As soon as you walk into the lobby of the new Burke Museum, you’ll see a real skeleton of a 30-foot Baird's beaked whale hanging overhead. To the right is a mastodon cast from the Ice Age. All through the building, floor-to-ceiling glass walls give you an open view of researchers at work.
This isn’t one of those stuffy old museums where you’re supposed to look at artifacts on a wall. The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is now light and open, and everyone is invited to interact with artifacts and peek into the curators’ workspace. The goal of this new building is to turn the museum inside out – 60 percent of the entire museum is now visible to the public.
Photo: Joshua Huston
There are six new galleries, 12 working labs you can see into and an artists’ studio. On any given day, you might see researchers prepping a T-Rex neck vertebra or examining a bat specimen. Everyone can be a part of the discovery.
“I am very excited for adults and children to see the new museum, where they will be able to not just look at exhibit and cases of objects, but also look at people working with those objects and creations,” says Julie Stein, the Burke’s executive director. “I hope children will realize that we hold these objects for them, for their future, so they will be able to answer the many questions that have not even been considered yet.”
Photo: Joshua Huston
The Burke is located on 15th Ave NE at the University of Washington, next door to the now-demolished old building. Its new 113,000-square-foot home is 66 percent bigger, cost $106 million and was a decade in the making. Unlike its previous digs, this building has climate control to preserve the artifacts in its collection.
The Burke was started in 1885 by a group of teenage boys who called themselves the Young Naturalists. It’s now the oldest museum in the state. It holds more than 16 million artifacts documenting Northwest natural history, including the world’s largest collection of spread bird wings.
Stein has worked at the Burke since 1990, starting as a curator and becoming the museum’s director in 2005. She hopes that kids, especially, realize that museums are important places that educate us – and inspire us to be curious and ask questions.
“Each of us can be an expert in something, and we can find joy in sharing that knowledge and excitement,” she says.
IF YOU GO:
Where:The Burke Museum
4300 15th Ave NE
Seattle, WA, 98105
When: The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Last admission at 4:30 p.m.
Cost: $22 adult, $14 ages 4-17, free 3 and younger
Note: Free admission the first Thursday of each month, when the museum is also open until 8 p.m.
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