The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is the oldest public museum in Washington state and it's now set to become its newest. Well, sort of. Home to 16 million artefacts and specimens, ranging from one of the best-preserved T. rex skulls in the world to a 35-foot canoe, the museum is set to relaunch in mid-October after undergoing a vast makeover.

Aerial shot of the New Burke museum exterior featuring sustainable wood sliding features
Designed by Tom Kundig of Olson Kundig, the New Burke is rooted in the Northwest with features like sustainable wood sidings ©Dennis Wise, courtesy Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture

The new 113,000-square-foot building, designed by Tom Kundig of architecture firm Olson Kundig, has a goal of full transparency. Under its new moniker, the "New Burke", it aims to give visitors access to the work that goes on behind-the-scenes by breaking down traditional museum barriers between public and “back-of-house” spaces and inviting visitors to be part of a working museum. Nearly 60% of the museum will now be accessible or visible to visitors (compared to just over 30% in the previous building).

Fossils of animals that lived during the last ice age on display in Burke Museum's paleo gallery
Visitors can step back in time and see the animals and plants that lived in Washington state during the last ice age ©Dennis Wise, courtesy Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture

Collections, workrooms and research labs will be integrated with traditional galleries so everyone - from curators to visitors, educators to students - will be able to see how artefacts and fossils are prepared, catalogued and displayed. Simple, handwritten signs tell visitors what the scientists within are doing and volunteers will be on site to answer visitors’ questions. 

Visitors talk with a Burke volunteer about visible contemporary culture collection with a troll mural in the background
Visitors talk with a Burke volunteer about visible contemporary culture collections in the Northwest Native Art gallery, featuring “ The Troll II ” mural by Alison Bremner (Tlingit) ©Mark Stone, courtesy Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture

"We are very excited to open the doors of the new Burke Museum to the public―the creation of this new museum is truly a community effort," Burke Museum executive director Dr. Julie K. Stein said. "We look forward to having a new building that serves as a gathering place for learning, research, and appreciation of cultures and the environment for generations to come."

Giant wall mural comprised of flat black vinyl cutouts and punctuated with 3D fluorescent acrylic shape
“Synecdoche,” a three - story mural by artist RYAN! Feddersen (Okanogan and Lakes) anchors the heart of the museum ©Dennis Wise, courtesy of Burke Museum of Natural History

Since closing the old museum at the end of 2018, museum staff have been hard at work moving millions of objects, building exhibits and getting the New Burke ready to open. There's a new outdoor courtyard space and an exciting new place to eat. Off the Rez, which was ranked one of the top 26 food trucks in America by the Food Network will open its first brick-and-mortar location in the museum with a focus on Indigenous food and ingredients like Indian tacos and fry bread (you can learn more about the bread's origin in the galleries).

Children chat with scientists in a research room filled with fossils and glass jars of artefacts
Visitors can experience real-time research with world-class scientists at the New Burke ©Dennis Wise, courtesy of the Burke Museum of Natural History

Opening weekend kicks off on Saturday, 12 October. Visitors can experience six new galleries, meet researchers and volunteers at the grand opening. The new outdoor courtyard will be transformed into a festival with multicultural music and dance performances, as well as family-friendly activities.

Adult entry is $22 (€20), senior tickets costs $20 (€18), student and youth (4-17) cost $14 (€12) and children under three-years-of-age go free. For more information, see here.

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