The North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum has reopened the Green Revolution exhibit after adding more information about North Dakota sustainability practices.
The traveling Smithsonian exhibit originally opened in November 2015 but closed this spring. While Heritage Center officials said the exhibit was closed to enhance the North Dakota story of sustainability, Inside Energy obtained emails showing that oil and coal companies — many of whom donated heavily to the museum — had lodged complaints about the anti-fossil fuel rhetoric in the exhibit.
Kim Jondahl, the museum’s communications director, said nothing in the original exhibit was removed.
“We have more objects from our collections to showcase how people are approaching sustainability. We have more written content on panels that are on the walls. And a variety of organizations and individuals were contacted to get information and help us with the research and providing additional content for the gallery,” Jondahl said, adding that Smithsonian Institute officials also were consulted in the redesign process.
The museum got feedback from 30 businesses, nonprofits and industry groups to add information about sustainability practices in North Dakota. Jondahl said Green Revolution now has 107 objects on display, including 52 acquired or on loan. The museum also added 11 exhibit panels, a touchscreen interactive for children and Smartboard programming with videos to the gallery.
Jondahl pointed out that the exhibit was never just about energy but encompassed many topics related to sustainability practices. However, the energy industry appeared to be the most vocal opponents of the content at the Heritage Center.
The North Petroleum Council was one of the organizations that protested the original exhibit. Communications director Tessa Sandstrom said the council felt the exhibit was biased and denigrated traditional energy sources rather than providing information on the “green revolution.”
“It was completely inaccurate,” she said. “When you go to a museum, you expect facts, the truth.”
Wayde Schafer, conservation organizer for the Dacotah Chapter of the Sierra Club, said he never understood the controversy over the original Green Revolution exhibit, which had been displayed in many other states without protest. The Heritage Center has had exhibits on coal and oil, he said.
“I didn’t see much balance with the other two exhibits either,” said Schafer, adding the Sierra Club was happy to talk about making the transition to renewable and alternative fuels. Schafer had not seen the new exhibit yet.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing what they came up with,” he said.
The Petroleum Council provided information about money spent on remediation and reclamation, new technologies being used to address environmental problems, statistics on the number of spills and how fast they were cleaned up and background information on ways oil is used beyond fuel sources, including plastics, health equipment and medicine, Sandstrom said.
The council also provided information about the benefits and downsides of other energy sources. Sandstrom said the only way to meet the challenges facing the environment will be to work together and assess the risks of all energy sources.
Sandstrom hadn’t seen the new exhibit and couldn’t comment on whether she felt it was more balanced.
Mark Trechock with the Dakota Resource Council said he viewed the exhibit during discussions with the Heritage Center after it had closed. He felt it showed important information about the environment, far beyond the oil industry. For example, it showed how transportation had become more problematic pollution-wise when cities switched from trolleys to buses. Thinking ahead to how progress will affect future generations is important, he said.
"We have to find a way to keep our way of life going without completely wrecking our climate, and that’s a real challenge for us," he said. "It won’t be solved in my lifetime."
Dakota Resource Council worked to provide the Heritage Center with photographs of what saltwater had done to bodies of water in the state in the 1960s, Trechock said.
The Green Revolution exhibit is based on one originally created by the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and its Black Creativity Council. The national exhibit, made available by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, was designed to create conversations about personal choices in sustainability and protecting the environment, including recycling, reusing and making homes greener.
Unlike other traveling exhibits that are shipped to museums, the Green Revolution exhibit is created at each museum through sharing design files and instructions digitally. The State Historical Society of North Dakota reused the backs of former exhibit panels, built displays from salvaged wood and repurposed old display cases in creating the exhibit. Green Revolution will be open until April 30.
The Heritage Center also recently opened another exhibit, “The Peak of Power: The Nonpartisan League 100 Years Ago.” The exhibit, in the James E. Sperry Gallery, highlights the 100-year history of the Nonpartisan League. The exhibit will be open through July.