New Smithsonian Exhibition Highlights the Connection Between People and Nature
The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History will open "Our Places: Connecting People and Nature" Friday, July 1, a new exhibition exploring how peoples' experiences with nature inspire them to connect, care and act. "Our Places" offers visitors a chance to meet dedicated scientists and community members working to protect dynamic environments around the globe, from tropical rainforests and coastal mangroves to local neighborhood greenspaces spread across Washington, D.C. The participatory displays invite visitors to incorporate places and experiences from their own lives into the exhibition's larger story.
"'Our Places' offers visitors a hands-on opportunity to be inspired by the nature all around us, including the green spaces in the museum's own neighborhood," said Kirk Johnson, the Sant Director of the National Museum of Natural History.
"Our Places" will present several objects of environmental importance, including the historic Asian giant hornet "Nest Zero." In 2019, the discovery of this nest became the first concrete evidence that the large hornets, who prey on pollinators critical to the food supply like honeybees, had arrived in the Pacific Northwest from Asia. To quell the impending invasion, Smithsonian-USDA entomologist Matt Buffington teamed up with researchers in Washington State to locate and remove the dangerous hornet hive. In "Our Places," visitors will learn about the threats invaders like Asian giant hornets pose to natural ecosystems and get a close look at some of the high-tech gear, including a hornet radio tracker and a heavy-duty suit, straight out of a sci-fi movie, that Buffington used to remove the nest.
In addition to spotlighting attempts to stifle invasive species, the displays in "Our Places" highlight efforts to incorporate accessible, equitable green spaces in urban communities, reinvigorate barren soil through Indigenous community-led restorative agricultural practices and sustainably harvest seafood through minority-owned aquaculture programs in the Chesapeake Bay. Personal stories from scientists and local community leaders bring these projects to life and highlight why natural environments are worth protecting. Visitors will not only learn about fieldwork in locales like India and Peru, but also get an in-depth look at vital places closer to the Washington area such as the city's Rock Creek Park and Maryland's Eastern Shore. Many of these local spaces, including Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and Anacostia Park, provide natural oases to communities often overlooked by conservation efforts.
"By emphasizing that we are all connected to the natural world, 'Our Places' provides new opportunities for heightening understanding of our planet's biodiversity and a range of environmental justice issues," said Torben Rick, the museum's curator of North American archaeology who helped curate the new exhibition. "From differential access to nature and personal safety to biodiversity stewardship and sustainability, 'Our Places' challenges museum visitors to see themselves as part of the natural world and share their experiences and connections with others."
"Our Places" presents visitors with a unique experience to learn all about these places through a variety of engaging activities. They will have the opportunity to identify local birds and other animals through nature sounds, design more inclusive parks that welcome entire communities and even leave notes and drawings behind to complement the displays themselves. By sharing their own personal experiences in nature, visitors will ensure this dynamic exhibition continues to evolve.
The exhibition will be open for a press preview June 29 and 30 before opening to the public Friday, July 1.