to move forward restructuring volunteer interactions with their assigned departments. “If they have to call out for a herpetology shift, there’s no reason they couldn’t just call their direct supervisor. So really we were already thinking about making this move and then when COVID hit, obviously that accelerated that line of thinking to create efficiency,” shares Thornburgh. They have also moved to cycles of on-boarding, to enhance volunteer’s experiences. “By having cycles, there will be a volunteer cohort several times a year. So they will get to bond with each other because they’re going to be attending training classes together in a cohort versus going into all different parts of the museum. Their cohort will be a little bit smaller, and then they will be more integrated in with their direct team. So we think it’s going to give a lot more individualized attention to the volunteers. I think that’s a really good positive step,” observed Shandran. The VLM has just closed their fall cohort class, but applications for the winter cohort will be due November 15th. 

Starting at age 11, children can begin to volunteer with a parent or guardian. At age 15 students may volunteer without the supervision of an adult and at 18 volunteers can apply to take part in the caretaking of the animals. Children need a letter of recommendation, and anyone 18 or over requires a background check at the cost of $12.50. Shandran does her best to match volunteer’s availability with their departmental interest. 

“Our Executive Director [Rebecca Kleinhample] basically has a vision of children coming into our classroom programs,” Shandran explains. “Then when they are 11 they can come in and volunteer with an adult, and they can volunteer by themselves at age 15 and perhaps if they go to college locally they could come back and do an internship as a college student. Perhaps when they graduate or when they’re still in college they could even potentially get a job here at the museum. So that is what we want to do, and the goal is growing the next generation of conservation leaders.” The VLM has done an excellent job of cultivating tomorrow’s conservationists, and it shows in their staff. “Forty-three percent of museum staff started their VLM career as a volunteer. That’s a very high rate,” adds Shandran.

“Part of what we do is sustainability,” Shandran observes. “The museum is poised to lead into the future. We are trying to grow the next generation of conservation leaders.” But conservation is not all the VLM promotes. Larry Lewis, a former math and Science professor at Thomas Nelson Community College, has been volunteering at the Virginia Living Museum for over 9 years. He was integral in getting the Spring Plant Sale organized and serves as the co-coordinator of Frogwatch USA at the VLM. “It is a cliche,” writes Larry, “but I feel that I get more from volunteering than the museum gets from me. I get educational training, enjoyment working with like-minded people, and opportunities for connecting our guests to nature.” 

Hailey Fisher is engaging guests with an artifact - a raccoon pelt on our Outdoor Trail.
Hailey Fisher is engaging guests with an artifact – a raccoon pelt on our Outdoor Trail.

This enthusiasm permeates the VLM. Education Director Nicole Burns eloquently describes their mission: “As stewards of our one planet we focus on highlighting the importance of all living and nonliving things, create understanding on how they all interconnect and communicate the science behind how human behaviors can both positively and negatively affect this balance. Our educational mission encompasses the biodiversity of the depth of the ocean to sustainable human exploration in outer space and everything in-between. No matter what your interest is, we hope our guests leave our educational programs empowered to make a positive change.”

“We know that we are built by the community, sustained by the community and beloved by the community,” notes Shandran. So whether you come as a guest or as a volunteer, you are bound to take home a better idea of how to help our planet.

Want to help the Virginia Living Museum but don’t have time to volunteer? You can go for a visit, purchase a membership, give a monetary donation, or give a gift in kind located on the museum’s website. Volunteer applications can be found here.

The Virginia Zoo

Words by Penny Neef.
Images courtesy of the Virginia Zoo.

I miss going to the Virginia Zoo with my grandchildren. The Zoo is definitely in my top 100, out of about a million things, I miss during this pandemic. I have virtual visits with my grandkids almost daily and once a week, we drive up to their house and have a curbside visit. It’s just not the same.

I wonder what’s going on at the Zoo without all those animal loving children and their caregivers. Are the animals enjoying the peace? Do they miss us as much as we miss them? Are they healthy and safe? We’ve all heard the stories about the big cats in NYC getting Covid -19.

Hailey, a zoo staff member, works with Boris, who is some kind of large black bird with a blue head. Boris looks kinda confused.
Hailey at work with Boris.

Ashley Mars, Marketing Manager for the Virginia Zoo, reassures me that the big cats, and all the other animals are all doing well.  ”Animal care and vet staff wear personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves, when they need to work within close proximity to each other for animal needs. They also are wearing appropriate PPE when working directly with certain species such as big cats, based on developing information and recommendations from Taxon Advisory Groups within our accrediting organization, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.”

The keepers and the staff at the Zoo continue with regular training sessions, feeding and vet care. “The health and welfare of the animals have remained a top priority for the Zoo!” Whether the animals miss us as much as we miss them is a tough question to answer. Maybe they’re enjoying this break from the public eye. Maybe it depends on the species.

Virtual Voyage is an excellent resource for Zoo activities, an augmented reality tour of the Zoo and one click links to the Zoo’s social media pages. 

