Wakening Environmental Consciousness During Smithsonian Institution’s Water/Ways Exhibit
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“What is your water story?”
This question appeared periodically throughout the Smithsonian Institution’s Water/Ways Exhibit at the Lake Hopatcong Foundation Environmental and Cultural Center in Landing – more familiarly known as the Lake Hopatcong Train Station. The interactive exhibit was open Monday-Saturday from July 1 through August 10, thanks to the dedicated corps of Lake Hopatcong Foundation (LHF) volunteers who were there after office hours.
The foundation noted that the exhibit included photos, objects, film, audio, and interactive activities to help visitors explore “the endless motion of the water cycle, water’s effect on landscape, settlement, and migration, and its impact on culture and spirituality.” Political and economic planning, for example, are affected by access to and control of water.
Water/Ways is part of the Smithsonian “Museum on Main Street” project. Donna Macalle-Holly, grants and program director for the LHF, explained that the New Jersey Council for the Humanities (NJCH) funded the exhibit on its travels through the state. Landing was the first stop, and representatives of the subsequent sites assisted in setting it up to gain experience for doing their own assembly later.
Macalle-Holly applied for the grant in 2016. When a representative of the NJCH toured the station at that time, “nothing had been done,” she reported. She told him about the benches that would be taking up space in the waiting room, assuring him that renovations would be completed by the time the exhibit was on tour. “When they came in to set up, they were ecstatic about the space,” she said. The large, curved, free-standing exhibit walls fit perfectly in the entrance and waiting room.
Visitors watched short videos and studied the information on the curved walls. Topics include defining what is a watershed, how climate change affects the water cycle, and how students in the community learn about water. Water gives life and shapes our world: “the ultimate architect,” a slogan on one of the walls proclaims. Science is joined by spirituality in the exhibit, which notes that the Old Testament creation story describes the earth as nothing but darkness with the Spirit of God “hovering over the waters.” Also quoted is Lao Tzu, who said that “nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.”
Observing that water inspires humanity, the exhibit invites visitors to tell their own water stories. To that end, the LHF hosted a story-telling opportunity at the Mount Arlington Public Library on July 25 as one of two events it was required to sponsor along with the exhibit. The other was a Wild and Scenic Film Festival at the Palace Theatre in Netcong on July 13.
According to the LHF, the six-week showing was a resounding success with more than 700 visitors. “Watching the way different people were drawn into different aspects of the exhibit really showcased how deeply humanity is connected with water, and how it resonates with us in a variety of ways,” said Jessica Murphy, foundation president.