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Too few visiting Lucy in Seattle

Science Center faces multimillion-dollar loss

Fossil remains of Australopithecus afarensi, known as Lucy, are shown in 2004, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The fossil is currently on display at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle.  (File Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Fossil remains of Australopithecus afarensi, known as Lucy, are shown in 2004, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The fossil is currently on display at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. (File Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Associated Press

SEATTLE – Who loves Lucy? Far fewer than officials at the Pacific Science Center hoped when they booked the 3.2 million-year-old fossil remains of one of the earliest known ancestors of the human race.

With about a month and a half of the five-month exhibition to go, the center faces a half-million-dollar loss on the exhibit, resulting in layoffs of 8 percent of the staff and a wage freeze, President Bryce Seidl said Friday.

In addition, workers are taking unpaid days off, and the nonprofit organization has suspended matching funds for individual retirement accounts.

Lucy, a fossilized partial skeleton of a species with chimplike features that walked upright, was found in 1974 in a remote corner of Ethiopia. The discovery forced a major revision of earlier theories about the evolution of homo sapiens.

The show, part of a tour that marks the first time Lucy has been on display outside of Ethiopia, cost the center about $2.25 million, Seidl estimated. That includes a $500,000 fee for Ethiopia, which plans to use the money for cultural and scientific programs.

“It’s a powerful story of evolution and culture and history … but we’re not getting the attendance we need for an exhibit of this scale,” Seidl said.

Charging $20.75 admission for adults and teenagers, center officials hoped to draw 250,000 visitors during the run that ends March 8 but so far have gotten 60,000.

Seidl blamed the economic downturn, which has cut into arts and museum revenue nationwide, as well as snowstorms that severely curtailed travel within and around the city in December.

The lack of love for Lucy now evidently extends beyond Seattle. Exhibit organizers have yet to find a museum in the U.S. to host what was planned as a six-year, 10-city tour.

The Field Museum in Chicago withdrew because of the cost. Debate over whether the irreplaceable fossil should be shipped around the globe led the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to drop the idea after early consideration.

“Lucy may not be anywhere other than Ethiopia after Seattle,” Seidl said.

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