American Alliance of Museums Awards Museums Connect Grant to Stepping Stones Museum for Children
Highly-prestigious grant to allow Stepping Stones to link Connecticut students with students from the Brazilian rain forest for an educational, cultural exchange
The eyes of the world, for many reasons, have recently been focused on Brazil. During the next 12 months, the eyes of a select group of local students will be focused on the South American country during an educational, cultural exchange with students living in the Amazonian rain forest. These students will be able to connect with their Brazilian counterparts thanks to a partnership between Norwalk-based Stepping Stones Museum for Children and Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi, an internationally-recognized research institution and museum based in the city of Belém in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The international partnership, called "Lifelines/Aspectos Vitais: The Convergence of Arts, Ecology and Culture in the Amazon and New England," is being funded by the Museums ConnectSM program, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State that is administered by the American Alliance of Museums. Stepping Stones, which will be receiving important program support from Norwalk-based entities Creative Connections and The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, is one of only six American museums to be awarded a grant this year.
Museums ConnectSM is a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the American Alliance of Museums. The program pairs museums and local communities in the United States and abroad for cross-cultural exchanges that bring people, especially youth, together. Participants conduct community projects that address timely social issues, such as women and girls’ empowerment, environmental sustainability, and expanding access to quality education. Now in its ninth and final year, Museums ConnectSM has linked American museums in 30 states and the District of Columbia with partners abroad in 51 countries.
"Stepping Stones Museum for Children is honored to receive this highly prestigious Museums Connect grant,"
– William E. Jeffries, III, Director of Strategic Initiatives
"Stepping Stones Museum for Children is honored to receive this highly prestigious Museums Connect grant," said William E. Jeffries, III, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Stepping Stones. "Increasing children’s understanding of the world is an important part of the museum’s mission and this 'Lifelines/Aspectos Vitais' project will provide an incredible and powerful learning opportunity for the selected to participate to do just that."
"Lifelines/Aspectos Vitais" will immerse Connecticut and Brazilian teams of high school students and teachers in an international exploration of watersheds as ecological, cultural and economic lifelines. All watersheds have shared characteristics and both of these Museums Connect communities are inextricably linked to their watersheds. Stepping Stones Museum for Children’s location in Norwalk on Long Island Sound and the Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi’s location in the Caxiuanã National Forest within the Amazon River’s watershed will serve as living laboratories throughout this project.
The underlying "everything is interconnected" philosophy of watershed management will drive the immersive activities for the high school students and teachers in both countries, including:
- watershed-focused artwork exchanges between teams, and arts-based presentations to the public in each community;
- reciprocal travel exchanges, including visits to museum host cities and to a research station in the Caxiuanã National Forest of the Brazilian Amazon, scientific study cruises on Long Island Sound, and cultural visits to historic maritime communities on the Connecticut coastline;
- digital storytelling projects following each exchange to enable participants to reflect upon these experiences and develop a plan to transfer what they have learned to younger children within the communities in which they live; and
- online and onsite exhibitions at each of the project museums.
"The Amazon River watershed is one of the last great, fairly intact habitats in the world and Long Island Sound is Connecticut’s largest and most important natural resource," said Jeffries. "In addition to the cultural and scientific exchanges that will take place as the participants study these two historically important watersheds, this project will foster increased ecological awareness as the students spread a message of environmental sustainability to their peers."
Co-recipient of this Museums ConnectSM grant is the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, one of the biggest and most popular museums in Brazil. Founded in 1866, the Goeldi Museum is a Zoo, Botanical Park and Research Center located in Belém, a city in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The oldest public aquarium in Brazil is one of the attractions of the Park.
Two Norwalk-based community organizations will support Stepping Stones on the American side of the project: Creative Connections and The Maritime Aquarium. Creative Connections, an international non-profit, connects students in the USA with their international peers through the exchange of art and ideas. Their mission is to help students become global citizens who are prepared to learn, live, work and thrive in the 21st Century. The Maritime Aquarium, which averages more than 450,000 visitors per year, is one of New England’s top aquariums. The aquarium, located in Norwalk, features more than 3,000 marine animals living in re-creations of their natural habitats and also offers educational programs, study cruises, special exhibits and Connecticut’s largest IMAX® Theater.
"It is an honor to bring our global arts and education network to this important scientific and cultural exchange,” said Alan Steckler, President and Founder of Creative Connections. "We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with such dedicated institutions who are also working to engage youth in a way that promotes global citizenship."
Tom Naiman, director of Education at The Maritime Aquarium, said his staff is thrilled to offer its expertise in teaching environmental science to the project.
"What an exciting opportunity it will be to have students from Connecticut and the Amazon Basin together on our research vessel, collecting and comparing data, talking about our mutual dependence on Earth's natural resources and the need to protect them," Naiman said.
On the Brazilian side of the project, the Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi will be working with the Amazon-based Rios de Encontro program of the Transformance Institute, located in Marabá, Brazil. The program has received awards from Brazil’s Ministry of Culture and UNICEF and is an umbrella organization of 12 micro projects led by youth coordinators and developed in response to community ecological issues through dance, music, theatre, poetry, audio-visual and arts-driven eco-cultural activities. The Transformance Institute will also be providing additional facilitative, translation and logistical support.
The yearlong project is set to commence in September 2016. Outreach in both countries will begin shortly to recruit high school-aged students to participate in this once-in-a lifetime learning experience.