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Peggy Notebaert opens the Nature Museum Sustainability Center

On the count of three, a 7-foot floating globe illuminated as an image of the Earth was projected 360 degrees onto its surface, drawing thunderous applause from attendees at the grand opening of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s Sustainability Center on Thursday.

Surrounding the imposing, dynamic space is an interactive gallery with four stations for museum guests to learn about the components of sustainable living: food, water, economics and culture, and energy. The center, made possible by an anonymous donation and a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, was conceptualized in 2016.

Alvaro Ramos, the museum’s chief curator, said at the time that the reality of climate change was still heavily debated. He said the discourse these days is not centered around whether it exists, but rather whether it is caused by greenhouse gases from human activities.

“We live this every day, it’s a reality now,” he added. “People are really hungry for this kind of information.”

The goal of the Sustainability Center is to show visitors that people can be part of the solution as well as part of the problem. Ramos said this is a place to inspire those who feel helpless in the face of such a great challenge.

For museum leadership, the center represents an unprecedented and exciting step toward actionable change for the future, supported by more traditional preservation and research efforts focused on the past.

“The Sustainability Center will offer resources and provide visitors of all ages and abilities with practical ways to make an impact in our homes and communities,” said Erin Amico, president and CEO of the museum and the Chicago Academy of Sciences.

The resource center next to the interactive gallery displays a vibrant green wall of preserved moss and offers guests additional information through a digital library and a selection of books curated by the Chicago Public Library.

The center will also highlight success stories from the museum’s Chicago Conservation Corps program, known as C3, which trains community leaders in grassroots organizing and funds 135 climate action projects in 50 areas of the city.

The program’s final group began training Wednesday night, according to Jennifer Olson, the museum’s director of guest and community engagement. The 40 new C3 students include city workers, stay-at-home parents and a 19-year-old college student.

“So we have a really wide area. And now,” Olson waved at the C3 display in the resource center, “we weren’t physically represented at the Nature Museum before, so you had to come across us some other way. So not only are we inspiring people to join the first half of the Sustainability Center. Then they spit right here; If you’re starting to care about this that much, we can help you.”

Young people interact with an exhibit at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Sustainability Center, September 28, 2023.

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Former C3 student Caroline Williams said she “didn’t know where to start” when she started looking for a way to meet the needs of her community through sustainable living practices.

“But then I found the program,” said Williams, who is the founder and CEO of the Chicago Muslim Green Team, a nonprofit that works with South Side communities to build gardens, reduce waste and promote tree equity.

As Chicago neighborhoods continue to suffer from environmental inequities, the city’s recently published cumulative impact assessmentThe nature museum will also expand its C3 program to focus on communities affected by environmental hazards on the South and West sides.

Amico also announced Thursday that the museum and C3 plan to reduce 4,000 metric tons of carbon emissions and reclaim 3,000 square meters of land through community-based projects over the next five years.

“The Nature Museum has always been a place for our visitors to come and explore,” Amico said. “We invite our guests to imagine the future they can create together. “We hope our visitors will enjoy the new exhibition, be inspired and learn how they can make a difference in their own lives and the natural world.”

The Sustainability Center opened Thursday at the Peggy Notebaert Museum of Nature, 2430 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago; 773-755-5100, naturemuseum.org

adperez@chicagotribune.com

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