Saturday, August 20, 2016

Conserving Desert Land

-from the Head Curator

Education staff member Angelina Coble talks about drought resistant plants
in the Hector Sanchez Eagle Scout garden
Our visitors want to learn about the desert. This has been made clear over the last several months as we have been collecting information from visitors and members in preparation for completing a new five-year Strategic Plan.  We have piloted field trips hiking around our property. The one Eagle Scout garden that was planted in 2014 is beginning to look amazing.  We have just been asked to give a desert hiking experience to a group of educators who don't really want to go that far into the desert. Though we have not quite completed all phases of the interior exhibits, part of the Museum’s long-term plan must now look at addressing questions and opportunities outside of the museum as well.

Preserving the Desert
Last year, the Desert Museum and the Kumeyaay Diegueno Land Conservancy collaborated on a project to protect 15 acres of vacant desert land near the museum. The Kumeyaay people have the most diverse traditional landscape of any people in the Americas: going from the Pacific coast, through the mountains, to the lakeshore, the desert, and into Baja California.  The partnership between IVDM and KDLC created a mechanism where desert land could be purchased, protected, and used for museum and education programs.

New properties will be used for museum and education programs    
In July, the Desert Museum received a grant from the ProtectOur Communities Foundation to buy and protect two additional parcels of land directly adjacent to the museum parking lot.  The grant of $140,000 allowed the museum to acquire the parcels, and working with the KDLC, conservation easements will ensure that these properties will forever be used for museum and education programs.   

For years the museum has been surrounded by vacant desert land. The museum was built to be a low-impact building within this environment. Driving past the museum on Interstate 8 the surrounding desert land is striking, but it was never protected. Now it is. 

Part of the Museum’s mission is to preserve desert lands. Part of that mission is also to celebrate and educate people about the desert. Visitor feedback has shown that people are unanimously interested in seeing the museum expand its exhibits to the outdoors.  Acquiring and preserving the properties around us will allow us to develop programs for the public, interpret the importance of our drought resistant desert plants, and allow access to the beauty of the desert biome.     

The Great Outdoors
6th graders from Sunflower Elementary hike on museum lands in the 2015 school season    
Many people who come to the Desert Museum for the first time come in thinking that the desert is boring.  “There’s nothing there” is a common statement.  Our interior exhibits are designed to make people think about what they see when they are outside, and to understand what they are seeing. The Rock Talk pullouts and the Land of Extremes panoramas were created to give visitors a new view of the land.  We hope that making connections like this will make more people interested in going out on hikes and putting that knowledge into practice. With the protection of the properties near the museum, we will now have the ability to get people directly out into a desert environment. This is a game changer.

Partners and Friends
We have been working on protecting all of the property around the museum for more than a year. This could never have happened without the help of our friends and partners. 

Our partnership with the Kumeyaay Diegueno Land Conservancy has been a huge success. The KDLC is an organization that has benefitted from the support from nine of the twelve Kumeyaay Bands in the United States. They are a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting environmentally and culturally sensitive lands within the traditional Kumeyaay territory.  The museum is hoping that the partnership will be long-term and will result in some great projects.

Mary Anne Zimmerman, Attorney-at-law, was indispensable in creating a draft conservation easement. She has been a long-time member and supporter of the museum. At a critical time, she was able to provide council and a direction that proved successful.

The grant process with the Protect Our Communities Foundation began in October 2015. We appreciate their communication and diligence at following through with our proposals. In the end, we achieved even more than we had expected when we applied for their grant. Their aid in protecting vacant desert land around the museum will benefit the education of generations of students in Imperial County. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What's Up Wednesday! Fun through Vlogs

-from the Head Curator

Sometimes you want to know what's going on somewhere, but you don't feel like reading about it. Wouldn't it be easier if you could just watch something fun?

Now, in addition to keeping up with us on this blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, we're going to do video blogs (vlogs)!  Every 2 weeks or so expect to find a fun, short video on our IVDM YouTube channel showing you something happening at the museum.  Don't normally follow YouTube? Don't worry! We'll post the video links on Facebook and Twitter so you never miss one!

 We hope you enjoy the videos, and let us know what you think of these casual, fun, maybe quirky, hopefully still informative little videos!  After all, don't you want to see What's Up Wednesday!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Summer and Water

-from the Head Curator

'Dig deeper' into Lake Cahuilla with the touchscreen
Though summer is a slow time in the Valley, visitors still come out to the museum.  Today we had a family of 7 so interested in the story of water in the Imperial Valley that they stayed for over an hour! They explored our topographic Lake Cahuilla map, including each of the 'dig deeper' images that can be pulled up to learn more about what life was like at different time periods around the lake. The drawing of the megaladon was the definite favorite for the kids!

They watched the entire 18 minute video Early History of Water in Imperial County by Brian McNeese and the Imperial Irrigation District. "I didn't know that!" was heard a lot!

Summer is a time to test out ideas and get feedback, and this family was nice enough to look at our Roadrunner test panels and tell us what they liked best.  Surprisingly, it was the scientific name: Geococcyx californianus!
Testing information panels to see what people like

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Roadrunners & Research

-from the Head Curator

 Months of talking to museum visitors as we do strategic planning have shown that developing outdoor landscaping is one of the more popular future plans.  People are excited to continue learning more about the local plants and animals, and understanding the amazing natural world around them.

