Welcome. So today this session is Different Lenses for Addressing Our Planet Crisis. So Earth is experiencing a climate and conservation crisis. It’ll take more than media and science-based organizations to educate our population about this crisis and how individuals can take personal and collective action. Today we’ve brought together four different disciplines of museums: art, natural history, botanic garden, and aquarium, to share the diverse exhibits we have created to address our threatening planet. So I’m Beth Redmond-Jones. I’m vice president of exhibitions at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where I oversee our whole exhibition program and our public programs we help create. I have content design, project management, interpretive media, film and video and exhibit maintenance under my purview. Darcie MacMahon right here has worked in the museum field for more than 25 years and currently oversees the Florida Museum’s public experience from exhibitions and educational programs to earned income and live butterflies.
I love the last part. Her archeology background led her to exhibition development, and over the years, she has developed numerous permanent, temporary and traveling exhibitions of various levels of complexity and cost. Darcie’s passion is inspiring people to care about life on earth. Jane Winchell down here at the end is The Sarah Fraser Robbins Director of the Art & Nature Center and Curator of Natural History at the Peabody Essex Museum. You two may have the battle for the longest titles. I just have to say. Janie and her team developed interdisciplinary and interactive exhibits using art, science, and creative expression to help foster nature relatedness and stewardship. Since 2001, she has also been spearheading the institution’s new climate and environment initiative that features a series of exhibitions, programs and institutional efforts to address the planet crisis.
That’s 2021, not 2001, just [inaudible 00:02:11].
Well, there you go. 2021. Okay. And now I can’t see the rest of my thing, so I have to go to paper. Jen Tobias is the Associate Director of Exhibitions and Art Collections and curator of art at Denver Botanic Gardens, where she works to combine art, science and creative technologies for meaningful and unexpected experiences. Jen holds an MA with distinction in museum studies from University of Leicester where her studies focused on museums as in the metaverse and a BFA from the School of Art and Institute of Chicago. Jen has worked with exhibitions, art and data in a number of institutions. She’s a metadata evangelist, I want to know more about that, and an art history nerd who’s interested in how virtual experiences is changed by physical experience.
So before we get started, I want to talk a little bit about kind of a philosophy or pedagogy that we all agree on when creating conservation topics and exhibitions. So upside down triangle, very simple. The top part is the exhibit experience. All of your visitors come through at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We have 2 million visitors that come and experience our institution every single year, but only a small percentage of that 2 million will actually make a personal connection with what you’re talking about, whether it’s an animal, whether it’s mostly animals, because that’s what we have, but we also have talk about other conservation and science and that sort of thing. But even a smaller percentage will actually take that step to take action. What research has shown is that people don’t go from experience to action. There has to be some kind of personal connection in order for you to feel that empathy and feel that desire to actually do something to help the world. So with that, I give you Darcie.
Okay. So as Beth said, I’m at the Florida Museum of Natural History, and we are a university museum. We’re on the campus of the University of Florida, and we are also the State Museum of Natural History. And because we are a university museum and state museum, we have kind of this schizophrenic personality where we’re all about research, but we’re also about reaching general audiences. We’ve got about 40 plus million objects in our collections and a whole bunch of scientists working on it as well as visitors to our institution. So the kind of institution we are, we certainly recognize that climate change is epic. It is our most pressing challenge on our planet today. And also recognizing that scientists and of course museums can do a better job of communicating about this. So a handful of years ago, we were working on a new strategic plan and we decided that everything we did at the museum, whether it was research or teaching or exhibitions or educational programs, should relate back to some big ideas, some big challenges in our world today.
And climate change, I would say is primary among them. And in fact is really kind of a thread that underpins most of the work that happens at our museum. So we decided to launch what we called a Big Idea exhibit series. And this is located in our main entrance gallery, which everybody who comes into the museum and out of the museum goes through. We have a lot of comfy furniture in there, so people hang out, wait for their family and friends and take a rest. And so we knew a lot of people would see it, and this is really the most modest project we’re going to talk about today, but it was intentionally modest because we wanted to be able to be responsive to things that were happening. We wanted, as you all probably know, usually exhibitions, they take a long time to develop and they’re expensive to develop.
So we wanted something that we could do quickly and we could do at very low cost, just print out on our printers at the museum and mount it and bring in lots of different diverse collaborators on and off campus, and then share it out so that we would create these exhibitions and be able to share it with other institutions. This is an elevation drawing of the space, and these are just two 14 foot wide standoff panels in our entrance gallery. And this is where we were going to feature this Big Idea series.
So we started to experiment and the first experiment was about temperature. And because of the nature of our institution, our paleontology and geology programs, we wanted to look at temperature over millions of years, but we also wanted to look at temperature over hundreds of years. And so these two panels in that entrance gallery, very bite-sized kind of displays, bite-sized information, large on graphics, small on text, and also becoming a platform for pop-up programs where students or scientists or volunteers could pop up a table or a cart with objects from the collections and dive deeper into the topic with our guests.
