Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Exploring Water’s Environmental and Cultural Impact Coming to Six Museums Across New York State
From above, Earth appears as a water planet with more than 71 percent of its surface covered with this vital resource for life. Water impacts climate, agriculture, transportation, industry and more. It inspires art and music. In partnership with the Museum Association of New York (MANY), six New York museums will examine water as an environmental necessity and an important cultural element as it hosts Water/Ways, a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street (MoMS) program. This is the first time New York State will participate in the 25-year history of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street program.
The six museums chosen to host Water/Ways are, in order of the statewide tour: the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, NY; the Aurora Masonic Center in Aurora, NY; the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village in Buffalo, NY; the Chapman Museum in Glens Falls, NY; the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, NY; and the East Hampton Historical Society, Inc. in East Hampton, NY. The exhibition will tour these six communities in New York from June 2019 through April 2020.
Water/Ways explores the endless motion of the water cycle, water’s effect on landscape, settlement and migration, and its impact on culture and spirituality. It looks at how political and economic planning have long been affected by access to water and control of water resources. Human creativity and resourcefulness provide new ways of protecting water resources and renewing respect for the natural environment.
Designed for small-town museums, libraries and cultural organizations, Water/Ways will serve as a community meeting place to convene conversations about water’s impact on American culture. With the support and guidance of MANY, these museums will develop complementary exhibits, host public programs and facilitate educational initiatives to raise people’s understanding about what water means culturally, socially and spiritually in their own community.
New York State has more than 7,600 freshwater lakes, ponds, and reservoirs, as well as portions of two of the five Great Lakes, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Long Island Sound. Over 70,000 miles of rivers and streams flow within our state’s geographical boundaries. “These waterbodies supply our drinking water, provide flood control to protect life and property, support recreation, tourism, agriculture, fishing, power generation, and manufacturing, provide habitat for aquatic plant and animal life, and inspire the human imagination,” said Erika Sanger, Executive Director of MANY.
Water also played a practical role in New York’s history; the availability of water affected settlement and migration patterns of all of New York’s peoples as a source of food, livelihood, and transportation.
“As we celebrate the Bicentennial of the Erie Canal, the Water/Ways exhibition will enable host sites to tell the story of how their communities helped New York become the Empire State, how canals and river communities played strategically important roles in the development of our transportation, trade, commerce, industry, and culture, and how our lake shores connect us to other states and our ocean front communities connect us to our nation and peoples around the globe,” said Sanger.
Water/Ways is part of the Smithsonian’s Think Water Initiative to raise awareness of water as a critical resource for life through exhibitions, educational resources and public programs. Inaugural funding for the New York State tour was provided by the Smithsonian Institution, Hadley Exhibits, Inc., the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, and the New York State Canal Corporation.
Water/Ways was inspired by an exhibition organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York (www.amnh.org), and the Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul (www.smm.org), in collaboration with Great Lakes Science Center, Cleveland; The Field Museum, Chicago; Instituto Sangari, Sao Paulo, Brazil; National Museum of Australia, Canberra; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada; San Diego Natural History Museum; and Science Centre Singapore with PUB Singapore.
The exhibition is part of Museum on Main Street, a unique collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), state humanities councils and museum associations across the nation, and local host institutions. To learn more about Water/Ways and other Museum on Main Street exhibitions, visit www.museumonmainstreet.org. The public can participate in the conversation on social media at #thinkWater.