Smithsonian traveling boreal forest exhibition launches national tour at MSU Museum

Developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, or SITES, “Knowing Nature: Stories of the Boreal Forest / Historias del bosque boreal” begins its national tour on April 19, 2023, at the Michigan State University Museum. The exhibition, on view through Nov. 12, 2023, will highlight the importance of the boreal forest, the last intact forest in the world and Earth’s largest terrestrial ecosystem. Visitors will learn about the boreal forest’s ability to store two to three times the amount of carbon as tropical forests and how it helps regulate Earth’s climate.

Knowing Nature“Knowing Nature” aims to integrate the themes of climate change, Indigenous perspectives and the relationship between people and nature, offering stories of resilience, strength and hope in a changing world. The bilingual English/Spanish exhibition features commissioned objects, videos, photography and interactive displays, allowing audiences to experience the forest in an immersive way.

Visitors will see a three-foot birchbark canoe model that illustrates traditional canoe-building methods used by the Constance Lake First Nation. A pair of handmade snowshoes in the Cree pointed-toe style exemplifies traditional techniques passed down to the next generation by community elders. A pair of earrings made from birchbark and moose hide shows how contemporary wearable art pieces are created with traditional style and materials from the boreal forest.

In coordination with this exhibition’s opening, the MSU Museum is co-leading the development and prototyping of a new digital concierge service to allow visitors the opportunity to self-identify their preferences for accessible options in the exhibition using radio-frequency identification, or RFID, technology. Additionally, a cross-disciplinary team of MSU students is creating an exhibition-based game to increase engagement and reinforce learning objectives.

“By deploying cutting-edge technology, such as RFID-based digital concierge service and an exhibition-based game, we are enhancing accessibility and engagement for visitors nationwide,” said MSU Museum Director Devon Akmon. “Through our unwavering commitment to supporting student-led initiatives, the MSU Museum is fostering a culture of learning and creativity, driving impactful outcomes and furthering our reputation as a leader in education and partnership with the Smithsonian.”

In addition to the exhibition, the MSU Museum is planning a robust lineup of programming, including a “Birds and the Boreal” expert discussion on April 20 from noon to 1 p.m. Jeff Wells, vice president for boreal conservation at the National Audubon Society, and Pamela Rasmussen, assistant curator of mammalogy and ornithology at the MSU Museum and assistant professor in the MSU Department of Integrative Biology, will discuss climate change, boreal forests and Michigan’s migrant birds. The event is free, but registration is required.

“Knowing Nature: Stories of the Boreal Forest / Historias del bosque boreal” was made possible by the National Audubon Society with additional support from The Anders Foundation, Charlie and Nancy Hogan and Anne C. Madison.

The exhibition and programs are locally sponsored by Michigan State University Federal Credit Union.


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