Bell Museum director to leave amid renovation

Susan Weller first took on her role as director in 2008.

Benjamin Farniok

The Bell Museum of Natural History has lost its director, amid a renovation.
Susan Weller, former Bell Museum director and current professor of entomology at the University of Minnesota, is leaving her position for the University of Nebraska State Museum. University officials have begun searching for the next museum director, and Weller will maintain her position in the Department of Entomology until Sept. 15.
Weller is leaving during a $64 million renovation of the museum, which she said had been a priority for years when she became interim executive director in September 2008. She later earned the full director title.
“We’ve worked on [construction funding] for the last seven years,” Weller said. “That was actually in the job description.”
In her absence, three administrators will look after the museum, including the renovation.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed funding for the museum’s reconstruction and move to St. Paul in 2009, which made museum leadership question the viability of improving the museum, Weller said.
Steve Sigmond, Bell Museum Advisory Board vice chair, said Weller was instrumental in the integration with the Minnesota Planetarium Society in 2011, which
helped expand the museum and acquire funding.
“Its been about building the museum in strength and in scholarship since I took over as director,” Weller said.
Beverly Anglum, the museum’s director of advancement, will handle marketing and fundraising in Weller’s absence, according to a press release.
Anglum said Weller leaving will not hurt the project, as she is leaving during a time when the institution is in a stable position overall.
The Nebraska museum offers a number of things the Bell Museum does not, Weller said, adding that its paleontology program and connection to the Smithsonian Institution made the position more attractive to her.
Despite coming at an “inopportune time” — Weller wanted to see the museum finished — she did not want to lose the opportunity when the previous Nebraska director retired.
The museum’s leaders have identified new priorities, which include growing and continuing funding from private and public sources, increasing annual visitors from 45,000 to 105,000, and increasing education and outreach to the community, Anglum said.
Don Luce, the museum’s curator of exhibits, said he has worked closely with Weller over much of her time at the University, including creating exhibits about moths — Weller’s area of expertise.
When Weller became director, Luce said, funding had been cut for the institution, but Weller helped increase funding and assistance through the government and other sources.