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After 4 years of renovations, Yale Peabody Museum’s transformation is nearly complete

A Tylosaurus soars overhead in the new entrance at The Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven, CT. The Museum is set to re-open its doors on Tuesday March 26, 2024 - after an extensive renovation to its exhibits and experiences. March 11, 2024
Dave Wurtzel
/
Connecticut Public
A Tylosaurus soars overhead in the new entrance at The Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven, CT. The Museum is set to re-open its doors on Tuesday March 26, 2024 - after an extensive renovation to its exhibits and experiences. March 11, 2024

The newly-renovated Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven is just a couple weeks away from opening to the public once again.

On Monday, museum officials gave the media a sneak preview. The new museum is about 50% larger than the original museum, allowing for more exhibition space, classrooms and research facilities. The institution has been closed to the public for four years.

With a $160 million gift from Yale alum Edward P. Bass in 2018, Yale not only wanted to transform the museum into a state-of-the-art facility, it also pledged to better serve the New Haven community.

Free admission is part of that, said David Skelly, director of the Yale Peabody Museum.

View from the new overlook at The Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven, CT. The museum is set to re-open its doors on Tuesday March 26, 2024 - after an extensive renovation to its exhibits and experiences. March 11, 2024
Dave Wurtzel
/
Connecticut Public
View from the new overlook at The Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven, CT. The museum is set to re-open its doors on Tuesday March 26, 2024 - after an extensive renovation to its exhibits and experiences. March 11, 2024

“We want this place to feel like, for anybody who walks in, ‘we've been expecting you, glad you're here,’ he said. “We also want this to feel really useful to a whole bunch of people.”

Before the renovation, the museum didn’t have a K-12 classroom. Now, there will be three of them, plus a dedicated space for an after-school program called “Evolutions,” Skelly said.

“So in every possible way, we're trying to think about who the audiences are, how can we support them?” he said.

Another emphasis of the new Peabody is giving Yale students and faculty the opportunity to research and display their own work in dedicated exhibition spaces and classrooms.

With help of architectural firm Centerbrook Architects and Planners, museum officials decided on more open spaces for the new facility, with lots of natural light.

The open plan does wonders for the part of the museum that explores early mammals and birds, said Christopher Norris, the Peabody Museum’s director of public programs.

Chris Norris is Director of Public Programs at The Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven, CT. The museum is set to re-open its doors on Tuesday March 26, 2024 - after an extensive renovation to its exhibits and experiences. March 11, 2024
Dave Wurtzel
/
Connecticut Public
Chris Norris is Director of Public Programs at The Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven, CT. The museum is set to re-open its doors on Tuesday March 26, 2024 - after an extensive renovation to its exhibits and experiences. March 11, 2024

“It was quite possibly the most depressing gallery in the museum,” Norris said. “There were no windows, it was dominated by huge cases. Everything was behind enormous sheets of glass, and you couldn't really tell what was there. This new space has seven times as many fossils as that old gallery, and it is also way lighter and way more open, and that lends itself to people actually seeing and understanding what’s in here.”

For die-hard Peabody fans, there are familiar sights, like Rudolph F. Zallinger’s massive panoramic mural “The Age of Reptiles.” Also on display is the giant brontosaurus skeleton that loomed over the Great Room in the original Peabody Museum for decades.

“It looks completely different than what we had in the past,” said Susan Butts, the Peabody’s director of collections and research.

What's changed is the pose.

“Our dinosaur in the past had a tail dragging down on the ground,” Butts said. “We know from the fossil record that we see footprints, but we never see a tail mark dragging behind those footprints. So we do know that dinosaurs had their tails up in the air, we know that the bones of the tail fit together much better when they're up in the air and extended than when they're dragged down onto the ground, which doesn't even work biomechanically. We've also got a new head, so the head that we had on there wasn't the right size and shape. So, we've replaced the head with something more accurate.”

Brontosaurus at The Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven, CT which is set to re-open its doors on Tuesday March 26, 2024 - after an extensive renovation to its exhibits and experiences. March 11, 2024
Dave Wurtzel
/
Connecticut Public
Brontosaurus at The Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven, CT which is set to re-open its doors on Tuesday March 26, 2024 - after an extensive renovation to its exhibits and experiences. March 11, 2024

Workers added 27 additional vertebrae in the tail, “so it's quite a bit longer than it was before,” she said.

When the museum opens to the public March 26, admission will be free to everyone in perpetuity. According to museum officials, only the first two floors will be ready when the museum opens. The third floor is expected to open by mid-April.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.