Restoring Earth: Exhibit Review

Before I started my internship I had the opportunity to see the Restoring Earth exhibit in the Abbott Hall of Conservation at the Field Museum. The exhibit is directly connected to the department known as The Action Center (formerly Environment, Culture, and Conservation [ECCo]) which I am an intern for. Although I am an intern at the museum now I can safely say that my review is not influenced by this.That’s my little disclaimer.

 I do not own photgraph.

Visitors explore exhibit.

Restoring Earth is now a permanent exhibit at the Field which opened in November 2011.  Restoring Earth exhibit is situated on the upper level of the Field Museum in its Abbott Hall of Conservation.  The exhibit chronicles the museum’s staff efforts to conserve the environment abroad  and locally.  Immediately, upon entering the hall the exhibit takes a decidedly  more modern approach to its exhibit design (admittedly the Field Museum suffers from stagnation in its older permanent exhibits).  The design uses  bold color, artistic nature photography, sleek construction, and use of some natural sustainable materials.  Restoring Earth uses four main sections. Each section is clearly labeled with a straightforward and intriguing title with metal lettering on bright walls.  The exhibit thoroughly uses mixed media employing video, objects, photographs, text, and interactive content.

The first section serves as an introduction into the process and organization of involved in putting researchers into the field. Cases display biologists’ scribbled notebooks, hooks used to coral snakes, and other tools used by researchers. On the opposite side is a small theater area; a series of three clips are projected on to three walls. The length of each clip (4, 8, and 5 1/2 minutes) was conveniently listed in the seating area for guests.  Carved logs are the seating in the theater area. The videos, along with surrounding text, explain that three teams were used to research the Andes-Amazon region: “advance team” which prepared trails and camp sites, “biological team” went into the field for three weeks to take inventory of plant and animal life, and “social team” which worked with the surrounding community to access their use of the land.

Before the visitor reaches the second section they are invited to use a touch screen interactive installation that allows further explore the experiences of the three teams. I used this easy to use interactive and some high school students did as well but were quick to move on (students were prompted to move on by other students who were not engaged).  “Saving the Rainforest — by using it” is the title of the second section which highlights how two indigenous cultures use their natural resources in an environmentally responsible manner. The Maijuna are featured, in text and photos, for their changes in harvesting the Aguaje tree.  Another panel reads: “The Shipibo crafting a living from the rainforest” and corresponds with objects and photos demonstrating the various crafts and art produced from renewable forest resources, products that are sold for profit. The products are sold instead of lumber thus leading to better use of natural resources while helping the local ecosystem. The third section “Reefs and Islands — more to discover, more to protect” is located in a semi-enclosed area which focuses mostly on a vast collection of mollusks, traditionally displayed. An interactive part allows guests to explore a sediment sample from the Florida Keys with a microscope while looking for specified mollusks.

As the visitor proceeds through the open yet clearly defined area a bright green wall states: “Museum collections create a library of life”. The quote contributed to the attitude the exhibit was trying to create: museum collections are about more than just curiosities or objects. The last section, “Conservation is collaboration”, focused particularly on conservation, food production and climate change in Chicago. This section featured multiple interactive video displays that featured five short (less than three minutes) and entertaining videos each, a theme for each one. For example one video discussed urban gardening (including keeping chickens) or another discussed how eating meat effects the environment. Some videos were of real people and environments while others were animated. Guests could touch the screen and choose what they would like to learn more about.  A smaller subsection focused on fire as a part of conservation and replenishing natural environments. This section was prominently funded by Bank of America, but it was unclear if the whole exhibit was funded by them.

Overall, Restoring Earth is a fresh exhibit especially for the Field Museum. It takes on a different feel from the majority of the museum.  the content of the exhibit is accessible to visitors ranging from middle school students to adults and Restoring Earth allows for free movement and various opportunities to choose information. The information is particularly enlightening to people who are not particularly knowledgeable about environmentalism or conservation efforts abroad and in urban landscapes such as Chicago. Those who have more education in the field may find information too simple for them but nevertheless it could be useful to them to see the process the museum’s Action Center uses in conservation.

As a visitor I had a deep sense that this exhibit was about demonstrating the usefulness of teamwork on the part of researchers and community members. Much of the introductory part of the exhibit is about the what researchers actually do. Restoring Earth also is about results; research and fieldwork is directly connected to real world actions and conservation. For example, one panel about South America reads: “21.9 million acres protected in 11 years”. Restoring Earth is useful in educating the public about what conservation is and what it does while give its audience a message that is not heavy-handed but instead intriguing and maybe even inspiring.

Read what the Field Museum has to say about its own exhibit, Restoring Earth.


Meet Me at the Maori House

Photo courtesy of Field Museum

Photo courtesy of Field Museum

I wanted to stop by and share with you an interesting experience I had at the Field Museum two Wednesdays ago. As part of my internship, my fellow interns and I along with are supervisors have a weekly meeting on Wednesdays. After our meeting on the 10th, all of us interns came away with are weekly assignments and focus for the rest of the week. That is when one of our supervisors told us that a group of high school students would be meeting with staff of the anthropology department and the meeting would take place at the Maori House (formally Maori Meeting House, Ruatepupuke II). The students were in a program that was for teens from Bronzeville and Pilsen which are African American and Mexican American neighborhoods, respectively.

The Maori House is an permanent exhibit at the Field Museum near the museum’s south Pacific exhibition. The Maori from New Zealand, whom this meeting house formerly belongs to, allowed the museum to keep it even though the meeting house is a place of great importance to their heritage. The place is representative of their honored ancestors, one of which is Ruatepupuke. Our supervisor said that using the Maori House as a gathering place was a part of the agreement made with Maori. This is when we found out that there would be a ceremony held at the Maori House and there would be singing. He did mention that while the ceremony is similar to the ritual that Maori used when new people came into their territory, we were not at all suppose to be pretending to be Maori. Suddenly our internship turned into choir practice as we worked on a song to offer to our visitors (“Simple Gifts” a Shaker hymn, an interesting choice).

When the time came to meet at the Maori House, all of the interns realized how serious this ceremony was. Another anthropologist (who expertise is definitely in this area) led us in what to do, where to stand, and what not to do. We also found out that the high school group had prepared for the ceremony in return. At the end of the ceremony everyone joined together and we processed through the Maori House, solemnly touching each carving inside the meeting house which represented an ancestor. When I made it half way around the house, suddenly a loud chant broke out. There were two visitors to the museum at the house entryway. We found out that the couple was from New Zealand and that man who was chanting just happened to know a Maori blessing.

What turned out to be a little silly to me and other interns ended up being a meaningful gesture between the museum staff and the high school students. After the ceremony we went outside and shared snacks. It was a good time to hear what the teens were experiencing that summer. Unfortunately, we never learned the name of the program they were in but nevertheless it turned out to be a learning experience for everyone.