How Should Exhibitions Address Climate Change?

Stories about climate change can make the challenge seem insurmountable: The New York Times recently reported that a million species are at imminent risk of extinction. “The news makes it seem so overwhelming that we can’t do anything about it,” says Analise Mehmet, Exhibition and Experience Design MA ’18. (She also has a degree in Interior Design ’17.) For her capstone project in the MA program, she imagined an experience that would help millennial audiences stop being overcome by the fear and the seeming impossibility of doing anything so they can take action. The Society for Experiential Graphic Designs selected her proposal for presentation at its annual conference in June.

Analise Mehmet
Analise Mehmet, Exhibition and Experience Design ’18.

Mehmet developed her idea after consulting with a psychotherapist who practices cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The treatment guides patients through anxiety-inducing thoughts in gradual stages, with the goal of enabling them to adjust their emotional response. Mehmet imagined an installation on a beach with three areas, each devoted to a threatened environment (air, water, land). In each zone, visitors would begin by relaxing—in a hammock, say. Next, they would read a display of disturbing quotes and facts about the ways the environment is changing. Finally, in the “reward” section, they could create social media posts for a display at the exhibit. They would also encounter a touch screen LED table that would load up their mobile devices with ideas for small things they can do to make a difference—reminders about local elections and locations of nearby farmers’ markets, for example.

Though the concept was developed with an actual client in mind (the National Park Service), Mehmet says she’s more focused on the possibilities of CBT theory to address global warming. She recently finished an internship at MKG, an agency that crafts experiential events for big brands, but for the long term, she hopes to work on projects that raise awareness about the environment for young audiences. “This generation didn’t create the issues,” she says. “If they’re open, they see they can do these little things. The goal is to create empowerment.”

The “Air” portion of Mehmet’s proposed exhibition, which would be mounted on a beach.

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