The Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum was opened in 1978. It is named for naturalist and businessman Monte L. Bean, who funded the construction of the building and donated some of his own collection to the museum. Brigham Young University acquired property for the Lytle Ranch Preserve, a six-hundred-acre property in Southwestern Utah, from the Nature Conservancy in 1986. The Preserve functions as a desert laboratory for students and scientists and is considered an extension of the museum.
Brigham Young University inherited a life science collection from the Deseret Museum at LDS College in 1927. The collection was originally housed in the Grant and Brimhall buildings, but university leaders hoped to find a more permanent home for the items. In the 1970s, BYU President Dallin H. Oaks approached Monte L. Bean to ask if he and his family would be interested in funding a museum on campus, and he and his wife agreed. The museum was designed by architect Bob Fowler and built by Layton Construction Company, opening to the public in 1978. The museum underwent extensive renovations from 2012-2014, suffering a minor fire in 2013 that did not damage the collection. The renovation added 30,000 square feet to the museum and introduced new exhibits.
The museum includes a collection of artworks created by Boyd K. Packer, a former apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It features over 1,000 of his nature and wildlife paintings, drawings, and woodcarvings.
At the building’s groundbreaking ceremony, President Oaks said, “There probably are not better collections of life science exhibits between the Mississippi River and west coast than we have at BYU.” Today, the museum’s collection of 2.8 million specimens has an estimated value of $55 million. Students, scientists, and other researchers have access to the collections, and about 60,000 school-age children visit the museum ever year. Entry is free, and the museum has a gift shop that helps fund the museum’s upkeep and mission. The museum is accredited by the American Association of Museums and is a member of the Natural Science Collections Alliance.
The Bean Museum’s mission is to “inspire wonder and reverence for our living planet.” President Oaks said that while the museum would be a “vital teaching laboratory for students at BYU and a vital scholarly resource for our scholars, it will also make a landmark in the western United States and indeed for tourists and individuals who are interested in learning more about the world we live in.” Some of the museum’s goals include becoming the leading university-based life science museum in the U.S., to be central to the community, and to promote understanding, appreciation, and stewardship of the earth.