The next experiment we did was Sea Level Rise. And these I think are two of the most obvious climate change issues for most people today, temperature and sea level. And in Florida in particular, we have flooded streets in Miami, St. Augustine, other coastal cities at every high tide. I’ve gone through meetings and come out and not be able to get to my car because I’m waiting through water. So this is very much on people’s minds and we wanted to present what was going on, but also to say how can we address this and what are some possible solutions? And recognizing that people have a lot of emotion around the challenges of sea level rise, we added a magnetic poetry experience where people could document their emotions around it. So again, we’re kind of prototyping here as we go, trying to figure out what works in this space, what works with guests, what draws people in, and what’s a good thing to share out with other institutions as well.
And in Florida, we had what we called the summer of slime with toxic algae in both freshwater systems and our coastal waters. So we partnered with a nature photographer and some scientists who studied algae and put out, as this was happening, an exhibition on algae, why it was happening, its relationship to climate change. And again, one of those ways to rapidly respond to current issues. And in fact, we’re seeing this happen again this summer in Florida, so we may have to put this one up again. And then we started to find even more entry points that we thought would resonate with visitors to meet them where they were in their lives and what things they were involved with and meaningful to them. And during the pandemic, as you know, a lot of people turned to gardening. So in Florida, if you read the news, we have a fairly wild governor who would not allow us to stay closed for long during COVID.
So we were only closed for three months. And when we came back, we decided to host a gardening exhibition that could value people’s efforts during the pandemic to garden and also tell them why it was helpful for climate change related reasons. Hurricanes, another obvious for Florida, every person in Florida this time of year starts to turn their eyes to hurricanes. And so the hurricane exhibit explored the relationship of storms to climate change.
And then things like gross factors, edible insects, back to our food resources and our food systems and how that impacts climate change. And we were able to showcase some edible insects and sell them in the gift shop. Always popular and we are still experimenting. We have a show up right now on mosquitoes. We are going to be doing one soon on fast fashion, and we do share these out. This is an installation of the hurricane exhibit at Frost Science in Miami. And this is the link to being able to download it for free. And this QR code will take you there if you’re interested. And we’re happy to have any of your ideas. And it’s been a good experiment for us, the fast, responsive, inexpensive kind of DIY approach to communicating with our audiences about climate change.
Hello everybody. And now moving up the East coast to Salem, Massachusetts where I work out at the Peabody Essex Museum, which is an international museum of art and culture. Just happened to be showing here a show for each other that came from the Denver Museum of Art last year. Since 2021, we have been working on a series of projects that are part of our climate and environment initiative. I head up the Art & Nature Center, as Beth said, and have been incorporating art with nature in that space since 2003. But in 2021, we really brought together a series of projects to draw attention, both that were inward facing and outward looking regarding this planetary crisis. And so we’ve been working as a community partner with other institutions on preservation as well as mitigation efforts, hosting a variety of public programs. We’ve taken on a three-year commitment with ENGIE and reducing our energy requirements.
We’re now totally green energy run for electricity for the next three years. And then in our shop, for example, featuring artists like Queen Adeline whose product I’m wearing here who’s focused on sustainable production in her design. This is grounded in a series of exhibition projects, which I’m not going to be telling you more about here, but I will mention that the Great Animal Orchestra will actually be opening at the Exploratorium in June. And I highly recommend experiencing this immersive exhibition as a way of understanding at a visceral level what is happening in these natural ecosystems. The main project I’m focusing on today is Climate Action, which was our anchor project and is up through June 25th of this year. And this was in our family exhibition area. The Art Nature Center is interdisciplinary, interactive, so it’s not a children’s space, but we wanted it to feel welcoming for anyone.
And the inspiration for this really for me came from the Youth climate movement and what it is that I can offer as myself working collaboratively with other people to tackle this problem. And we focused it on the solutions end of things. And this was really helped by working with the Climate Museum in New York City, which if you’re not familiar with them, I definitely suggest you make their acquaintance. They had a project, temporary exhibition called Taking Action, and we modeled a lot of what we did off of their installation, their philosophy, the approach they took, focusing on solutions and bolstering that with climate awareness, but not hitting people over the head as they’re coming in with the expectation. A lot of people actually know there’s a problem, and what they’re trying to figure out is what do we do about this? So we took some of their ideas, we partnered with them with Miranda Massey in developing the ideas and created installations that were working with them, but experimenting with some new approaches as part of that and incorporating the art, which was really important for us in connecting with people emotionally.
