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Groundbreaking ROM Exhibition Explores Our World's Most Precious Natural Resource
Fog Curtain. Entering the exhibition section titled Restoring Ecosystems, visitors walk through a dramatic fog screen evoking a virtual waterfall. ©D. Finnin/AMNH.

TORONTO.- Want a living planet? Just add water. Opening March 12, 2011, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) presents Water: The Exhibition, a celebration of the power and wonder of this life-giving substance and a call to each of us to become stewards of our blue planet. A dramatic sensory and educational experience for visitors of all ages, Water uses cutting-edge technologies, multimedia installations, hands-on exhibits, live animals and cultural artifacts to illuminate the indispensable role water plays in our lives and the urgent need to protect it. Water will be displayed in the Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall on Level B2 of the ROM’s Michael Lee-Chin Crystal until September 5, 2011.

“The value of water to humanity physically, culturally and even spiritually cannot be overstated,” said Janet Carding, ROM Director and CEO. “Powerfully underscoring the ROM’s dual mandate of natural history and world cultures, Water provides visitors with a new appreciation of how water encompasses, challenges and unites all living creatures. This message will be further enhanced through our diverse series of thought-provoking debates, lectures and programs.”

This immersive and engaging exhibition is divided into 10 sections examining water from a scientific, environmental and cultural perspective. The first several sections consider the unique physical and chemical properties of water, its origins and the critical role it plays in the natural world. Next, aspects of water use are explored, including its importance culturally and how humans manipulate our water resources. The final area illuminates impacts of our actions and what each of us can do to reduce water usage to help renew and protect the Earth’s lifeblood.

“Water is essential to life on Earth, making it one of the most environmentally relevant topics of today,” said exhibition co-curator Mary Burridge, Assistant Curator of Ichthyology. “Fresh water is surprisingly rare—it makes up only three per cent of the water on planet’s surface and yet somehow sustains all creatures living outside of oceans.”

Co-curator Dr. Kim Tait, Associate Curator of Mineralogy, adds “The United Nations estimates that by 2025, two thirds of the world's population could be living under water stressed conditions. The exhibition presents this water crisis in a dynamic, meaningful way. Visitors leave understanding the vital importance of water to our world and feel empowered to protect and preserve every last drop.”

Employing a variety of dramatic techniques including towering walk-though dioramas, interactive technology, touchable displays and live animals, the exhibition gives visitors a firsthand experience of a threefold message: water is essential to all life; water plays a key role in shaping the landscape and governing weather; and all water on Earth is linked, finite and unevenly distributed around the globe.

The exhibition features 12 live creature displays, among them a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, a Gila Monster, newts, fishes and frogs. These diverse species exemplify how life has adapted to challenges presented by too little or too much water. As the sole Canadian venue for this North American tour organized by the American Museum of Natural History, the ROM has created approximately 40 areas of Canadian content, informing visitors that global water issues are present locally and affect each of us. ROM research on water-related topics, as well as artifacts and specimens from the Museum’s collections are highlighted throughout the exhibition.

Fourteen interactive experiences, ranging from hands-on specimens and computerized quizzes to towering reconstructions and life-sized models serve to engross visitors of all ages while conveying important lessons about water. In the section Blue Planet, Science on a Sphere, a 1.7-metre (5.6-foot) suspended globe, displays maps and satellite images of Earth. The dramatic display illustrates how water is distributed and used around the world and graphically describes the ceaseless, flowing cycles of water that go on around us every day. Nearby, a walk-through reconstruction of a water-carved slot canyon gives visitors a deeper appreciation of water’s ability to physically sculpt our surroundings.

The importance of clean water to human wellbeing is examined in the Healthy Water section. Visitors learn where our drinking water comes from and what processes are involved in making sure it is safe. An interactive video microscope permits visitors to view a few of the many microorganisms that inhabit a single drop of water. In another interactive display, visitors can drip water onto rocks to discover how this apparently solid substance can actually store water.

The exhibition section titled Not a Drop examines the cultural issues surrounding water, including how civilizations throughout time have developed innovative ways to access, collect and clean the water they need to survive. Visitors are also introduced to the connection between water scarcity and gender equity in many developing countries. In one interactive kiosk, visitors are challenged to lift a full water jug, a daily task that often falls to millions of women and young girls worldwide.

Other Water highlights consist of several detailed dioramas, including that of a Great Lakes wetland, revealing the important role of these natural water purifiers. The exhibition also features a number of animal specimens, including an adult Polar Bear from the ROM’s collections. A 4-metre (13-foot) Beluga Whale model hangs suspended above the Water Works section of the exhibition to highlight the impact of water contamination on individual species and emphasize the need for humans to reduce pollution. Northern countries around the globe, including Canada, are joining forces to conserve this majestic creature.

A flood of fascinating programming accompanies Water: The Exhibition to engage and enlighten visitors, scholars, globally-conscious citizens and families alike. During February and March 2011, the Director’s Signature Series: Water! includes a dynamic line-up of lectures, panels, and debates providing an engaging public forum to address pressing and controversial issues around water—one of the most critical environmental topics of our time. Featured presenters of this acclaimed program include Adele Hurley, Director of the Program on Water Issues at the Munk School of Global Affairs. On February 15, 2011, she moderates a panel discussion questioning, among other pressing water-related issues, whether Canada should sell drinking water to our southern neighbours. On February 22, 2011, Alexandra Cousteau, National Geographic Emerging Explorer and granddaughter of the legendary Jacques Cousteau, speaks on the global interconnectivity of water issues and the critical importance of local action. Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, also contributes to a panel discussion on March 3, 2011 examining the repercussions to Canada and other water-rich countries of the recent resolution by the UN General Assembly recognizing the human right to drinking water and sanitation.

Between March and June 2011, four full-day Water Symposia invite leading scientists, academics and industry specialists to present day-long forums on a variety of topics designed to encourage participation and the exchange of ideas. Topics addressed include access to water, sustainability and innovation, biodiversity in water and water in sacred practice. Also beginning in March, an exceptional Distinguished Lecturer Water Series features six lectures exploring scientific, environmental and cultural issues related to water. Presenters include ROM curators, researchers, public policy makers and activists.

Water Family Programming begins with a splash during March Break 2011. Crafts, films, special guests, scavenger hunts and interactive games will leave kids waterlogged. The fun will continue during special Water Weekends. Visitors can make their own aquariums, discover ancient sea creatures known as ichthyosaurs and learn about how water issues affect kids around the world. From rain to mermaids to shell jewellery, families will want to dive right in! Information on all Water programming may be found here or by calling 416.586.5797. Full details on these and numerous other programs are to be announced in the coming months.

Royal Ontario Museum | Water: The Exhibition | Janet Carding |

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