Estuarium Dives into the Necessity of Water
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically affected the way museums work, many, including the North Carolina Estuary in Washington, are finding ways to further educate the public.
The Estuarium, an environmental center at 223 E. Water St., is a non-profit organization run by Partnership for the Sounds that offers the opportunity to “experience nature, history and art in a fun, family-friendly center along the Pamlico-Tar explore river, in the heart of the inner bank. “
In keeping with the theme of exploring waterways, the Water / Ways traveling exhibition, which opened on October 16 and ends on November 29, looks at the impact of water on American culture.
The estuary is one of six rural sites selected to host Smithsonians Water / Ways exhibition as part of the Museum on Main Street program.
“It went very well, aside from the obvious social distancing difficulties with kids,” Russ Chesson told Coastal Review Online about the opening weekend during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chesson is the operations and programming specialist for the Estuarium.
“Some of our larger events have had to be canceled or revised and we are unable to take full advantage of the facility,” explained Chesson. “We are fortunate that we are about to open our museum and, for the first time in months, have the opportunity to welcome visitors and personal programs. As with all things during the pandemic, we had to consider smaller groups and follow recommendations to keep our people and patrons as safe as possible. “
Water / Ways, a series of stand-alone panels, is part of the Smithsonian’s Think Water Initiative to promote awareness of water as a vital resource for life through exhibits, educational resources, and public programs. The public can participate in conversations on social media using the hashtag #thinkWater.
The exhibition not only looks at the water cycle, the effects of water on the landscape, settlement and migration, and its effects on culture and spirituality, but also the effects of access to water and the control of water resources on political and economic planning.
The North Carolina Humanities Council helped bring the exhibit to the state.
“We’re proud to bring another museum on Main Street Smithsonian to North Carolina,” said Sherry Paula Watkins, executive director of the North Carolina Humanities Council.
“As of 2010, the council has placed four nationally recognized Smithsonian exhibits in 24 small-town museums, libraries, and historic sites across the state,” she said. “This program is an example of what can be done by leveraging and combining the prestige of the Smithsonian Institution, decades of programming expertise from the North Carolina Humanities Council, and the unique history of our rural North Carolina cities.”
The Water / Ways touring exhibit began its tour in Burnsville, Yancey County in May and then traveled to Franklin and Wake Forest before arriving in Washington this month. The exhibit will run at the Wrightsville Beach Museum from December 4 to January 18, 2021 before ending in Graham, Alamance County. For previous host site locations, see www.nchumanities.org.
“The panels deal with the social, cultural and physical importance of water in our world and raise awareness of this essential element,” explained Chesson. “The actual exhibition is only part of the puzzle, however, as each location has been tasked with providing events and programs to shed specific light on the importance of water in their own communities.”
Chesson said North Carolina Coastal Pines Council Girl Scouts from Beaufort and Martin counties attended the Water / Ways exhibition opening day because they could no longer hold a large event that they had planned.
“Your camporee was canceled, so we held the premiere of our Water / Ways exhibition to celebrate the big weekend for you,” he said.
Kim Boyd, director of the Girl Scouts service unit for Beaufort and Martin Counties and troop leader, told Coastal Review Online that about four troops from the two counties were represented on the opening day of the exhibition.
Her daughter Courtney Boyd, a senior at Southside High School in Chocowinity, was supposed to be planning the camporee at Camp Hardee, but the camp is closed due to COVID-19.
Boyd said her daughter wanted a river-themed camporee at Camp Hardee, so they worked together to find an alternative location. They chose the estuary because it fit the river theme and was in their backyard.
She said they were the first to see the Water / Ways exhibit, “and it was pretty awesome”.
The Boy Scouts have taken COVID-19 precautions, including wearing a mask and allowing 20 people to exhibit at a time. After viewing the exhibition, the scouts took part in two craft projects. They learned more about what can be found in a river and used river stones to paint “quality rocks”.
As part of the local program, the Estuarium partnered with the BHM Regional Library in Washington to host book clubs aboard the center’s pontoon boat in October. National NC Humanities reading, The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalup, is a book that resonates with the Water / Ways exhibition and educational efforts at the Estuarium, Chesson said.
“Given the current educational environment, we have extracurricular nature crafting programs every Wednesday in November,” he said. “Water Way Wednesday is designed to provide an external source of learning and practical fun for the children in our community. All of our programs will include a tour of the exhibition and a discussion to further clarify the importance of blue on our blue planet. “
Chesson stated that he enjoys teaching his classes “about the magic of water as the holy trinity of molecules – the stuff of life. I feel that in coastal communities we have a tendency to forget how close we are to it and how special we are for it. I want our visitors to run away with a new or reinterpreted awe of water and all of its possibilities. “
“Creating personal connections with our local waterways is extremely important to support the active management of these waters,” said Christy Perrin, Sustainable Waters and Communities coordinator at North Carolina Sea Grant and a leader in the NC Watershed Stewardship Network. “Hopefully, visiting the exhibits and related events will inspire people to explore their own local waterways.”
Chesson said David Clegg, chairman of the Estuarium Board of Directors, took the opportunity with the North Carolina Humanities Council and the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street.
“Our director Tom Stroud thought it seemed perfect for our museum and embassy, so applied for the grant and the opportunity to host the exhibition,” he said.
The exhibition is a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibition Service, state humanities across the country, and local host institutions. Sponsors include the National Humanities Center, our State Magazine, Sea Grant North Carolina, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and the North Carolina Water Resources Research Institute.
Check out the Water / Ways exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum on Main Street.
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