And so one of the projects I’m going to tell you a little bit about is the food station play with your food, which was in the solution section, one of the three solution areas that are identified as these are things we can do right now. Smart land use, boosting energy efficiency and clean energy. So this was a table that was in the smart land use recognizing that how we grow food is really important to climate. So we started out with these food items, which were so realistic looking that we found that people kept trying to eat them and dismember them.
The Climate Museum had smartly gone with 3D printed designs, and our design team thought, “Well that’s kind of expensive. Let’s go with sort of prop type food.” Well, now we had to move away from that because they’re being dismembered. And so we went as an interim to this box type thing, but people weren’t nearly as engaged. And the idea here is that you’re coming up and you’re comparing the carbon weight of a food versus the gravitational weight. So the locally grown apple is two ounces, the cheeseburgers almost three pounds, and everything else is in between. So we ultimately went with a project that I think has split the difference. We worked with an artist to weight the foods. They don’t look quite edible, but they’re really appealing. So please learn from our mistakes if you go with something like this. And then the energy station that we wanted to have as an interactive was also based on some ideas that they had done at the Climate Museum.
We didn’t have a window to be activating our solar chimes, so we use light bulbs for that with the solar cells. But we did have people cranking the light bulb to compare an incandescent bulb with two different wattages of LED bulbs that we’re only differentiating by 0.08. But we’re still very significantly different in the energy. Just make sure that your installation is really hardened if you do this because people have loved it and I have spent hours repairing. So do the prototyping to be sure that it works. This was an experimental area within the one nature, one future. Didn’t want to be asking people to write about climate action so much as their relationship to nature, their experience of nature as a place for healing, as a teacher, for resilience. And it has just been so moving the kinds of responses we’ve had from all ages, artwork messages from veterans teachers.
And so it’s really been very, for me, it’s been a really effective interactive to have in the space. And then lastly, in our communal action zone, we focused on a way for people to participate at the Climate Museum, they had a sticker wall, but that meant someone was going to have to be standing there all the time. And we wanted to get away from something that required that much facilitation. So these are stations offering a demo of Count Us In which is an international aggregating platform with 16 action steps. And this was a way for us to invite people to pick up a placard that had one of those section acts action steps mentioned. I think my time is up.
Sorry, that was rude.
That’s all right. I’m almost done. And so we had an artist transform these messages into placards, which then people could pick up and then hold and have someone take a picture of them. Like this is a statement, this is, I’m protecting what I love. And that’s really what the foundation of Count Us In is based on, is that we will protect what we love. And as a starting point, that felt like a way that we could really connect with people and meet them where they were. Thank you so much.
So I am going to share with you about a suite of exhibits that we have in our newest exhibition called Into the Deep, [foreign language 00:20:34]. This is an exhibition that opened a year ago. It’ll be open for seven more years. So if you want to see deep sea animals that you’ve never seen before, you need to get there to the next seven years. So the Deep Sea is the largest living space on earth, and we know less about the deep sea than we do know about space. The deep ocean is at risk of irreparable harm from human impacts. Most people will ever have opportunity to know what lives there. This exhibition brings visitors face to face with animals of the deep sea to help them connect with this unique habitat and to inspire them to advocate for its protection and conservation.
So a quick run through of the exhibit, it begins with a introduction and a view of our largest tank of the aquarium where animals are just below the surface of the water. And here you also see a model of Monterey Bay, which has a deep sea submarine canyon, which is if you drained all the water out of the bay, it is as large as the Grand Canyon. Amazing research can happen there. And our research partner, which is the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, we also call MBARI, research is there. And our scientists and aquarius go out with them to collect and to study what is in the deep sea. You move into the midwater. So space, no place to hide, very cold, lots of pressure. So you have to learn adaptations in order to survive. We take people to the sea floor where you’ll see both deep sea animals that are from Monterey Bay as well as global.
These are on the right deep sea corals, but they’re cold water corals. And very rarely have these ever been seen. And I have to say we just had a group of coral experts come through the other day, and I’ve never seen more grown men geek out in my entire life. It was so awesome. We have a whale fall exhibit, and yes, those are real giant Japanese spider crabs. They are the largest on exhibit anywhere. The carpus are about 18 to 24 inches in diameter, which means the largest one when he spreads his arms all the way out he’s 12 to 13 feet across.
And of course we have to have a touch of element because that’s we’re Monterey Bay Aquarium. So you get to touch deep sea isopods. So the roly poly of the deep sea, these get to be about a foot in length. But I’m going to talk to you about the midwater. So when we were sprinting this, and so you have to understand that I started Monterey Aquarium four years ago. About seven months later, our CEO Julie Packard said that she wasn’t happy with the way the direction this exhibition was going, which had started before I came on board. I said, “Give me three months.” Then a little thing called COVID happened. I lost 20 people from my team, roughly, and we all moved online. So we totally developed and designed this exhibition online until we couldn’t anymore. And we really needed to be on site and in person.
