Earlier this month, President Duane Nellis appointed a strategic planning team to recommend improvements for the Ohio Museum Complex, a transdisciplinary gallery which will complement the Kennedy Museum of Art at The Ridges.

The Ohio Museum Complex was created to complement the current Kennedy Museum of Art by bringing together cultural and natural history collections from across southeast Ohio.  

“The OHIO Museum Complex was developed through contributions from dozens of faculty, staff, students and community members. It’s this kind of teamwork that can really make a difference in connecting with new audiences and inspiring fresh collaborations,” Nancy Stevens, co-chair of the Museum Complex Advisory Group, said in an email.

One of the main purposes of the museum complex is to integrate different exhibits to provide an accessible platform for community members to enjoy, according to a university media release. The expanded museum idea combines art and science exhibitions with outdoor ventures like The Ridges trail systems, the Ohio Observatory and the Ohio Land Laboratory to create a meaningful learning environment.

“Working in partnership to connect art with the environment, health, technology and everyday life, the OHIO Museum Complex and Kennedy Museum of Art can together reach a broader audience, offering enhanced resources, and engaging the university and community in events and ideas that serve the greater good,” Stevens said in an email.

“Through the Appalachian Forest” is a transdisciplinary exhibit with an artistic format to create an interactive exhibit that teaches people about the Appalachian forest. The exhibit includes an herbarium donated to the gallery by local farmer and botanist Floyd Bartley.

“This is an exhibition that is open to being created by a community, so that the dynamic of the show is always changing, and it’s being changed by those who are participating in it,” said artist and curator Lori Esposito.

The main visual system in the exhibit depicts a diagram of a landscape in the Appalachian wilderness. Esposito designed the landscape so that the color key, silhouette design and gradation are all layers that explain the system, identifying specific plants, insects and animals.

Viewers are encouraged to sit at tables in the gallery and listen to the sounds of the forest while taking in the information around them. The concept of myths and folklore is important in understanding and appreciating the essence of the exhibit because it ties into the stories that define rich Appalachian culture.

“The seed paper that’s available here is for people to cut out shapes, write a wish and leave a thought behind in the wish jar. The idea is to replant the seed paper so we can propagate as many of them as possible, but also to highlight who we are as individuals and the aspirations we share as a community,” said Esposito.  

The multi-sensory exhibit highlights the culture, biodiversity and opportunity for learning that the Appalachian forest presents. Experts were on the strategic planning committee, which has been instrumental in creating a successful model for the Ohio Museum Complex.

The Museum Complex Planning Team comprises of Nancy Stevens, professor of biomedical sciences, and Ed Pauley, director of the Kennedy Museum of Art, who serve as co-chairs for the Ohio Complex Advisory Group. John Bowditch, director and co-founder of GRID Lab; Geoff Dabelko, professor of environmental studies; Alycia Stigall, professor of geology; Danny Twilley, instructor of recreation, outdoor education and ecotourism, and Sarah Wyatt, professor of plant biology, are all members of the team.

“Original and exciting experiences evolve from genuine collaboration because multiple minds are focused on problem solving in a cooperative environment. This is the philosophical foundation for developing vibrant learning spaces,” Pauley said in an email.