We really make a concerted effort to align our educational programming, including our exhibit information, with the science curriculum core standards of the state of Utah, so we really try to focus in on helping young people learn the things that are taught in school in the context of the museum. —Larry St. Clair, museum’s director
PROVO — BYU’s Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum is set to reopen June 7 after being closed almost two years for renovations.
The museum, which houses preserved animal specimens, including lions, wolves, giraffes, an elephant, a tiger, a hammerhead shark and hundreds of other creatures, has increased in size and also features updates and new exhibits.
“The Africa exhibit, which we had just barely renovated and redone about a year before we closed is still in place," said Larry St. Clair, the museum’s director. "Other than that, there is about 25 new exhibits that we’ve never had in the building before."
The museum first opened in 1978 and was named after the man who donated many of his animal trophies to the museum. In 2012, the museum closed for renovation in order to bring the building up to code as well as to expand the research collections and exhibits.
One of the new exhibits includes a tribute to President Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The museum is the sole custodian of the hundreds of pieces of wildlife artwork that President Packer created over the years.
“(President Packer) has always been a real advocate and supporter of the museum, and we feel like this is a great place not only to display his artwork but also to honor him as a great friend of the museum and a great leader of the church,” St. Clair said.
Other new exhibits include a room dedicated to birds, with dozens of different species on exhibit, and a new children's area where kids can play in replicas of the types of animal environments. Upstairs, the museum showcases the predator vs. prey relationship with a bear, a moose, lions, gazelles and others animals.
A new educational area has been set up that gives staff members more room to receive children on school field trips.
According to St. Clair, before the museum closed, over 150,000 people visited it each year, with children on school field trips accounting for 50,000 of those visitors.
“We really make a concerted effort to align our educational programming, including our exhibit information, with the science curriculum core standards of the state of Utah, so we really try to focus in on helping young people learn the things that are taught in school in the context of the museum," St. Clair said.
That educational programming includes live animal demonstrations, where people can see and touch snakes, spiders and other creatures. These demonstrations continued after the museum closed.
“We’ve continued to have a real outreach program while we were closed," St. Clair said. "We were doing about 110 outreach shows in the public schools and in family home evening groups and Scout groups before we closed. After we closed, we more than doubled that.”
The live demonstrations will continue after the museum reopens, with many shows geared specifically toward school children. These shows include Animal Discovery for preschool-age children, Animal Comparisons for kindergarten-age children, Nature Interactions for third-graders and other demonstrations depending on the ages of the children involved.
“We’re free, and I believe that our live animal show gives us a real edge with kids especially, and I think we cater to families really well,” St. Clair said.
Because the museum has been closed for two years, staff members are expecting a rise in attendance, especially for the first few weeks after the reopening, and they hope the wait will be worth it for those parents who have been anticipating a visit with their children.
“My hope is that when people come in, they’ll say it’s better than it was before," St. Clair said. "We’ve changed our whole concept of exhibits and the way we do those, and I think people will see it as a real refreshing change."
Ben Tullis is an intern at the Deseret News and a freelance writer and copy editor. He graduated from Utah Valley University in April 2014 with a bachelor's degree in English. He lives in Pleasant Grove with his wife and 2-year-old boy.