Flint, MI — In response to the ongoing Flint water emergency, Sloan Museum has commissioned a traveling exhibit, Water’s Extreme Journey, sponsored by HealthPlus. The exhibit opens January 23 and will close May 8. Sloan Museum has also curated a local exhibit component and 13 public programs, with the goal of educating and empowering visitors to take action on local water issues.
Water’s Extreme Journey is an interactive maze that challenges visitors to explore the water cycle from the perspective of a water drop trying not to become polluted. By teaching about human sources of water pollution, the exhibit empowers visitors to adopt clean water practices in their homes and become advocates for clean water initiatives in their communities.
The localized portion of the exhibit includes a timeline exploring the history of Flint’s drinking water, beginning in 1873. The timeline, according to Curator of Collections Jeremy Dimick, “chronicles the triumphs and challenges Flint has had providing drinking water to its residents, but focuses primarily on the sequence of events that brought us into the current lead-in-water crisis.”
The exhibit also tells the story of the Flint River itself, beginning with Native Americans’ relationship with the river and continuing through European settlement, the pollution of the river, and the progress of the Flint River Watershed Coalition’s conservation efforts.
“One of the takeaways for the public should be that the health of the Flint River is actually quite good,” Exhibit Manager Warren Lehmkuhle said. “It was the lack of corrosion treatment, treatment that even lake water goes through, that caused the problem with our water.”
The maze will conclude with a community comment board where visitors can post notes about local water issues and share their experiences of the Flint water emergency. These comments will remain posted in the exhibit, and will later be entered into the Sloan Museum collection as part of the record of the Flint water emergency.
Sloan Museum’s continuing goal is to preserve everyday life in Flint and Genesee County, and the localization of Water’s Extreme Journey is a rare opportunity for the museum to involve the community in a large scale documentation effort of a dramatic historic event. “Usually, because in-house exhibits take so much time to develop, the community has moved on from issues by the time the museum can get an exhibit together,” Dimick said.
Although Sloan Museum has offered exhibits on historic events like Buick’s 100th Anniversary and cultural phenomena like the history of local turntablism, Water’s Extreme Journey marks the first time the museum has been able to proactively document an ongoing local event through a public exhibit.
“I think we have a responsibility to document as much as possible now for future generations because, as with any kind of museum collecting, it is much easier to accumulate artifacts pertaining to current events now, rather than waiting 50 years when they are considered historic,” Dimick said. “If we do a good job collecting items and information now, the community will be better able to look back on the event 50 and 150 years from now.”
Sloan Museum will also offer educational programs for youth and adult audiences on topics ranging from the science of water filtration, testing, and conservation, to the Flint River Watershed Coalition’s efforts to protect and preserve the Flint River as a vital natural resource. Guest speakers will include Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright, who will speak about the Karegnondi Pipeline, and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Hurley Medical Center, who will discuss her research on Flint residents’ blood lead levels. Flint Journal reporters will also lead a panel discussion on their coverage of Flint’s water emergency.
Sloan Museum admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $6 for children ages 2-11. Admission is free for members and children 1 and younger. Tickets can be purchased online at SloanMuseum.org and at the door. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from Noon to 5 p.m. Sloan Museum is located at 1221 E. Kearsley St. in Flint, MI. For more information, call (810) 237-3450.