So while we were spritzing one day when we were talking about the midwater, I said, “I want us to think differently. We have animals. And we know that’s why people come to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to see animals that they may have not seen before. We have science. We know the deep sea, we understand climate change, we understand the deep sea as a driver of climate. And then we also have all of our conservation stories.” So what I challenged them to do was find areas, you see where animals and science overlap. Can we find a story that links those two or can we find a story that links conservation and science? But what I want is them to hit the middle spot, which is that teeny tiny little triangle, which I call the sweet spot. So the messages that we had for this area were for animals.
The midwater doesn’t offer any shelter, so animals have to survive out in the open. Science MBARI has made amazing discoveries in the midwater and conservation. We can help keep plastic from polluting the food source of midwater animals. So the series of exhibits I’m going to talk to you about today are the midwater. On the right-hand side, probably all of you have seen this before, but it is a water fill station. I hope all of you are carrying your own water bottles. We just wanted to have something where people could refill their own water bottles, but also talk about less plastic in the ocean. The second exhibit here is one that talks about the food web chain that we have marine snow, which is this little white, which is the main food source for animals in the deep sea. So imagine a small piece of hamburger, whale poop, fish scale, fish eggs, anything that’s falling down from the sea that is potential food.
So talk about how pelagic red crab drift through the midwater. They’re eating marine snow and they get eaten by a larger predator. And then that fish is caught and it’s brought to your seafood market near you where you might be able to eat whatever that animal ate. And then on the left we wanted to talk about marine snow in general. And so when… Is this working? There we go. So imagine marine snow following. We then press a button and you see these bright little pieces of plastic. That is the accurate data of the amount of marine snow in Monterey Bay and the amount of microplastics that’s in the water, it’s terrifying. But this has made a huge impression upon our visitors and a way for them to really connect and us to try to get that information across us. The fourth element in the suite of exhibits is our midwater survival game.
So imagine Pacman in the deep sea and you pick your… Here you see some teenage girls playing. They picked their animal that they wanted to be, they’re then given a countdown and then they start figuring out how to move up and out and move up in the food column, in the water column. And here you see the marine snow falling down. And also back here you see these predators that are kind of hanging out. And as they start eating, you’ll notice in the circle what they’re eating, that person ate a plastic bag. This person ate a shark fin, squid egg, another plastic bag, plastic straw.
And on the sides here you have gauges of how much plastic you’re eating and how much food you ate. This exhibit turned out to have the longest dwell time, partly because what we found is visitors would watch and then they wanted to play. We also had some really competitive kids that insisted on playing it over and over and over again to try to beat their siblings. And that’s great. And what’s really interesting is more times they played it, especially the kids, they would start yelling out. It’s like, “Oh my God, I just ate a plastic bag. Wait a minute, how can that be?” And started this really great dialogue with their siblings, with their peers, and with their families.
So we just finished a summative evaluation that was done by inform, amazing group of people if you haven’t worked with them. And part of the research that we were looking for, the sum evaluation is what people’s understanding was about microplastics. So while most already knew that plastics were harmful, they didn’t realize to the extent of their impact nor that plastic pollution could reach such depths. Primary conservation messages, visitors took away is the impact of plastic on the deep sea.
When they were asked about the threats to the deep sea, two thirds of visitors identified microplastics. That is a huge number. And this is not the only conservation story we talk about in the exhibition, we also talk about sustainable seafood, deep sea mining and marine protected areas. There’s a quote there I’m not going to read, but you all can read it. So if you want. Majority of visitors, 73% commented on the threat of plastics to life in the deep sea. Of these, nearly one third, 31% said they saw plastic messaging at the microplastics display. So they one with the marine snow that changes color when you press the button. And 17% referenced the midwater survival game.
So what are we doing now? We decided to bring back Inform to do a longitudinal study with us. Because I wanted to look at what visitors are taking away four months after the visit because this gets to that they have the experience, maybe they make a connection. And is that action piece happening? So we have just been doing interviews with visitors who were visiting the aquarium in November or in December and sent out very large online survey as well as were doing about 60 one-on-one interviews with individuals who were willing to have further conversations with us. So that will be all coming out soon. We’ll be posting it all on informalscience.org and I’m happy to also get you information if you have any questions. All right. And next we have Jen.
All right. Hey everyone, I’m Jen Tobias. I’m the associate director of Exhibitions and Art Collections. Oh, thank you.
And curator of Art at Denver Botanic Gardens right here, of course in Denver. So we are effectively a small art museum within the Botanic Gardens, and a lot of what we do is right at the intersection of art and science. So today I wanted to talk to you about how we handled the complexity of interpretation around biodiversity and climate change through an exhibition called Welcome Home. Welcome Home opened in 2019 in our Science Pyramid Gallery. And the exhibition narrative is about this idea of biodiversity and climate change, but it’s told through the lens of revealing these really complex interactions between organisms, including humans across landscapes and habitats. So nice small idea, just interconnections of every living thing. It features digital interactives that are combined with specimens.
