Storytelling. It's as old as the ages. Once taking place around a fire or through song, modern stories are passed along in a whole new way. Think YouTube, Facebook and smart phones. In a word, communicating today — especially with the younger generation — requires a screen.
This was on John O'Connell's mind when he approached the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts about producing its first IMAX film.
"I've wanted to see Whitaker Center make a significant impact on the region ever since playing a role in its creation and development while working with former Gov. Tom Ridge," said O'Connell, who is now president and CEO of the Harrisburg-based Trinity Group, a government and public relations firm.
That's how the project that would eventually become known as Expedition Chesapeake began — as an idea aimed at solidifying the Harrisburg-based science museum's ability to deliver the scientific, artistic, cultural and educational programs that would enhance the region's quality of life and economic vitality — lofty goals promised in its mission. Focusing the project on the Chesapeake Bay watershed came later, when Michael Hanes took Whitaker Center's helm in 2007.
According to O'Connell, featuring the Chesapeake Bay watershed immediately interested Hanes, who was aware of how natural landscapes lend themselves well to large-format films. "Whitaker Center is located right in the center of this national treasure," O'Connell added.
The idea has grown into a multimillion dollar project that showcases the Chesapeake Bay watershed as the star of an IMAX film, a made-for-television documentary, a traveling 4D science exhibit, and an online educational tool designed to engage students throughout the six-state watershed.
The storytellers include Canadian film director David Lickley, well-known naturalist and Animal Planet television host, Jeff Corwin, and people residing throughout the watershed.
Seed money for determining the feasibility of the estimated $10 million project came from a joint grant from Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Additional grant money, matched by Dauphin County, where Whitaker Center is located, came later when the project officially launched.
Grateful for the support in getting the project off the ground, O'Connell hopes that the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Dauphin County will look back on this initial funding as a good investment, pointing out his assumption that "attracting attention to this nationally significant watershed and an emerging regional science center will yield high returns to the state in the way of conservation funding, increased tourism and we hope, a new generation of environmental stewards."
While Expedition Chesapeake is not yet fully funded, O'Connell, Hanes and their 34-member advisory panel — made up of business and civic leaders, college and university professors, environmentalists and local agricultural producers from throughout the watershed — feel confident about increasing support as the project progresses. In fact, corporate support has steadily increased since the project's launch.
"Whether through film, television, online or a hands-on exhibit, Expedition Chesapeake viewers will get to know the Bay through the lives of our ancestors, neighbors and ourselves," Hanes said. "They'll meet people working to understand and personally address big issues — water quality, sprawl, energy development, non-native species and changing climate — affecting the nation's largest estuary."
Still in its earliest phases, the project has gathered a diverse team of scientists, environmental specialists, educators and film industry experts to craft the stories that will illustrate the intricate relationship between people, wildlife, land and water.
"We've been working from Cooperstown, NY, all the way down to the Bay and already have more than enough material to produce a provocative 42-minute IMAX film," O'Connell said. "Now it's time to capture the best scenery and write a script that shares these stories in ways that will resonate with every generation living in places that influence this spectacular resource and natural area."
Hanes would agree. "Not everyone is aware that 'Saving the Bay' involves mobilizing the entire watershed. The film and the enduring educational materials which accompany it will reveal how our choices have an impact far beyond what we see in our backyard or our neighborhood."