After months of work and anticipation, the Museum of Idaho’s new expansion is complete. You can witness the latest stage in the museum’s evolution when the museum opens the expansion this weekend.
The expansion effectively doubles the size of the museum and includes a 9,000 spare-foot, two-story exhibit hall, new lobby, gift shop and main entrance, as well as increased basement and storage space and an expanded and fully outfitted Maeck Family Foundation Education Center.
The $4.9 million addition broke ground in July 2018 and was funded through donations and grants.
“(The new exhibit hall) is a little bigger than our old traveling exhibit hall, so we’re excited about that,” Museum of Idaho spokesperson Jeff Carr told EastIdahoNews.com. “It allows us bigger and better exhibits than we’ve been able to before. Interestingly enough, traveling exhibits are getting bigger, so we’re kind of keeping up with the times now.”
Museum officials are marking the grand opening of the expansion with several private events, including one involving Idaho Gov. Brad Little. The expansion will be opened to the public Saturday. Also this weekend, visitors will be able to explore both the new sections of the museum, as well as the exhibits that are currently open to the public.
The museum is christening the new exhibit hall with “Darwin & Dinosaurs.” The exhibit examines the theories of Charles Darwin and the tools and techniques he used to develop them. It also demonstrates how those theories are reflected in the evolution of dinosaurs.
“It contains 13 casts of dinosaur skeletons,” Carr said. “And these are dinosaurs a lot of the public may not be as familiar with, so you’ll get to see some new stuff that you don’t often see.”
“Darwin & Dinosaurs” also features dozens of artifacts that aided Darwin’s studies and multiple interactive digital displays that teach various concepts of evolution. There is also a huge touchscreen game called “Hungry Birds” where kids (and adults) play as moth-eating birds while learning about how environmental changes can affect the food supply.
“It’s a 12-foot by 17-foot touchscreen game,” said Carr. “It’s one of the largest touchscreen surfaces in the world. They say it’s the size of 5,000 iPhone screens.”
And the exhibit itself is thinking big too.
“Darwin and dinosaurs may not seem like a natural fit,” he said. “But in fact, they’re two parts of the same story. Dinosaurs were discovered in the 1820s, and people didn’t know they existed before then. Learning about the discovery of dinosaurs was part of what inspired Darwin to set off on the H.M.S. Beagle, which was the name of his ship, to learn more about the age of the Earth and different species and how thing move and change and adapt over time. … ‘Darwin & Dinosaurs’ are really part of the same story of the world starting to learn more about itself.”
One of the exhibit’s goals is to dispel misinformation about Darwin and his work.
“Contrary to popular belief, scientists before Darwin had already noticed that species evolve,” Carr said. “Darwin simply provided the enduring theory as to how and why: natural selection. Natural selection says nothing about the origins of life. Darwin never spoke out against religion, and most Christian churches consider his theories compatible with their beliefs.”
Evolution can be a divisive subject, so Carr said the museum officials took steps to stomp out controversies before they brought in “Darwin & Dinosaurs.”
“Museum leadership reached out to various local religious communities prior to selecting this exhibit, and all expressed support for it,” he said. “Religious attitudes toward evolution have come a long way in the last couple of decades. Whatever your beliefs, we invite all to come in, feel welcome, engage and learn more.”
“Darwin & Dinosaurs” opens Saturday. Soon after, parts of the museum currently housing the traveling and Idaho exhibits will be closed to be renovated and prepared for the museum’s planned “Way Out West” exhibit.
Visit the Museum of Idaho website for more information.