Many school field trips to the Zoo were canceled this spring. The Zoo has Zoomed with over 100 students from kindergarten through fifth grade. Norfolk Public Schools has been using the animal videos in the curriculum where applicable. You and your children can take your own virtual field trip to the Zoo here.

A baby giraffe looks at the camera, while a giraffe adult looks at the baby.

There is a new baby giraffe at the Zoo. If you click on the Zoo’s Facebook page, there are details about the baby naming contest. This little guy weighed in at 146 pounds at birth. The top five names submitted will be announced on June 8, so get out that baby naming book.

If you’ve got nothing else to do and want to amuse yourself and/or your kids, be sure to try out the Selfie Station where you can turn yourself into a tiger, lion or orangutan. I know that tigers are all the “thing” right now, but I think my out of control, can’t get to a hairdresser’s hair, looks rather like a mane. This may be my new profile pic.

Penny Neef, except her face is a lion.

Of course, all this is not the same as putting my grandkids in the car with snacks and spending the day at the Virginia Zoo, but then nothing is the same. Here’s hoping “normal” is coming. We can still do our part to support the Zoo, it’s animals and the staff.

The Virginia Zoo has launched an Emergency Operating Fun to help them get through these tough times. If you love the Zoo and want to donate to a place that is special in Hampton Roads, go to click here.

The Animals are Still Swimming at the Virginia Aquarium

Words by Penny Neef.
Images courtesy of the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center.

The seals are still swimming, the sharks are still feeding and the oysters are still improving the water of the inlet, but the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center is closed to the public, just like many other places we love to visit in Hampton Roads.

The husbandry staff is at the Aquarium, feeding and caring for the animals. Matt Klepeisz, Public Relations Manager, reports that the staff is providing even more “enrichment opportunities” for the animals, since the public is not there to entertain them. Kind of like homeschooling for the animals.

One of VA Aquarium's seals ready for an enrichment activity.

Russell, a very intelligent crow, works his puzzle box for fun. Turns out that Russell was given a male moniker before a blood test revealed her true sexual identity. Russell is a girl, renamed Sheryl, but the name Russell has stuck. It’s hard to tell the difference between a girl and a boy crow from “external characteristics.”

You can follow the Virginia Aquarium on Facebook and other social media to see what’s going on while the public is away and the animals play. The Aquarium also announces their frequent, live virtual events via their website and weekly email blast.

The Virginia Aquarium has hours of content on their YouTube channel, from a virtual tour of the Aquarium to a calming sea turtle meditation, to the ever-popular mermaids. (Please note: The mermaids do not live at the Aquarium full-time and are isolating elsewhere.) I’d like to give five stars to the sea turtle meditation. It’s a full hour of sea turtles paddling gently through blue water. It’s surprisingly calming if self-isolation is getting on your last nerve.

Either a gator or a crocodile (sorry, the editor never learned the difference) smiling for the camera in their habitat.

Back to homeschooling- for human children, not marine animals. There are all sorts of activities, resources and educational fun stuff to do on the Community Resources page of the Aquarium’s website. It is conveniently divided into age groups and grade levels, including a whole section of Family Fun, which includes videos, games and activities. This makes life just a little easier for parents who are getting near to the end of their home-schooling patience.

If you follow the Virginia Aquarium on social media, you will see their live videos every Friday. Coming up will be Komodo Dragon and crocodile feedings, and training sessions with some of the more “charismatic” animals. I’d like to know who decides which animals are more charismatic? To each his own. Times can vary, probably depending on feeding schedules and the mood of the animals, so check in frequently.

A komodo dragon in his (or her) habitat.
Editor’s note: personally, I think this komodo dragon is quite charismatic, or at least takes a great picture!

The Aquarium is also offering a Science Talk Series. These are live, virtual events that are free, but registration is required. Coming up on June 2 will be “Science Talk Series: Stranding Response”. The Aquarium plays a key role when local marine life, like sea turtles, need help. Dr. Susan Barco and Dr. Alex Costidis, senior scientists at the Aquarium, will talk about how the animals are disentangled, rescued and rehabilitated. For more information and registration, click here.

Staff from the VA Aquarium help out a stranded sea turtle in a tank.

The Virginia Aquarium is hosting a virtual 5k run/walk, the Virginia Aquarium Turtle Trot on June 14 – 16. Proceeds will benefit the Aquarium’s educational offerings, animal care and Stranding Response Program. This is a great way to get the whole family out for some fresh air and exercise and support the Aquarium. 

There is all this and much more. It’s not the same as visiting the Virginia Aquarium, but nothing is the same. Klepeisz says the Aquarium is working hard “to stay connected to our friends and our community.” 

Right now it is important to support our local institutions, like the Aquarium. We live here, right up against this big body of water. Our kids need to understand the environment. Sea turtles still need help. Our waterways still need the oysters. You can support the Virginia Aquarium right here.