Smithsonian exhibit engages community over human origins; discussion forums

CEDAR CITY – Civic leaders, artists and educators from throughout the community gathered at the Cedar City Library in the Park Friday night for a sneak peek at the Smithsonian traveling exhibit “Exploring Human Origins: What Does it Mean to be Human?”

Exploring the new Smithsonian exhibit at the Cedar City Library in the Park, Cedar City, Utah, Oct. 17, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller | St. George News
Exploring the new Smithsonian exhibit at the Cedar City Library in the Park, Cedar City, Utah, Oct. 17, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller | St. George News

Designed to spark discussion that encourages discourse, growth in perspective and acceptance of new ideas, the four-week exhibition was created by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the American Library Association Public Programs Office. It was made possible by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

The library was chosen as one of 19 locations to house the exhibit nationwide, Library Assistant Lauren McAfee said, and it will run from Oct. 16 to Nov. 12. It is free and open to the public.

“Cedar City Library in the Park is the only library in Utah to be selected,” she said, “and one of five in the western half of the United States.”

McAfee was responsible for writing the grant to acquire the exhibition, she said. While she is unsure of exactly what cinched the Smithsonian’s support, McAfee said, she was overwhelmed by the letters of support that came from the community, and she can’t help but wonder if that was what won them over.

“I know that they went through a lot of demographics,” she said, “but I think one thing that helped build our application a lot was the community support we had.”

Exploring art contest sumbissions at the new Smithsonian exhibit at the Cedar City Library in the Park, Cedar City, Utah, Oct. 17, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller | St. George News
Exploring art contest sumbissions at the new Smithsonian exhibit at the Cedar City Library in the Park, Cedar City, Utah, Oct. 17, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller | St. George News

“We had a lot of letters of support – we had one from the school district, we had one from the city, we had one from a couple of the professors on campus, we had one from the Shakespeare Festival … all sorts of different people came together to say that they would support this,” McAfee added.

To make the most of the event, McAfee said, a civic committee was formed to help create events that would be tied to the exhibition and help to further open dialogue in a healthy way.

The committee consisted of members of the community, professors from Southern Utah University in every area from science to English and religious leaders from various faiths within the Cedar City area.

“The idea behind the exhibit is to promote a conversation among visitors about ‘What does it mean to be human?’ and to learn about, and exchange, different ideas and beliefs about where mankind came from,” she said.

With that in mind, an all-inclusive art contest was created and opened up to the schools and the general public, Library Board President Mona Woosley said.

Exploring the new Smithsonian exhibit at the Cedar City Library in the Park, Cedar City, Utah, Oct. 17, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller | St. George News
Exploring the new Smithsonian exhibit at the Cedar City Library in the Park, Cedar City, Utah, Oct. 17, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller | St. George News

The response was overwhelming, she said, explaining that the only requirement was that each piece related to the topic of what each artist believed it meant to be human, and that they include a three sentence blurb that explains their position with each piece.

The diverse art lines the walls of the library from the moment you enter, all the way down the hall and into the children’s section at the back of the library.
The contest winners will be chosen in three categories, amateur, professional and children, based on public feedback, Woosley said.

“We are going to call it ‘People’s Choice,’” she said, “and they will be able to choose five pieces.”

The art displayed on the library walls ranges from paintings and photography, to collages and even a book – it was clear to see when observing each piece how diverse of a community Cedar City truly is when it comes to the idea of what it means to be human.

In addition to the art contest there will be a series of nine discussion forums planned to expand on the theme of what it means to be human from a variety of perspectives. The forums range from panel discussions to book readings with discussions to follow and will continue until the exhibition ends in mid-November.

Discussion resources

  • Origin of Life: God, Evolution or a Third Alternative?
    • Presented by Riki Kline
    •  Oct. 22, 7 p.m. | Cedar City Library in the Park |East Room
    • Is life on earth the result of random evolution?  The work of a supernatural God? Or was it created using DNA by a team of extraterrestrial scientists coming from another planet?
  • Science Program: Exploring Human Origins: What Does It Mean To Be Human
    • Presented by Dr. Rick Potts and Southern Utah University Professor Dr. Kimberly Congdon
    • Oct. 26, 7 p.m. | Cedar City Library in the Park | Indoor Patio
    • How can scientific discoveries on human evolution connect with larger understandings of what it means to be human?  The talk and following conversation will explore how fossils, archaeological remains, and genetic studies shed light on our connection with the natural world and the origins of sharing, caring, and innovation
  • Exploring the Meanings of Human Evolution: A Community Conversation
    • Presented by Dr. Connie Bertka and Dr. Jim Miller | Joined by Dr. Rick Potts and Dr. Briana Pobiner from the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program
    • Oct. 27, 7 p.m. | Cedar City Library in the Park | Indoor Patio
    • How do scientific discoveries about human origins relate to people’s personal understanding of the world and their place in it?
  • Educators Workshop on Teaching Human Evolution
    • Presented by Dr. Briana Pobiner and Dr. Connie Bertka
    • Oct. 28, 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. | Heritage Center Theater
    • The workshop is for classroom teachers; science, nature center, and museum educators; homeschoolers; and other local educators. It will feature exploration and hands-on practice in presenting the Human Origins Program resources provided for each community. These resources include a set of five early human skull casts with an accompanying classroom activity, classroom-tested, high-school biology teaching units on “What Does It Mean to Be Human?” and a Cultural and Religious Sensitivity (CRS) Teaching Strategies Resource
  • Exchange of Beliefs & Narratives Concerning Human Origins
    • Oct 29, 6 p.m. | Cedar City Library in the Park | East room
    • Explore different beliefs, legends, and stories from a wide variety of cultures concerning how man came to be, with representatives of Southern Utah Paiutes, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and more. This event is open to families and children
  • Religious Panel & Conversation about Human Origins
    • Nov. 2, 7 p.m. | Cedar City Library in the Park | East room and West room
    • Panel members representing different local congregations and denominations will answer questions and engage in a moderated conversation about the exhibit, and explore ideas of Origins of Man, and answer the questions “What does it Mean to be Human?”
  • Panel Q & A
    • Nov. 4, 6:30 p.m. | Cedar City Library in the Park | Indoor Patio
    • Panel members representing different backgrounds and experiences, will answer moderated questions from audience members, exploring ideas of about Human Origins, answering the question about  “What Does it Mean to Be Human?” and latest research in evolution
  • Inherit the Wind Reader’s Theatre Presentation and Discussion
    • Nov. 11, 7 p.m. | Heritage Center Theater
    • It is 1925, and Betram Burt Cates, a 20-something year old biology teacher in the small town Hillsboro, is put on trial for teaching evolution in his high school science class. Join Michael Bahr, from the Utah Shakespearean Festival, as he and his team present scenes from Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee’s play followed by an interactive discussion with the audience.  “Inherit the Wind” is based on actual events of the 1925 Scope’s Trial which took place in Dayton, Tennessee
  • Cedar Reads Literary Discussion / Event
    • Nov. 10, 7 p.m. | Cedar City Library in the Park | West Room
    • Cedar City Public Library is proud to announce its first Cedar Reads program, formerly known as One Book One Town.  “The Reluctant Mr. Darwin” by David Quarmmen has been selected, and multiple copies are available at the Cedar City Public Library, our online library Overdrive, and for purchase at Main Street Books

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