The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa, opens a $40 million expansion tomorrow. It's major exhibit: An empty tank of water originally intended to exhibit the aquatic life of the Gulf of Mexico.
The decision, to present a devastating image of emptiness rather than the planned exhibit on the gulf's riches, was a gutsy one. From a statement on the museum's website:
The Gulf Coast oil spill is the worst environmental disaster of its kind in our nation’s history. The Museum & Aquarium believes that the most appropriate course is to open a Gulf exhibit recognizing the crisis that is happening on the Gulf Coast. The Museum & Aquarium and its national partners believe this should cause everyone to pause and consider the delicate balance of life in our oceans. The Gulf is just as important as the life it holds, and the Museum & Aquarium is choosing to offer its visitors the opportunity to learn and reflect upon this significant and tragic event. A dramatic depiction of the effects of the oil spill will be presented in the aquarium gallery next to the lifeless aquariums. Educational materials, hands-on activities, multi-media exhibits and information about how to get involved will be presented.
With the exhibit opening approaching and the Gulf now in crisis, the Museum & Aquarium faced a dilemma. The board and staff have decided that opening a Gulf of Mexico exhibit at this time requires a compassionate and factual representation of the Gulf crisis.
The intent of the Gulf of Mexico exhibit is to draw a connection between the Mississippi River and the ocean and to bring to light the devastating effects of the oil spill. The exhibit, without fish, now has the opportunity to make a bold statement related to the oil spill in the Gulf Coast by asking Museum & Aquarium visitors to imagine a lifeless Gulf.