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First look: Bell Museum's new St. Paul space boasts old favs (dioramas!) and new fun (planetarium!)

The Bell Museum, St. Paul.

The Bell Museum, St. Paul. Sheila Regan

The much anticipated grand opening of the newly renovated Bell Museum is just around the corner, and after a sneak peak, we can tell you that it looks fantastic.

The museum has relocated to the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus, an area surrounded by soccer fields and agricultural landscape.

Fans of the old museum will recognize Ian Dudley’s dramatic bronze animal sculptures, which greeted visitors at the old building. Their new spot is amid the beautiful landscape.

The Bell Museum, St. Paul.

The Bell Museum, St. Paul. Sheila Regan

Inside, the new building’s grounds are filled with native plants and pollinator-friendly flowers, giant boulders, and a rainwater pond.

With the launch of the new Bell Museum, the hope is to both educate and inspire, and “give a deeper view of our state,” executive director Denise Young said at a media preview event this week. She explained that researchers will be at the front and center of the museum’s events and programs.

The permanent galleries in the museum bring some familiar sights, but there's also a lot that’s new, such as the Life in the Universe gallery, which explores the Earth’s origins and outer space. It’s got hanging planets, telescopes, and cool designs to help frame the data and science that’s presented.

The Bell Museum, St. Paul.

The Bell Museum, St. Paul. Sheila Regan

The new Planetarium is also going to be a big draw, with cushy seats and advanced digital technology to show visitors the wonders of the universe. (One warning, though: It might make you a bit dizzy if you are prone to seasickness.)

For fans of Francis Lee Jaques’ gorgeous dioramas of taxidermied animals and landscape painting backdrops of their natural habitats, never fear: They’ve been spiffed up, cleaned, and moved intact -- and they look great. There’s even a brand new diorama -- the first in 60 years -- of a giant woolly mammoth and a giant rodent hanging out by a glacier. Apparently there really was a time where rodents of unusual size were a thing in Minnesota; at least we don’t have that to contend with that these days.

The Bell Museum, St. Paul

The Bell Museum, St. Paul Sheila Regan

Also returning is the Bell’s Touch & See Lab, which, like at the old museum, is filled with skulls, skins, and furs that you can touch. Meanwhile, there are new artworks and design around the gallery, highlighting the Bell’s strength in mixing science with art.

The Bell Museum’s proximity to the University’s Horticultural Science Department, the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, and other research centers at the U’s St. Paul Campus provides a great connection between cutting-edge science and the public. There’ll even be ways that you can contribute to the research the U’s scientists are working on, be it monitoring monarch butterflies or helping astronomers look for other worlds. 

The Bell Museum, St. Paul

The Bell Museum, St. Paul Sheila Regan

The Bell Museum’s grand opening weekend takes place July 13-15. There’ll be an after-hours party on the 13th with music, activities, food trucks, and more. On Saturday and Sunday, the Bell will be open for extended hours, hosting science demos, make-your-own-mini-dioramas, water-rocket launching, and ice cream.

IF YOU GO:

Grand Opening Weekend
6-11 p.m. Friday, July 13; $40.
9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday, July 14; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, July 15
$12 general admission; $17 with Planetarium
Bell Museum
2088 Larpenteur Ave. W., St Paul.
bellmuseum.umn.edu

The Bell Museum, St. Paul.

The Bell Museum, St. Paul. Sheila Regan