And one thing that is unusual about it is that it includes human specimens alongside the plant, animal and fungi specimens with the goal to present humans as part of the ecosystem rather than separate from it. One thing that is really interesting about communication about biodiversity and climate change is that it faces this really unique challenge of telling a story that is so vast and so complicated that encompasses the lives of every single person on the planet, of literally every species, of literally the planet itself. It’s trying to describe a system that it’s at a scale so far beyond any individual, though paradoxically, it’s related to every individual and it encompasses space and time in terms that are so vast you can’t really see it when you’re inside of it. We of course, have ways to measure parts of it. You might see fragments of evidence of it in your daily life, but the thing as a whole is kind of invisible because it’s just too big.
Sometimes you’ll hear this sort of thing referred to as a hyper object. And when I was putting this presentation together, I was trying to find a good image for it. And I realized that ironically, it’s hard to find an image for something I’m arguing is fundamentally impossible to visualize. So instead, by way of analogy, this is a different sort of hyper object. So imagine for example, how would you explain to a single coral polyp that billions of organisms as well as the whole economies and food supplies for millions of humans in some ways depends on barrier reef. And this issue of scale is one of the things that we really grappled with in this exhibition. Climate change, of course, is in some ways the story of literally everything. How do you tell that story much less in 1,000 square feet. One of the challenges of this, of course, is that a very quickly becomes abstract.
You’re relying on these descriptions of things and places and times that are really far removed from the experience of any individual. And so in Welcome Home, one way we approach this is by offering concrete examples that can act as scalable conceptual models that reveal the underlying principles. So what that means is that not every element overtly addresses biodiversity and climate change, but rather that each component offers insight to the underlying systems. So for example, this is an interactive that shows deep interconnections between organisms and the grasslands. It’s using water rather as a narrative tool. And it illustrates the idea of these interconnections that are indirect and visible, but they’re also vital and reciprocal, this idea of networks that are connected by resources. So the thing about this interactive is that somebody comes away from it and what they know is that dung beetles eat cow poo.
That is totally fine, but it’s even better if what they take away from it is that in some complex but real way, the lives and broader fates of cows and dung beetles and buffalo gourds and themselves, humans at large are deeply intertwined. The thing about this strategy is that in a way it really relies on metaphor. You’re using these little miniature snapshots of the mechanisms as metaphors and analogies for the whole. This image is one of my favorite examples. These are glass globes filled with plastic trash that we pulled out of the Plat River right here in Denver. So it’s local trash. It’s a literal illustration of course, of plastic pollution, but it’s also drawing in the imagery of snow globes as the self-contained worlds as metaphors for the persistence and volume of plastic waste.
One of the things that this does is that it makes this incomprehensible scale and timeline of plastic waste more tangible rather than relying on abstract description. And it’s something that we really do throughout the exhibition. One thing I thought was really interesting working with scientists to create this exhibition as a person with an arts background is that metaphor and analogy often seem like they’re mainly poetic tools, but you actually find them in science communication for exactly this reason. They make things graspable when we can’t scale it to our own experience. So for example, you hear things like particles are like billiards balls, cells are tiny factories, those sorts of things.
Oh, thank you. Metaphor can be an imprecise tool of course, but that’s actually one of its strengths here. It really allows people to apply their own experiences and their own feelings. You might have heard these studies of course, that indicate that one of the problems around climate change education is that we’re all much more likely to believe evidence that supports our beliefs and encountering contrary evidence sometimes just further entrenches our beliefs. So Welcome Home… Oh goodness, I didn’t even know that could happen. All right, Welcome Home addresses this in part by leading with emotions. So it’s leading with emotion to get at ideas rather than vice versa. So for example, the inclusion of human specimens throughout is really acting as an emotional cue that is equalizing humans in other organisms. And one upshot of this is that it yields really great opportunities for empathy for considering the ways that we have similar needs to other organisms.
We rely on the same kinds of resources. So this is an example of content. We have an interactive that shows how different organisms rely on plants to build their homes. And the idea is that it’s introducing visitors to other organisms as their friends and neighbors, which hence Welcome Home is the title. One of the benefits of this emotion is that it really helps cut through the abstraction. Emotion is often depicted as secondary to cognition, but really it is cognition. It’s the model that we use to understand the world. It’s the model that makes things meaningful to us. And so for that reason, this exhibition really relies on showing rather than telling to prioritize these emotional connections to what’s at stake. So think of this slide as one of those tests your optometrist makes you do the better one, better two, but instead think, feel one, feel two.
