By Chelsea Embree
That’s partly why the Latah County Historical Society will bring some of our nation’s capitol here.
Moscow will be home to one of the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibits this month, marking the first time such a display has been presented in the city.
“The Smithsonian is our national museum system, and I think we all deserve access to it,” said Dulce Kersting, executive director of the historical society.
The exhibit, called “Water/Ways,” comes with a broad tagline — “it’s about the relationship between people and water.”
“Water is such an inclusive topic that you can relate anything to water,” Kersting said.
The themes explored in the exhibit range from industry to conservation. There will be information on how water shaped the local environment and landscape, dating back to prehistoric times. Exploration by water is also prominent locally, Kersting said, noting the momentous trip of Lewis and Clark. Water is additionally sacred in nearly all of the world’s major religions, she said, and is the source of many American Indian creation narratives.
All of that information will be presented in a space of about 500 to 600 square feet, Kersting said.
The exhibit will flow through all three floors of Moscow City Hall. The two lower levels will feature the Smithsonian’s portion of the exhibit, a division of their Museum on Main Street program that designs displays specifically for small rural communities.
“They create this exhibit about a topic that is easily relatable, no matter where you are in the country,” Kersting said.
The third floor of City Hall is dedicated to the historical society’s tandem exhibit, which dives into the significance of waterways in and around Latah County. Some of the big topics, Kersting said, include the local sources of drinking water and the ongoing debate about dams.
Kersting said there’s been concern for years on the Palouse that the Grand Ronde aquifer may not be recharging. Access to potable water could become a global issue over the next century, she said, and the Smithsonian is trying to be proactive about it.
The institution’s call for proposals for its Museum on Main Street exhibits was particularly timely in the summer of 2015. Kersting remembered thick smoke in Moscow that summer from a rash of wildfires.
The debates about removing the four dams along the lower Snake River could be a source of coming conflict specific to this region, she said. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently accepting public comment on the dams, and Kersting hopes those who visit the “Water/Ways” exhibit will leave with enough information to drop a line with the agency.
“That’s really what museum exhibits should be doing,” Kersting said. “For museums to stay relevant in a world where there is so much access to information and entertainment, we need people to leave museum exhibits feeling empowered to do something.”
The Smithsonian exhibit will arrive in 20 crates to Moscow, its fifth of six stops around the state. After it leaves on Jan. 20, the Latah County Historical Society will bring its local exhibit to outlying communities that may not be able to see it otherwise.
“We’ll have this nice local exhibit created that we’ll be able to share,” Kersting said. “ … Hopefully we’ll be able to take this exhibit set out to the rural libraries.”
The historical society’s speaker series will also continue with water themes. Historian Adam Sowards will speak Jan. 5 about the historical significance of water throughout Idaho, and Lucii Simpson, a board member of Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment, will speak Jan. 19 about the Nez Perce Tribe’s relationship with water.
If you go
What: “Water/Ways,” a traveling Smithsonian exhibit
When: Opening reception at 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8. Exhibit hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays until Jan. 20
where: Moscow City Hall, 206 E. Third St.