Making of the Exhibit
Earth Day at 50: Lessons for a Sustainable Future was a capstone project for students in West Chester University’s Museum Studies Program, and represents the culmination of several years of learning about the history, development, and operations of museums and the culture industry. In this course, student co-curators plan, design and install an exhibition from start to finish—beginning with background research and conceptual discussions, to collections management and the sourcing of artifacts, to writing labels and catalog copy, to installing the exhibition.
Read about the process in this article from The Quad.
Image: Meg Gunzelman and Michael Cassidy arranging potential labels.
A centerpiece of the process is learning from museum experts, such as Delaware Museum of Natural History Collections Manager (and WCU Museum Studies alumna) Helen Bilinski. Here, Helen explained the ethics of exhibiting endangered animal products and the care for these loaned artifacts.
Yet this would become a very unique experience for the student co-curators.
Halfway through the course, the COVID-19 pandemic reached West Chester, and a lengthy quarantine began that would force students—some of whom were graduating—to complete their work online. Rather than their highly anticipated opening, the students presented their project in an engaging Earth Day public lecture, sponsored by the Office of Sustainability.
Watch the student presentation, “Exhibition Planning During the Pandemic”
Uncertainty surrounding re-opening, and the continuation of virtual learning for the entire 2020-2021 school year resulted in further delays. Yet there was a silver lining: this provided more time during the summer for students to hone their designs, and also to make contact with other donors—such as SolareAmerica (which donated solar panels) and artists such as Jaida Grey Eagle and Christi Belcourt (who provided their artwork, as well as gave guest lectures on Zoom).
Read about the benefits and drawbacks of shifting to online learning for this exhibition
With special permission by the university, a limited number of students were able to slowly install their exhibits throughout the entire academic year. It was such a rarity that ABC news covered the installation of the tree! It is a testament to the dedication of our students—including those who graduated, but who returned to finish their exhibits—that this exhibition is viewable today.
Anissa Kunchick hanging plastic bags on the Tree of Life.
Dr. Heather Wholey provides guidance to Katie Dowling as they install The Salt Marsh exhibit. The exhibit is based on Wholey’s National Geographic-funded archaeological research on sea level rise in which Dowling and other students take part.
Meg Gunzelman experiments with different microplastics in her ocean gyre exhibit.
On April 22, 20221—a year after the planned opening—the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology inaugurated the exhibition with small group tours led by director Michael A. Di Giovine and student co-curator Foster W. Krupp. Attendees included the mayor of West Chester borough and the press. Strict COVID protocols were approved by the administration, based on research conducted by museum studies students on best practices for museum re-openings.
Read a review of the exhibition’s opening day from The Daily Local
Image: Student co-curator Foster W. Krupp poses with West Chester mayor Jordan Norley
Earth Day at 50: Sustainability and Exhibition Planning in a Time of Pandemic
Museum Director Michael A. Di Giovine and Student Co-Curators Natalie Fenner, Tyler C. Haney, Foster W. Krupp, Ben Popp, and Melina Schauerman discuss planning the exhibition during the height of the 2020 pandemic. This lecture was sponsored by the WCU Office of Sustainability’s Sustainability Lecture Series, April 22, 2020.
The Museum would like to thank the following individuals who generously contributed their time, resources and expertise to make this exhibition a reality in the most trying of times:
Joseph Santivasci, Senior Vice President of Financial Aid and Campuses
Radha Pyati, Dean, College of the Sciences and Mathematics
Vishal Shah, Interim Assistant Provost
Loretta MacAlpine and Nancy Gainer, Office of Marketing and Communication
Erica Thompson, Office of Marketing and Communication
Heather Wholey, Chair, Department of Anthropology and Sociology
Susan Johnson, Interim Chair, Department of Anthropology and Sociology
Bradley Flamm, Director, Office of Sustainability
Ron McCall, Director, WCU Special Collections
Miguel Ceballos, Director, Institute on Race and Ethnic Studies
Nur Ritter, Steward, The Gordon Natural Area
John Lattanze, Energy Projects Manager, WCU Facilities
Jennifer O’Leary, Francis Harvey Green Library
Karen Watkins, Andrew Snyder, and Kate Stewart, Department of Art + Design
Constance Case, Department of Theater
Joan Welch, Department of Geography and Planning
Cheryl Wanko, Department of English
Brenda Gaydosh, Department of History
Patti Hite, Department of Anthropology and Sociology
Helen Bilinski and Jean Woods, Delaware Museum of Natural History
John Scorsone, President, Solare America
Janet Cleaver, West Chester Green Team
Jaida Grey Eagle
The Onaman Collective
Donald and Maria Di Giovine
Alexander and Sebastian Di Giovine