But what form will that take? The possibilities are endless, but we know people are hoping for easy walking trails, desert art through the Rainforest Art Project, and interpretive signs over the next five years or so.  All of these ideas have to start somewhere, and they are starting now!
Meet our local Greater Roadrunner, the inspiration behind these test panels!
Recently a roadrunner moved into the neighborhood and has become a regular museum visitor.  He's become very popular on our Facebook page and became the inspiration for the initial outdoor exhibit testing we're currently doing.  We know we want interpretive signs about native plants along our future trails to help people identify them, but what do our visitors want to know about the animals that live here?
4 different ideas to start discussing outdoor signage
A little roadrunner research has led to 4 different sign ideas.  Visitors coming out to the museum now can look at 4 different signs and decide what it is they like about each one, and what do they want to see that is missing? Do people want a map of an animal's range in North America?  What their tracks look like?  Fun factoids or just the basic facts? Single panels or ones you have to flip open?
Should panels include identifying animal tracks?
These signs have only been up about a week and we're already learning a lot! So far everyone loves the idea of identifying animal tracks.  But people are split down the middle on liking single panels and flip panels, and on flip panels that have a picture of the animal on the outside vs having to open the panel and discover what it's talking about.

Flip sign version one: open to discover what animal it's talking about
Flip sign version 2: see the animal before opening
Flip signs offer more space for info, when it it too much?

The feedback we get on the current ideas will help as we work with graphic designers and exhibit builders in the future to create outdoor exhibits that meet as many visitor expectations and interests as possible.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Endowment Challenge

-from the Head Curator

July marks the end of our fiscal year and the end of Year 2 of our National Endowment of Humanities Challenge Grant.  Through the Challenge Grant the NEH will match 3:1 any money we raise towards our Endowment Fund through 2019.

The Museum's goal is to raise $1 million by 2019 towards the Endowment.  When this goal is reached, the IVDM's Endowment Fund will fund two permanent, professional staff positions.

Want to donate to the Endowment but can't afford the whole amount now? We are also doing Pledge Cards.  People can pledge to donate this year and the pledge will go towards this year's match by the NEH.  Since April we have already raised $10,000 in pledges from museum supporters!

Last year in our last fiscal month, our members and supporters raised $22,000 to help us reach our goal of $195,000! It was a huge success! Can we do as well this year?    Please consider supporting the museum by donating or pledging to the Endowment Fund before July 20, 2016.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Summer Solstice Stargazing

-from the Head Curator

Last night 160 adults and kids braved the longest day of the year- which also happened to be the hottest day of the year (so far!)- to come out for a Summer Solstice Stargazing Party.

Nancy Rood and Bill Pape getting ready to watch a full moon rise
Michael Connolly Miskwish of Campo was kind enough to come down and gave a talk on Kumeyaay cosmology, explaining the importance of the night sky to the Kumeyaay peoples.  The talk was based on research he's been doing for years and has just published as a new book: Maay Uuyow, Kumeyaay Cosmology.  The main focus of the night was the full moon.  Before everyone went out to watch the full moon rise Connolly explained that while Europeans see the Man in the Moon during a full moon, many cultures across Asia, South America and North America see a rabbit.  The Kumeyaay see a cottontail rabbit.
Telescopes watched the moon, Mars, Venus, & Saturn

Naturally this meant that the big challenge of the night was to see if everyone could see the rabbit in the moon!  "I think everyone I helped said that they saw the rabbit" said Marcie Rodriguez, IVDM Education Coordinator.  "The kids were especially excited when they found it and would call their parents over to show them."

Mars, Saturn, and Venus were also visible last night, despite some clouds.  6 telescopes from the museum and Mike and Nancy Rood- who headed our telescopes last night- were available for people to view and many others brought their own telescopes out and let others use them.  Anthony Adams from Imperial and his daughter were among the visitors last night: "We had a wonderful time, it was very informative. The comradery of the people that shared their telescopes and phone applications was incredible. I was able to do some stargazing through several different telescopes. The only complaint that I have with the evening is how much money this is going to cost me to buy a comparable scope that I liked."
Several visitors brought their own scopes & shared the night sky views
Maybe you'll have found one you like in time to bring it out to our next Stargazing Party Anthony! 

Raffles were held throughout the evening and two telescopes were among the prizes.  It sounds like we've got some more astronomers in the making after this event!
Shaahuk games played by those taking air conditioning breaks
Also inside the museum, many visitors were seeing the permanent exhibit for the first time.  Most of the younger star gazers took air conditioning breaks and played Shaahuk, a traditional Kumeyaay game based on traveling the spine of the Milky Way.  There was intense action on the game board all night and games ranged from friendly family fun to cut throat competition.  "This is like Monopoly" one player said. "You're going to have to be willing to lose friends to win." 

Special thanks to Rogers & Rogers for sponsoring the event, Lidia Walker for hosting the event and providing raffle prizes, Mike and Nancy Rood for heading up our telescopes, and our wonderful staff and volunteers for all their hard work!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

New Water Video Playing

-from the Head Curator

Power of Imperial Valley with test seating area and new video
After extensive testing of videos in the exhibit today, thanks to IID we have installed the new Brian McNeece Early History of Water in the Imperial Valley video into the exhibit.  It is now taking the place of the IID Down River video in our Power of Imperial Valley exhibit.  IID has also included closed caption for the new video, increasing the accessibility of the video to meet visitor expectations.

One of the constants in any museum exhibit is testing to see what visitors like and want in their museum. The original Down River video had an average visitor stay time of about 17.9 seconds. This increased when a seating area was installed in front of the video, but still remained low.  Only about 7% of museum visitors stopped to watch the video for even that long.  During the month we tested the Water video, many of our visitors stopped to watch it, and 18% watched the entire video (about 17 minutes)-high for an exhibit video.  We are hoping to have an equally positive response to the new video in its new home as part of Power of the Land.

 Over the next 6 months or so we'll be testing out seating arrangements, and other additions to the area, so visitors will still get to participate in changes and give their opinions on what works in the area.

We would like to personally thank everyone who came into the museum during the month we were showing the History of Water video for all of your positive feedback.  If you haven't seen it yet, come check it out!