So at right, we have a projection model predicting changes to spring snowpack in the mountains. A left is a picture of an alpine pica eating wildflowers. This is a little critter, deeply impacted by snowpack. They’re telling the same story in different ways. But which one of these do you feel more about? Because here’s the thing, asking visitors to think about things like how climate change affects alpine snowpack can be a lift because it feels just super removed. It feels really abstract. But if instead you introduce them to this fuzzy little dude who stuff in his face with wildflowers, it’s a much easier argument to make that they need to care about how climate change impacts their friend.
So to follow up on introducing visitors to their friends, we are also offering things that they can do to care for them and better share resources. So things like reconsidering what they eat, planting pollinator gardens, those sorts of things, as well as opportunities for collective action. And offering visitors things to do is something that we know is really important to our visitors that came through in all of our formative evaluation for the reason that nobody wants to feel helpless in a crisis. And of course that is one of the huge challenges of climate change interpretation, is that climate change is a huge bummer. The news is super, super dire. It’s extremely difficult and really painful for a lot of people to talk about. And so for that reason, part of the strategy here in Welcome Home is about using the beauty and the strangeness of nature as a source of joy and as a source of solace for climate grief.
And one way I thought about this exhibition when we were creating it is that really it’s a love letter to the natural world. We’re asking people to notice and to care and to do something. And why would you fight to protect something that you don’t love? This is an example of this. This is a wall where we ask people to share their favorite place by the water and what they’ll do to care for it. And often the responses are incredibly moving. And every time I’m in there, I always think about the crazy thing that humans are willing to do for love. Not just romantic love, but family, friends, animals, places, things, all the crazy thing we do for love. And so my final note on dealing with interpretation about climate change is that it has to be a testament to what it’s trying to protect. It has to help viewers fall in love with the natural world because that’s where the source of meaningful change comes from. That’s where the power of that motivation comes from. Thank you. And I will now hand it back to Beth for questions.
All right, well thank you so much for this presentation. It’s so inspiring to see y’all’s work. And I especially just really love the Florida one and how adaptable that is and how relevant it is to what’s happening today. So in thinking about that in regards to Colorado, maybe some folks here know that 80,216 is our most polluted zip code in the country here in Denver. And there’s definitely things people can do. We can go out, we can plant trees, but I think that really, there’s a huge energy plant in northern Denver that’s polluting that neighborhood and it’s called Suncor. And Suncor also donates money to museums. And my question for all of you is like, is there any action that you would encourage people to take or that you take around setting limitations about who you’re willing to accept money from?
I’ll say at the aquarium, we vet all of our donors from the big donors. We had one donor for the Deep Sea exhibition, which was amazing because it was a $15 million exhibition because of all the life support systems. But we know exactly where their money is coming from and what they’ve done. So it’s something that we definitely pay very close attention to because the last thing we want to do is take money away from oil farms or deep sea excavators and that kind of thing who aren’t doing their due diligence and understanding of the impacts of their work. Jen?
Yeah, I can go. So yes, likewise, we look at our funders. One thing I think it’s a great question though because of course one thing that is difficult about it is most of our institutions take money from, for example, really big tech corporations. And there is no getting around the fact that any enormous corporation is going to be engaged with some level of this sort of activity. And I think the question of how museum funding is structured is perhaps above and beyond what we’re discussing today. But I think one thing that’s really important is thinking about how we can encourage visitors to take collective action because of course it is really empowering to think about individual action, but broadly speaking, climate change is happening at a geopolitical level and a macroeconomic level. And as we start to think about real activity that comes through collective action. So I know that’s not precisely what you asked, but I think it’s part of the solution.
Just to build on a collective action. One of the things that our conservation science team has done has lobbied at the state level to get rid of plastic bags out of out of stores in California. And so it’s taken that type of effort. And today it was funny, I got a coffee and a woman handed me a straw and I says, “It’s paper?” She said, “No, it’s plastic,” yet it said recyclable on the outside. I said, “Hmm not really.” And I gave it back to her. She goes, “No, you have to take a straw.” I said, “No, I don’t.” It’s like you don’t have to have a straw.
Yeah, I just want to say that Beth showed up to a luncheon today with me and she said is “Are those plastic utensils that they’re handing out?” And she pulls out of her bag these bamboo utensils. I’m like, “You go girl.” Yeah.
It even has chopsticks.
The question about funding is challenging. We struggle with that also. And we have made decisions, for example, we’re working on a big exhibition, like a big fancy permanent exhibition about water and declined to accept funding from water bottling companies for that. But it’s a navigation, it’s like with your leadership and it’s a whole thing navigating that. And similarly with governmental agencies. So in Florida, politics can be tricky. And we’re a state institution and I was telling these guys that on opening day of when we first started this little exhibition series about climate change, the governor came out with the mandate that state institutions could not use the words climate change. And people said, “Oh, did you do this? Just because he was going to say that.” And I’m like “No, we had no idea,” but we’re a little insulated by being on a university campus and have just decided that we’re a science institution and we’re just going to talk the talk. And so far haven’t gotten into trouble about it.
