March 25, 2020
Story by Joe Vinduska
The Kansas Wetlands Education Center (KWEC) and The Shafer Gallery have been awarded the National Association of Interpretation (NAI) Region Six 2019 Outstanding Special Event Award for their collaborative art events “Frogs: Sounding the Future” in 2016 and “The Connected World: Biodiversity in the Art of Carel Pieter Brest van Kempen’’ in 2019.
NAI Region 6 is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the profession of heritage interpretation and currently serves more than 1,000 members in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. Members include those who work at parks, museums, nature centers, zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums, historical and cultural sites, commercial tour companies, and theme parks. Commercial and institutional members include those who provide services to the heritage interpretation industry.
The 2019 Outstanding Special Event Award is given for events of exceptional interpretive quality. The events celebrated with elements at each location were a local success with more than 1,700 visitors participating. The Van Kempen Biodiversity Exhibit was part of the Shafer Gallery Art and Science Encounters series, which was underwritten by CUNA Mutual Retirement Solutions. Nominated events had to meet NAI's principles of interpretation, which is defined as: "a mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource."
Events were judged for their originality, creativity, clarity, consistent theme or message and the ability to reach target audience and appropriateness for the site. KWEC Education Specialist Pam Martin said the judges were very gracious in their comments about the efforts of both the Gallery and the KWEC.
“The judges said, ‘This is how interpretation should be done,’” she said. “The cooperative effort actually began in 2011 resulting in four show/events focused on flora and fauna of Cheyenne Bottoms. We’re so appreciative of Dave Barnes being open to trying something beyond the ordinary scope of an art gallery. Not only did the two organizations partner to showcase the plight and marvels of local wildlife but additional partners also donated time and energy, providing artistic and immersive experiences for diverse audiences.”
Shafer Gallery Director David Barnes said the gallery is always excited to collaborate on exhibits as it unlocks what would otherwise be an unknown yet often times fantastic result.
“There is wonderful synergy that develops when institutions with different visions and functions work together to create an event,” he said. “The very intention of collaboration seems to set in motion a surge of creativity and innovation that would not have occurred had the Wetlands Education Center and the Shafer Gallery worked in isolation. It was very cool to be a part of that dynamic process. It is easy for an Art Museum to silo itself in the safety of beautiful objects. However, with the encouragement and partnership of the Kansas Wetlands Educational Center I think we have succeeded in showing our communities what a collaborative, interactive and environmentally meaningful event can look like.”
Barnes added that the awe-inspiring element of nature is something that lends itself to an artistic exhibit.
“It was also important to try and foster an appreciation of the natural wonder and beauty that exists all around us,” he said. “Art and science working together can disseminate information and also provoke wonder in ways neither can do alone.”