Desert Museum has a new leader
Contributed photo, Craig Ivanyi is a herpetologist by training.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has capitalized on the experience of one of its longtime employees, promoting him to serve as the organization's executive director.

Craig Ivanyi slipped into the executive director's chair on July 1, taking over for Robert Edison, who will become the executive philanthropy director for the museum.

Ivanyi is a herpetologist with a 26-year tenure at the museum. He began his service while a student at the University of Arizona. During his time at the museum, he's been the director, general curator and associate executive director for living collections and exhibits; the curator for herpetology, ichthyology and invertebrate zoology; and the keeper of reptiles, amphibians, fishes and invertebrates.

In ascending to the executive director's position, Ivanyi said history plays into the job "because by being here for 26 years, you get a good sense of the inner workings of how the place functions."

Ivanyi said while the Desert Museum isn't the largest such facility in the world, "it's still a pretty big one with lots of facets, serving as an educational resource, a zoo, botanical garden and natural history museum all in one."

It's a regional facility, yet physically away from towns, allowing it to fulfill its goals, Ivanyi noted. "There are a lot of constituents with vested interests in the museum and what it does, which has helped us develop our national and international reputation," he added.

The Desert Museum leases approximately 100 acres from Pima County for what Ivanyi called "a modest fee." It has developed about 35 acres to serve as the museum proper. Pima County also provides the museum with water at no charge, but does not give any funds for operations.

"We compete for research grants and educational projects," Ivanyi pointed out, "but have to be self-sustaining off of our memberships and philanthropy. About half of our budget comes from gate attendance."

Ivanyi noted that since Sept. 11, 2001, donations have diminished and gate attendance is lower.

"Overall, we seek to maintain and grow the attendance at the museum," he said. "In 2010, we've been pretty much flat, but compared with 2009, we're doing better than expected."

Ivanyi said one challenge he faces is to keep "all the important pieces of the museum intact as we go through the downturn in the economy."

He isn't seeking to change things at the museum, but rather enhance a museum presence that's built on strong foundations.

"The real challenge is to take what our predecessors have created and sustain and continue what they have done," Ivanyi said.

He noted in the coming years, he'd like to see the museum continue to grow through exhibits that focus on the Gulf of California and its marine environment, smaller projects for aviaries in various areas of the museum to position birds within the habitats where they naturally occur, an expanded migratory pollinators program involving bats and hummingbirds, and an Invaders of the Sonoran Desert project using citizen scientists to help in the early detection of exotic species like buffelgrass.

"The Desert Museum is a unique organization that was pioneering when it was created and still is today," Ivanyi said. "And while many people consider our world standing as meaning we're okay as an organization, we still have a need for dollars and their support through attendance, membership, volunteering and getting involved through philanthropy. There's a lot of behind the scenes infrastructure to support what people see on the public side of the museum."

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

2021 W. Kinney Rd.

Saguaro National Park West


Admissions, July and August - $9.50 for adults, $2.25 for children ages 6-12. After 4 p.m. Saturday, $7 for adults, $2.25 for children

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