New museum exhibit highlights climate change

Dorothy Nash takes in the new exhibit at the Museum of the North titled "Then and Now: The Changing Arctic Landscape." Photo by Jesse Hoff/The Sun Star

By Kelsey Gobroski / Sun Star Reporter

The UA Museum of the North, along with two guest curators, drew from society and ecology to provide a new look into the Arctic in the special exhibit “Then & Now: The Changing Arctic Landscape.” The exhibit opened May 15, and will run until Jan. 8, 2011.

Visitors to the exhibit are greeted with a text panel: “For several thousand years, the landscape has offered vistas of tundra punctuated by dramatic mountains and glaciers. Now, the Arctic is changing.”

Then & Now is based off of guest curator Ken Tape’s recent book, “The Changing Arctic Landscape”, which the University of Alaska Press published in April. The book featured 50-year-old photos of landscapes juxtaposed with their contemporary counterparts, while the exhibit added other media to explain the changing arctic. Tape said the museum provided a good forum for telling the arctic’s story.

“This is a great venue for conveying this kind of information,” Tape said. The museum exhibit uses new media such as videos, animations, sound bites, and 360 degree panoramas alongside the traditional text panels and photographs.

Near the entrance, a large timeline designed by fellow guest curator Mareca Guthrie ties together many of the elements scattered around the exhibit — temperature, geology, ecology, and culture. Although the name of the exhibit alludes to a chronology of the Arctic, Tape said the learning process has to begin earlier for many tourists.

“Before you get to [the changes], you have to introduce people to the Arctic … and then let them assess how much it’s changed,” Tape said.

Originally, the exhibit was designed for summer tourists who may not be spending much time at the museum, said exhibit designer Steve Bouta. Tape said there is also information for people who are interested in a deeper look.

“There’s quite a bit of science here for someone who has the time and the interest,” Tape said. For example, a video explains midge fly populations’ role in determining ancient temperature fluctuations — but a nearby graph of temperature change over time simplifies the information.

Different media discuss each topic. Attendees can watch an animation of permafrost melting, read about a permafrost scientist or read a description of permafrost. Photographs tell a quick story about vegetation and glacial change, with more in-depth information on text panels. Along with a changing Arctic, Tape included the theme of timelessness. Some photos show stones that have not moved in 50 years.

Changes to Alaska Native culture are one addition to the story. Traditional tools and parkas provide a three-dimensional backdrop to Simon Paneak’s drawings of Nunamiut life. The Rasmuson Library provided footage from the 1977 film “A Portrait of Change” and translated videos from a 1979 conference of elders in Barrow. Quotes from the videos are scattered around the exhibit, tying in the theme of the Arctic’s impact on humanity.

The exhibit took about two weeks to set up, but was in production for a year. Even after the exhibit opened, Bouta and Tape tweaked small details, such as poster and mouse placement, to make the presentation more intuitive for attendees.

The chronicle of change will be on display until January. Like the arctic, its future is uncertain. But Tate said he hoped the exhibit would wind up in other museums.

“We developed this with the intent to travel it,” Tape said.

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