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Bell Museum plans mammoth grand opening weekend July 13-15

Posted on 10 July 2018 by Calvin

The new Bell Museum features 60% more public space than its previous location. Located at the intersection of Larpenteur and Cleveland avenues, the museum proudly features local, sustainably sourced materials such as white pine from Cass Lake, granite from south central Minnesota, steel from the Iron Range, native plants from across the state, and bird-safe glass manufactured in Owatonna. Total cost for the new museum is $79 million, and came from a combination of state funding, the University of Minnesota, and private donations. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The long-awaited grand opening of the Bell Museum in its St. Paul Campus location will take place July 13-15. The museum has spent nearly three years building its new facility at 2088 Larpenteur Ave. W., and it appears to have been well worth the wait.

Minnesota’s official natural history museum had occupied its University of Minnesota East Bank site in Minneapolis since 1940. Executive Director Denise Young said, “We’ve been a portal to the natural world in this state for more than 100 years. With our move and expansion, we’ll be re-interpreting the best of our old collection while bringing science, art, and nature together in truly extraordinary ways.”

That’s a mammoth claim, but no one is better equipped to make good on it than the Bell Museum. One of the many impressive acquisitions they’ve added to their collection recently is a replicated woolly mammoth, identical to one that might have roamed across Minnesota long ago. Manufactured by Blue Rhino in Eagan, the woolly mammoth arrived in three massive sections and was reassembled in the Pleistocene Minnesota Gallery last month.

Photo right: One of the hallmarks of the Bell Museum is being at the intersection of art and science. Each diorama features three small sculpted elements that can be touched. In this tundra swan diorama, visitors can have a tactile experience of feeling a Blood Root leaf, a snail, and a moth, all of which appear in the diorama. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Another notable addition to the museum is a film created and produced by Minnesota photographer Jim Brandenburg. The film is called Images from Home: Jim Brandenburg’s Minnesota. Brandenburg’s still photographs are also featured prominently throughout the museum and greatly enhance the sense that this place is both of, and about, Minnesota’s natural history.

The permanent exhibition galleries guide visitors from the origins of the universe, through the evolution of life on earth, to the formation of Minnesota’s diverse habitats. Museum staff estimates that 110,000 people will visit the facility in its first year, and that half of those will be students in grades K-12.

The museum’s beloved dioramas, designed and painted by Minnesota artist Francis Lee Jacques, have never looked better. Painstakingly removed from their original cases in the University of Minnesota’s East Bank location, the paintings have been cleaned and reassembled with all the other diorama elements. They’re now enclosed behind non-glare glass, and lit by controllable LED bulbs that effectively simulate the light levels of different times of the day. Ten large and 35 small to mid-size dioramas are on view. A natural soundscape fills the diorama galleries as well.

Another mainstay of the Bell Museum is the Touch and See Room. When it was built in 1968, it was the only discovery room of its kind in the U.S.—a place where visitors could get up close and personal with specimens. “After a hiatus of 18 months,”Manager Jennifer Menken said, “we’ll be bringing back our popular monthly Sketch Night when visitors can come to the Touch and See Room, choose an artifact from the collection, and (using their own art materials) practice sketching or painting. Sketch Night is included in the cost of admission. The museum will be open late one Monday each month, and Sketch Night will take place then. The first meeting will be on Mon., Aug. 20, 6-8pm. No pre-registration is necessary.”

To help deliver its expanded programming, the Bell Museum is actively seeking new volunteers. Docents, educational assistants, and collections cataloguers are needed, as well as citizen scientists interested in recording phenology, climate change, and more. Contact Volunteer Coordinator Kate Sigurdson at ksigurds@umn.edu with questions, or to learn about upcoming volunteer training sessions.

Details on the opening night party and special weekend hours can be found at www.bellmuseum.umn.edu. For general information, visit the website or call 612-626-9660. General admission $12; senior (65+) $10; youth (3-21) $9; children (0-2) free; UMN student (with student ID) free; Bell Museum members are always free. Parking is available on-site for $4. Open daily from 10am-5pm, with occasional late night hours until 9pm (check website).

The Bell Museum strives to be a fully-accessible facility. To request an accommodation, please call the accessibility office at 612-624-4268 or email crfrey@umn.edu.

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