New Bell Museum imperative for environmental education

By characterizing the UniversityâÄôs 2009 bonding request for a new Bell Museum as âÄúunnecessaryâÄù and âÄúarrogantâÄù (In PawlentyâÄôs Court, May 27, 2009), The Minnesota Daily continues to advocate for sub-standard environmental education for University students and Minnesota citizens. A new Bell Museum is necessary because our faculty use Museum collections, resources and facilities to teach and advise undergraduate and graduate students in nine different colleges and more than 30 undergraduate and graduate programs. The new facility would enable University students to apply classroom facts in outdoor settings âÄî real-time environmental science without leaving campus. In addition, the Bell hires more than 40 students each year as collection researchers; museum docents (instructors); as interns in our visitor services, marketing and front office, providing valuable real-world work experience. A new Bell Museum is necessary because we are the stateâÄôs natural history museum. More than 20,000 school children visit the Bell each year, and we serve an additional 6,000 students in their classrooms throughout Minnesota. Our more than 4 million biological specimens and world-class art collection are rarely seen because our current building lacks the space and amenities to show them safely and securely. As MinnesotaâÄôs official natural history museum, state law requires us to display these objects, and we are currently unable to do so. A new Bell Museum is necessary because environmental issues are rising in importance and people are seeking greater understanding of these issues. We help University faculty explain their research through Café Scientifiques, scientific panels, film series and research exhibits. A new facility would permit us to host all these events in one location rather than scattered throughout the community due to an inadequate facility. Our 2009 legislative request was justified by the overwhelming support of Minnesotans for a constitutional amendment to dedicate funding for the outdoors and arts and culture. The Bell Museum, which offers programs in all three areas, is within MinnesotaâÄôs mainstream. Perhaps thatâÄôs why both the Minnesota House and Senate supported our request. Our request was justified by the more than $9 million raised from private sources for the design and construction of a new building. These donors provided their money in advance of the stateâÄôs commitment. The University should not turn its back on such strong, private support. Sometimes itâÄôs difficult to envision a better way, but that is not so in this case. Our present building is a relic, mired in static and staid 20th-century ideas of a museumâÄôs role. Our plans for a new facility offer a 21st-century approach: interactive and experiential. We encourage The Minnesota Daily and University community to recognize the value of what we do and embrace a better vision. Susan J. Weller Professor and director