Bakken Museum planning major renovation

Six-month construction project to bring new exhibits, new lakefront entrance

A new glass tower entrance to the Bakken Museum will overlook Bde Maka Saka and the wetlands in front of the museum. Submitted rendering

The 44-year-old science museum on the western shore of Bde Maka Ska is preparing for a major renovation that will bring new interactive exhibits, modernized classroom space, improved accessibility and a dramatic new lakefront entrance. 

The Bakken Museum was established in 1975 by Medtronic co-founder Earl Bakken to house his collection of historical books and artifacts relating to science and technology. In 1998, as it turned its focus to STEM education, the museum built an 8,400-square-foot addition. Today, about 45,000 students per year learn about science, technology, education and math through the museum’s on- and off-site programming.

When the 1998 addition closes for construction this January, the museum’s Spark of Life exhibit will be completely removed and a number of the museum’s popular items — including the theremin, the 60,000-volt Wimshurst generator and the 1937 Raoul Dufy painting “La Fée Électricité” — will be placed into storage for the first time in more than two decades.

“Collections pieces [need] to be rotated off of the floor for preservation purposes,” said Michael Sanders, the Bakken’s president. “This is an opportunity to refresh the exhibit galleries.”

Museum staff are staying tight-lipped on the details of new displays and programming in advance of a Nov. 16 “Bakken to the Future” fundraising campaign. A June presentation to the West Calhoun Neighborhood Council described the museum’s plan for the renovated galleries as using “facilitated and unfacilitated activities and hands-on interactives” to explore four main subject areas: networks, perception, robotics/artificial intelligence and bionics/assistive technologies.

The 1998 wing of the museum will stay closed throughout the six-month construction project, though the original West Winds mansion, home to Ben Franklin’s Electricity Party, will be open for reduced weekend hours. 

The renovated museum is expected to open to the public in July 2020.