With 50 percent more gallery space, new museum classrooms and increased research facilities, the renovated Peabody aims to further promote scientific curiosity and community-building.
Following its first comprehensive renovation in 90 years, the Yale Peabody Museum plans to reopen its doors to visitors in 2024 with a new array of resources for Yale students, faculty and the greater New Haven community.
Limited in its ability to store collections and house large-scale projects, the Peabody’s administration had been contemplating an extensive renovation for more than 15 years. The actual planning process began in 2016 once fundraising goals had been finalized and a benchmark had been met. In October 2020, construction began on a new loading pavilion as well as renovation on the Kline Geology Laboratory’s lower level.
“When the museum was created in 1866, it was intended to be a resource for research and teaching by Yale faculty and a place for Yale students to learn,” Peabody Museum Director David Skelly said. “That hasn’t changed — we have done much in recent years to strengthen that role.”
In addition to creating 50 percent more exhibition space by moving administrative offices to a new building, the renovated Peabody will include five new classrooms embedded in the galleries on all floors of the museum, which will bring students into contact with the collections and make it easier for them to take advantage of exhibits.
Another innovation is the Study Gallery –– a place where faculty can request objects to be put on display for their students for a semester. According to the Peabody’s Director of Student Programs David Heiser, it is going to be “a remarkable resource” for Yale students, as they will have continuous access to the displayed items and even be able to give class presentations in the gallery right in front of them.
Another student-driven space will be the Student Exhibition Gallery, which is a space specifically designed for Yale students to put together their own exhibitions that feature Peabody collections, original artwork inspired by the museum’s objects or nature as a whole. The creation of both galleries serves a larger renovation goal for the Peabody — to become more responsive to student and faculty needs, as well as to promote accessibility, according to Heiser.
“We now want museum spaces to also serve as spaces where students can meet and where a larger community can come together,” Heiser said. “For that reason, we are going to be utilizing some of the classrooms and meeting spaces after official working hours.”
In an effort to increase diversity across the museum, the Peabody administration has done several rounds of “evaluation exercises.” During these exercises, undergraduate and graduate students from a wide range of academic fields offered their feedback on how to improve the museum’s operation.
In addition, students have several options for making contributions to the museum, such as writing labels, selecting exhibition materials, helping with community outreach efforts and working on design and multimedia elements. According to Associate Director of Exhibitions Kailen Rogers, the Peabody team is looking forward to giving students this opportunity “to get practical experience in exhibitions.” The museum’s vision moving forward is “to expand entry points” into natural history and the sciences for students.
There are currently a number of cases and drawers throughout the new galleries that the museum staff plans to use for collaborations with the Yale and New Haven community. The goal is to give a voice to everyone interested — from a local seventh grader building a display after learning about ancient Mesopotamia to a Yale graduate student showcasing 3D-printed models of different shapes of fish scales to an expert Maya craftsperson creating instruments using traditional techniques, Rogers explained.
“We’ve done a lot of preparation to embark on these collaborations and are now at the exciting stage of reaching out to potential partners,” Rogers said. “We hope to build on these relationships as we go, to more firmly and meaningfully forge links with our communities.”
The Peabody’s extensive renovation not only adds spaces for more exhibitions and improves access to them, but also seeks to create new opportunities for Yale students and New Haven residents to directly engage with the museum’s collections and interact with each other more often.
“In terms of our role at Yale, the Peabody has been a home for the development of scientific thought for the last 155 years or so,” Heiser said. “We have a strong relevance to the Yale community with regard to both our history and our forward-looking way of regarding old material. But I think we also have great relevance to the New Haven community because Peabody is a place where science is made understandable and fun. We are excited to continue promoting those values once we reopen.”
The Peabody Museum’s revamped collections facility is currently situated on Yale’s West Campus.
Tania Tsunik | [email protected]