Anderson: Legislature can right a wrong and jump-start the Bell Museum

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 16, 2014 - 12:15 AM

The U’s museum of natural history has too many treasures to be neglected.


The Legislature has a chance in its final days to atone for a long-festering funding embarrassment and set in motion construction of a new Bell Museum of Natural History and Planetarium.

Founded by legislative mandate in 1872, the Bell’s charge has been to “collect, preserve, skillfully prepare, display, and interpret our state’s diverse animal and plant life for scholarly research and teaching and for public appreciation, enrichment, and enjoyment.”

Located on the U’s Minneapolis campus, the Bell has long served many masters. Faculty and students work and study there, and the museum boasts scientific collections totaling nearly 4 million specimens, including mammals, birds, fish, plants, mollusks and insects.

Busloads of school kids are regular visitors, and the Bell’s valuable art collections feature, among many others, the exquisite work of Minnesotan Francis Lee Jacques, who also painted many of the museum’s dioramas.

And the Bell’s ongoing “Audubon and the art of birds” exhibit traces the evolution of ornithological art from the Renaissance to today. Included are restored prints from a rare collection of John James Audubon’s work donated to the museum in 1928.

Given Minnesotans’ well-documented fascination with the natural world, and their dependence on it economically, culturally and historically, keeping the Bell current in its presentations and appearance would seem a no-brainer.

Instead, the museum — or at least its building — is its own artifact. Constructed 75 years ago, the Art Deco structure is dark and uninspiring, and seems closer to 100.

In some ways, the U can be forgiven for treating the Bell as an outlier, and not fully embracing its rebuilding over the years. Money is tight, needs are many, and the Bell ultimately is a state facility, with its governance assigned to the university.

Besides, why should the U’s administration support a proper learning environment for science, technology and related education and outreach when there are so many athletic facilities to upgrade, coaches to buy out and bills to be paid for canceling Gophers football games the team fears it might lose?

To its credit, the Legislature tried to fund a new Bell in recent years, only to have the idea knocked out of bonding bills by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Some assign Pawlenty’s dissent to politics. Others say the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Minnesota Zoo already fill the state’s science niche — a statement that itself argues for more and better education.

This session, U president Eric Kaler dialed up his own brand of indifference to a new Bell when he said, “The University of Minnesota recognizes the Bell Museum as a great asset to the state. However … we support funding for the Bell Museum as long as it does not divert money from projects requested by the regents for the university.”

So, when will Minnesotans build a new museum that more fairly represents their keen interest in, and dependence on, the natural world?

And when will the Twin Cities again have a planetarium, after a 12-year absence?

Maybe soon.

Thanks to some creative thinking at the Capitol, $51.5 million for a new Bell museum and 120-seat planetarium on the U’s St. Paul campus (with, thankfully, ample parking) has been removed from the bonding bill and included instead in a supplemental budget bill.

Technically, the money isn’t in the budget bill. Attached to it instead is a recommendation that the U sell $51.5 million in bonds to help build a new Bell. (Another $6 million in private funds would be raised.) In exchange, the Legislature boosted the U’s base funding to cover the debt service.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Portland 0 Postponed
Brooklyn 0
Sacramento 0 Postponed
New York 0
Philadelphia 74 FINAL
New Orleans 99
Minnesota 84 FINAL
Oklahoma City 92
Orlando 94 FINAL
Memphis 103
Boston 99 FINAL
Utah 90
Denver 98 FINAL
LA Clippers 102
Army 68 FINAL
American Univ 66
Wright State 64 FINAL
Detroit 53
Syracuse 83 FINAL
North Carolina 93
Cleveland State 56 FINAL
Oakland 59
Delaware State 54 FINAL
NC Central 55
High Point 63 FINAL
Presbyterian 54
Howard 45 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 42
Coppin State 84 FINAL
NC A&T 71
Nicholls 51 FINAL
Northwestern St 80
Hampton 56 FINAL
SC State 65
Gardner-Webb 59 FINAL
Campbell 78
MD-Eastern Shore 72 FINAL
Florida A&M 65
Stephen F Austin 82 FINAL
Lamar 65
Central Arkansas 67 FINAL
New Orleans 87
Norfolk State 70 FINAL
Savannah State 54
SE Louisiana 61
Sam Houston St 80 FINAL
Abilene Christian 63
McNeese State 84 FINAL
Incarnate Word 86
Milwaukee 48 FINAL
Valparaiso 73
Alcorn State 66 FINAL
Alabama A&M 78
Southern U 59 FINAL
Alabama State 63
Prairie View 68 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 105
Texas 86 FINAL
Iowa State 89
Texas Southern 85 FINAL
Miss Valley St 84
Long Island 85 FINAL
Bryant 88
Central Conn St 51 FINAL
St Francis-NY 49
Fairleigh Dickinson 0 Postponed
Sacred Heart 0
St Francis-PA 87 FINAL
Wagner 74
Delaware State 59 FINAL
NC Central 66
Howard 53 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 61
Coppin State 49 FINAL
NC A&T 67
Hampton 88 FINAL
SC State 53
Norfolk State 54 FINAL
Savannah State 56
MD-Eastern Shore 54 FINAL
Florida A&M 64
Angelo State 55 FINAL
Abilene Christian 70
Samford 32 FINAL
(25) Chattanooga 49
Prairie View 83 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 66
Alcorn State 58 FINAL
Alabama A&M 55
Southern U 53 FINAL
Alabama State 49
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
Miss Valley St 52
(12) Texas A&M 61 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 79
Robert Morris 68 FINAL
Mount St Marys 44
East Tenn St 72 FINAL
Mercer 70
Wofford 56 FINAL
Furman 58
Morehead St 64 FINAL
Tenn Tech 54
Illinois 57 FINAL
Michigan 70
Quinnipiac 0 Postponed
Manhattan 0
Saint Peters 0 Postponed
Rider 0
(18) Miss State 59 FINAL
Auburn 48
(15) Nebraska 72 FINAL
(20) Iowa 78
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question