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A natural among museums

Public-private funding for a new Bell Museum of Natural History puts focus on another of the U's statewide assets

By Steve Anderson

From M, spring 2008

A recent $3 million commitment to the U's Bell Museum of Natural History has ties to the future and to the past.

The contribution is for a new museum facility that would open in 2010. It comes from the James Ford Bell Foundation, which was started by the Bell Museum's namesake, who was a lifelong friend of the U and a member of its Board of Regents from 1939 until his death in 1961.

"This remarkable gift from the James Ford Bell Foundation affirms the importance of the Bell Museum as the state's natural history museum," says University president Robert Bruininks.

The University hopes that the Bell's position as a statewide asset exhibiting Minnesota's biodiversity will be acknowledged by the state legislature this bonding session. The U is asking for $24 million toward the new museum facility on the St. Paul campus.

Moving the museum from the Minneapolis campus to St. Paul will put it closer to relevant teaching and research in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and help solidify the U's environmental leadership.

An additional $12 million is needed from private donations and federal appropriations to cover the project's $36 million price tag. The recent gift from the James Ford Bell Foundation pushes the total raised at press time to $10.2 million.

The Bell's expanded facility would sit on a 13-acre site featuring outdoor teaching environments, wildlife habitat, and walking trails. A developing partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources may lead to additional funds for the outdoor installation and exhibits.

Moving the museum from the Minneapolis campus to St. Paul will put it closer to relevant teaching and research in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and help solidify the U's environmental leadership. To that end, a sustainable building design has been incorporated into plans for the new building. The plans were created, in part, with financial backing from the Kresge Foundation.

If all necessary funding is secured from state and federal governments, foundations and corporations, and individuals, the new Bell Museum would be a true public-private partnership. Bruininks expects that spirit to continue after the museum opens.

"We are working together to build an important new cultural, academic, and research center," he says. "It will serve our University, our community, and our state as a dynamic gateway to our natural environments and habitats."