Not quite underwater, fellow facilitator Katrina Singh and I were actually at the Tennessee Aquarium. We hit the road in early August, headed two hours north of Atlanta to Chattanooga. The three-day recording experience was a gift to the Tennessee Aquarium from IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services). Each year, IMLS awards five museums and five libraries with the nation’s highest honor, the National Medal. In 2009, the Tennessee Aquarium was among the ten institutions to receive it.
Tennessee Aquarium Communications Manager Thom Benson immediately made us feel at home. While Katrina facilitated the first conversation, I checked out the seahorses just around the corner – what a diverse and colorful group of fish. At the end of the day, Thom took us on a tour of the museum’s Ocean Journey building. There we were mesmerized by jellyfish, impressed by the variety and numbers of marine animals and amused by penguins. It was a blast!
The next day, Tennessee Aquarium volunteer diver Bill Burch (above) talked about his love of diving and how volunteering at the aquarium gives him the opportunity to dive regularly. That afternoon, he invited me to watch him and his teammate feed the fish. Underwater, they “rang the lunch bell,” and the fish went nuts! After that day’s recording, Thom took us on a tour of the River Journey building and guided us through the rivers and estuaries of Tennessee. We were fascinated to learn about the museum’s conservation efforts to save the lake sturgeon. After the tour, Katrina and I relaxed aboard the museum’s state-of-the-art, 3 million dollar River Gorge Explorer. The seventy-passenger cruiser sailed down the Tennessee River – sometimes, at speeds of up to 53 knots! A huge thank you to captains Mike (pictured below), David and Kyle, and everyone at Tennessee Aquarium for their great work and warm hospitality.
On our final day in Chattanooga, Katrina and I finished up the last of our eighteen recordings. Everyone from the museum’s Board Chair to teachers who work with museum partner schools participated in the three days of recording. And the stories, while different, had a common theme. The important work in which the museum is involved – its commitment to community service, education, ecological preservation, professional excellence and fun – shone through. Each participant in his or her own way extolled the virtues of the Tennessee Aquarium. We left with a better understanding of why IMLS had awarded the National Medal to this awesome institution.