A flight of Great Lakes learning

An exhibit at the Dane County Regional Airport in Madison from now until July offers a wealth of learning about the Great Lakes. On the airport terminal’s ground floor near the ticket counters, Wisconsin Sea Grant’s Graphic Designer Yael Gen has covered five 63-by-48-inch display cases with expansive and colorful photomurals representing themes of sustainability, resilience, recreation, aquaculture, shipwrecks and education.

The exhibit highlights research on the lakes to ensure their health for fishing, boating and beach going, along with the economic benefits of each of those activities. It represents Wisconsin as a hub for a burgeoning aquaculture industry and a state with a commercial fishing fleet. Exhibit-goers can also learn more about the power of the lakes, fueled by storms and capable of dangerous waves. It showcases teaching tools designed to boost water-literacy. Finally, it focuses on the more than 170 known shipwrecks that lie in state waters.

Two smaller display cases feature information on aquatic invasive species that have significantly altered the character of the lakes and the  University of Wisconsin-Madison’s campus-wide community read for 2018-19, “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes,” by Pulitzer-Prize finalist Dan Egan. 

“Day to day, we tend to focus on these issues on a granular level. This exhibit is a chance to communicate not only the beauty of the Great Lakes but the broad scope of the work Sea Grant does to protect this valuable resource,” Gen said.

The display also includes objects, including an aquaculture egg-hatching jar, curriculum kits and a porthole from a 1928 Lake Michigan shipwreck.

“In 2017, about 2 million people came through the airport. That means the venue provides a wonderful opportunity to educate a lot of people about our treasured Great Lakes,” said Moira Harrington, Sea Grant’s assistant director for communication who worked on the display along with Gen.

She also noted Sea Grant is engaged in an “airport takeover” because Great Lakes facts will be shared throughout the whole facility as plastic clings are placed on water fountains and in restrooms. The playful wording is designed to catch airport-users attention, as well as educate.

Elizabeth White, editor for Sea Grant, gathered the material for the clings and wrote blurbs, along with Gen. Some examples include:

  • We’re flush. Lake Michigan holds one quadrillion gallons of water. That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000 gallons.
  • Like your water cold? Surfing is increasingly popular in the Great Lakes. Yes, you need a wetsuit, but you don’t have to worry about sharks.
  • It’s not called Superior for nothing. Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area, contains as much water as all the other Great Lakes combined, even throwing in two extra Lake Eries.

Harrington credited the instrumental role of Tandem Press, which manages the exhibit space on behalf of Dane County. The press is a self-supporting entity affiliated with the Department of Art in the School of Education, UW-Madison. It shares the university’s mission by teaching, undertaking research into new and old printmaking techniques and by conducting outreach programs to help educate the public about art in general and printmaking in particular.

Others supporting the airport art space are County Executive Joe Parisi, Airport Manager Kimberly S. Jones and members of the county airport commission and art subcommittee.