All these exhibitions were really amazing. I’m curious though if you guys each kind of thought about digital approaches at all and if there was any component that was on your website, if you built out like social media to support it or video production, just I’m curious if that kind of was a component in planning this and if there was any measured responses because it’s so much good information. I’m just want to see what that was.
Well, with Into The Deep, we have a full bilingual website for the whole exhibition taking you through each section and talking about MBARI and all the conservation issues, that kind of thing. Every animal is ID’d from what depth it lives at and what it eats and characteristics of it. We also have our social media tweets out regularly about it. One of the components that we agreed with MBARI is that their Instagram, they have completely dedicated to deep sea research. So we developed a program that grabs their Instagram every night at midnight and drops it into these vertical moving towers that we have at the end. So you can see over four, 500 posts of their Instagram to learn more about the current research. And that was the way that we were keeping everything really current with what MBARI is finding out. And then we have education programs that are all online and free that you can access as well. So we really thought about it as a whole comprehensive experience.
Did you get a lot of community engagement online as well? Did you see the same level of response that you were studying and seeing in the exhibition?
We’ve done some evaluation of the website and we know it’s definitely getting hits and that kind of thing. And we’ll see response on Twitter or Instagram, those kinds of things. Like when we post something about the bloodybelly comb jelly and then it’s like you’ll suddenly start seeing people like writing about it, which is what this is. The only place you’ll see it in the world is at Monterey Bay Aquarium. We’re the only ones that have figured out how to keep it alive. But yeah, we definitely see it. We just haven’t been able to measure all the impacts yet.
So we have a virtual tour of climate action that’s available and has been really-
[inaudible 00:45:44] mic more.
Can you hear me? Okay. That also has been really accessed a lot by schools that are still not making trips or don’t have the resources. And then we made a concerted effort to have a significant number of our programs as either virtual or hybrid that people can then go to onsite if they weren’t able to be there or they want to refer to it later. And that’s actually been a really great resource and we have that all on the climate and environment initiative page. So that brings together all the exhibitions as well as the related programming content.
Thanks. Hi, I’m Michael, Formula D. We’re also specializing in this kind of sustainability exhibits as a exhibition maker, but we always grapple with the question at the end of an exhibit once you have engaged your audience, what do you send them home with in terms of actions? And we’ve all kind of seen the pledge walls and the hold up the sign and put a sticker on the wall and giving people some form of empowerment of that they can contribute, but also that it’s not just window dressing in a way. What is your take on this?
Yeah, I can start. We have a whole section in Welcome Home devoted to that, some of which are literal takeaways. So we have a whole section specifically dedicated to climate adaptations that humans can make to sort of care for our friends and neighbors that are non-human. So things like installing a low flow toilet flapper, which I was really excited to put a low flow toilet flapper in what is effectively a natural history exhibition. It’s a really strange object in there and I love it. Or thinking about how you’re watering your yard.
We have literal takeaways for a program that DBG jointly runs called Plant Select that’s about using plants that are well adapted to our particular climate here. So some of those things are resources. You can literally take away some specific things about adapting your diet. And I think it’s a challenge. It’s hard to think about what the thing is. And so our strategy was to offer essentially an array of things of many, many things that wherever your entry point is, there is a small thing that you can take away and you can do. And really also leaning on the idea of making these things economically accessible because sometimes the advice you hear is “Buy an electric car,” like that’s so helpful for everyone. So kind of offering all sorts of ranges and all sorts of different entry points in one specific area. But I think it’s a hard question to answer.
I know for us, we did not offer any physical takeaways, partly because we sit right on Monterey Bay and people drop things and they end up in the bay, which then adds to the garbage in the trash in a pristine national marine sanctuary. So we were hoping that the messages of our exhibits would be enough, especially if you’re seeing that you’re eating a straw or eating a plastic bag and trying to create experiences that move them here. And that may have them then at least think about next time they go get a coffee or they go to a lunch or they see bamboo silverware they can carry around. So to take that action, and we have a very active mailing list and we post out on our social media about new bills that are coming up and that kind of thing.
I was in a session yesterday, I don’t know, did anyone go to the climate change session yesterday? It was kind of interesting. Will Kenning was reporting on survey data and the Yale Climate Action Group was there. And I found some of the statistics really interesting that, and I’m probably going to misquote everything, but something like seven out of 10 Americans believe that climate change is happening. And so you’re really not about convincing people at this point. That’s not really our job so much anymore, which is interesting to think about. So what is our job? And I love Jen’s project, the notion of welcoming home. This is our home and we love our home and we want to take care of it. And Beth, yours too, just the plastic thing. It’s like we’re changing our home with this stuff. So maybe it’s not even, and I’m just thinking out loud here, what you can do. It’s how can you love your planet and how can that influence what you do? I don’t know, just kind of a random philosophical thought.
