2019 Executive Excellence Awards: Julie Stein, Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

The executive director of the Seattle museum is one of this year's winners.

This article appears in print in the February 2019 issue. See more about the winners of the 2019 Executive Excellence Awards here. Click here for a free subscription.

The Burke museum of Natural History and Culture needed a more modern, larger facility, one equipped with climate control, to house and preserve its collection of 16 million artifacts documenting the Northwest’s natural history.

But it didn’t want just another building. What it needed and wanted was a place where more of the collection could be displayed, and the public could see researchers studying and working on dinosaur bones or Indian baskets.

“The public would love to know what’s in our collection, why we keep them, what we do with them and how does what we learn from them make their lives better,” says Julie Stein, the museum’s executive director since 2005.

For Stein, it’s been a decade-long task of translating that vision into an architectural plan, finding the money for it — including a $105 million campaign — and overseeing its construction, all the while keeping the existing building operating and running the museum’s research, education and visitor programs.

When the new Burke on the University of Washington campus opens this fall, the 113,000-square-foot building will include workrooms, collection areas and an artist studio where the public can watch museum personnel at work. The design incorporates what was learned from building a full-size prototype, practicing with it and testing the public’s reaction. The work won’t stop once the new Burke is open, Stein says. “No one has tried this before,” she says. “It’s exhilarating — and terrifying.”

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