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Think Water Utah, a Utah Humanities Statewide Project, Receives 2022 Outstanding Achievement Award from the Utah Division of State History


Think Water Utah Team

Think Water Utah Project Partners
Including Professor Greg Smoak, PhD Student Megan Weiss and History Graduate Nate Housely

Thursday, November 10, 2022 – Think Water Utah is a statewide collaboration and conversation on the  critical topic of water presented by Utah Humanities and its partners. From 2020 through 2022, Think Water Utah engaged 312,418 visitors in 25 exhibitions and over a hundred free community events in 34 locations throughout the Utah and southern Idaho.

2022 Outstanding Achievement Award Recipient
As a prestigious capstone to this tremendous endeavor, the Think Water Utah project partners received the 2022 Outstanding Achievement Award from the Utah Division of State History for statewide collaboration. The award recognized significant contributions, extraordinary service, and outstanding projects in the fields of history, archaeology, preservation, and/or historical archives. Members of the team were honored to receive this award at the 70th annual Utah State History conference in Provo. Event and award photos are available here. A Statewide Collaboration that Strengthened Utah Communities and Explored the Critical Topic of Water Think Water Utah featured two exhibitions from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service – Water|Ways and H2O Today. These exhibitions traveled to nine communities in Utah from August 2020 to October 2022 reaching underserved audiences including those living in rural areas, youth, and members of historically marginalized communities. In addition, each host organization developed local water-related exhibits and public programming that explored Utah’s water stories and challenges. The Utah Museum of Fine Arts and Natural History Museum of Utah also created water-focused exhibitions and public programming, some of which also traveled. All of Utah Humanities’ partners engaged their communities in conversations about water by seeking out underrepresented voices and stories and collaborating with other organizations to reach new audiences. They also experimented with online and socially-distanced program models and worked to strengthen themselves as vibrant community spaces. Think Water Utah project scholar and Director of the American West Center at the University of Utah, Gregory E. Smoak,  detailed the history of water in Utah in Utah Water Ways, a 40-page essay with historic photographs. Four thousand copies of the 
essay were provided free of charge to exhibition visitors and distributed freely to schools, libraries, teachers, and scholars. Utah Humanities’ Beehive Archive radio program featured 90 new episodes focusing on water in Utah. These 2 minute stories are available on KCPW Radio, Utah Public Radio, and on many podcast platforms. Think Water Utah Exhibitions around the State from 2020-2022.

To learn more about the four-year statewide collaboration, visit the Think Water Utah portion of the Utah Humanities website.

Carol Harsh, Associate Director of Museum on Main Street and Community Engagement, Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service says, “Think Water Utah became a water programming tour de force as a multi-pronged approach with layers of statewide partners and scholars, and host communities across the state, resulting in real public impact. Water is a life-giving resource. Looking at water through the lens of history and culture – both locally and statewide – enabled program participants to grapple with the complexity of water issues and to recognize the many nuances of what water means to us as humans. In so doing, they experienced firsthand the relevance of history in addressing contemporary issues and the power of public history institutions in helping to localize conversations. Utah Humanities is respected and uniquely positioned to pull together such an impressive array of statewide and local partner organizations and scholars, who in turn engaged their communities in meaningful conversations, story initiatives, educational activities, and virtual programs.” 

Gregory E. Smoak, Director, American West Center, University of Utah writes that, “Think Water Utah illustrates the value of public environmental history to inform public discourse and advocate for a more inclusive and sustainable future… In producing statewide programming, the project team knew we would have tell some unsettling stories and ask hard questions for the project to truly matter. There is a well-known adage in the American West, often spuriously attributed to Mark Twain, that whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over. Throw in the intertwined and divisive issues of urban population growth and climate change and things could get really tense. We knew that we must directly engage these topics, but that to do so ethically and fairly we must remain rigorous in our historical practice. If we were to advocate for good history and good science, we would have to get things right... I am proud that Think Water Utah has addressed environmental justice issues and responded to the climate emergency by advancing this critical conversation in communities across the state.”

Matthew Basso, Public Historian and Professor of History at the University of Utah remarks on the statewide project by saying “In my nearly 20 years of experience as a public historian in Utah, I can say without reservation that Think Water Utah is one of the most impressive, far-reaching, expansive, and important public history projects to take place in the state over that period. As the news reminds us virtually every day, there is, arguably, no more important topic in Utah right now than water. I am utterly certain that Think Water Utah did our state a profound service by adding context and 
complexity to conversations on this subject. In addition to facilitating a far more educated populace, they left yet another lasting legacy: a corps of far better-trained local public historians who will continue to serve Utah communities across the state.”

Megan van Frank, Director of the Center for Community Heritage at Utah Humanities, who coordinated the Think Water Utah statewide project, says “This teamwork between national, state, and local organizations benefits everyone. Strengthening museums through this type of collaboration helps preserve and share Utah history, and demonstrates how an understanding of the past is absolutely crucial to the important conversations we are having today in our communities. Plus, all this, in the middle of a pandemic! I could not be more grateful to all of our project partners for our work together. Thanks to the Board of Utah Division of State History for this recognition of our efforts and impact.”

By Deena Pyle | | November 10, 2022

Last Updated: 9/14/23