Hi. Thank you. Kind of two questions. One, is there anything that you guys have found successful that you’ve done for communicating some of these ideas to younger audiences like elementary school age? These concepts kind of seem a little bit higher than your four to eight year old range. And if that’s not relevant, then that’s fine. And I kind of ask that I’ve worked on some master planning projects where a lot of things are being derived from the sustainability development goals, the global goals for that age range. And I’m kind of curious if any of that has had any play as framework or conversation or any experiences you’ve had with that or things that you’ve learned and embraced or moved away from?
So on the under eight audience, is that what you’re asking?
Or younger. Okay. Well, I know right now we have just started the development of a new early learners area, which is for two to six year olds, we call them littles, just for ease. And one of the things that we’ve been doing a lot of research and have been bringing people in to talk about empathy, how children learn through play, through imitation, through mimicry, through role playing. And the way that we’re addressing, we’re looking to address this is just to build a connection because they’re not going to make a change from two to six year olds, but if they can start making connections with the animals and it’s really getting to that personal connection piece. So how does a pot-bellied seahorse move with those little, little wings? And how does it hold itself with its tail around a piece of seagrass?
And can you imitate that and can your dad imitate that? And then what does that look like in playing together? And so that’s the approach that we’re taking is through movement and through those types of gross motor skills of fine motor skill play, we’re starting to build empathy for these animals. And that’s all that we’re asking because what we’re doing is we’re trying to set the stage for later conservation advocates that they will get to as they’re learning, as their brain develops and as they start being able to form more opinions and do that processing of good and bad and all of those kinds of things.
So both the play with your food station and the light crank have been really successful with that age group. One thing that’s really helped with both of those is there are things that a parent can talk about with their child because they can then say, “Wow, that apple didn’t weigh what I thought it would.” I know these are things that kids even will know what a chicken drumstick actually weighs. And so we will see a kid like, “Whoa,” they’re picking up this cheeseburger. And then it is an immediate invitation for a conversation with a parent, which all of us have talked about here, how valuable it is to have those moments when you don’t have to be reading the label. It’s like, “Well, why would that be?” And so we’ve had a lot of conversations around that as well as with the crank, because they are physically experiencing it’s harder to light an incandescent bulb. And so all of a sudden it has a meaning, it has a body, it has a body impression that they may take with them that just seeing the different comparison on a chart wouldn’t mean anything.
I don’t know if all of you realize a thread throughout our four very different experiences, but there was a commonality of food. So what animals eat, what people eat. I still can’t get myself to even try a bug, but we’re all different. But definitely that was a personal connection for all of us with a theme throughout how to get people to start connecting with the content. I think there was another question back here. Yeah.
Yeah. I’m working on a climate change exhibit right now, and one thing that we’re facing is we’re realizing that the impact of climate change is much stronger on… I’m just wondering what work you did for community outreach. We’re realizing that the impact of climate change is much stronger on groups that have not been participating in the academic high level discussions of climate change. And that climate change affects poor people or other underrepresented groups in much different ways than it does the academic and even us at museums. And we’re trying to reach out to them, tell their stories. It’s hard because the funders are all like county and state organizations, or we’re working with university partners and people that we want to tell their stories and empower in helping them understand how they can make change in their communities don’t really have the time to come and help us. So anyway, I’m just wondering what, if any community outreach you did as part of these exhibits or what you would like to do or what you’re thinking about among those lines? I know that’s really hard work. So I don’t want to…
We have a popup museum program and we like to pop up in unfamiliar locations like Walmart parking lot and random places like that. And we have a sea level rise pop up that has met with mixed success. And I think actually that it was too abstract and I think it would be better to find those points of empathy where you know what is important in people’s lives. I’m working with a seminal tribe of Florida Climate Resilience Officer right now, and she said the thing that’s most important to tribal members is heat because Florida’s hot and it’s getting hotter and they suffer from, the elders in the tribes suffer from health issues related to heat. And so for her, that’s like her point of entry into talking about climate change is heat. And maybe it just depends on the audience that you’re trying to reach and what those points of empathy are and what’s important to those communities.
So we are unfortunately… If you can talk in two seconds.
Yeah. I can. Just we included them in the advisors for the exhibition. We had indigenous representatives and marginalized community presence to make sure what was important to them was being reflected also. And we were very direct about that, that yeah climate change affect affects everyone, but not everyone equally. And that was an upfront message.
And we weren’t able to do any, because I shifted the exhibition 180 degrees in a matter of three months, in which COVID hit. So that wasn’t doable, but it is definitely on the docket for future. So thank you all. Have a wonderful rest of your conference. If you have any questions for us, we’re here.