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Denver Nature and Science Museum takes visitors to ¡Cuba!

¡Cuba! features many cultural snapshots in a replicated plaza.
Photo: Genessa Gutzait · The Sentry

A fascinating glimpse into neighboring culture

After the United States reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba three years ago, the American Museum of Natural History collaborated with Cuban scientists to create a new immersive exhibit about Cuba’s biodiversity, history, and cultural traditions in the daily life of Cuban citizens. 

Museum goers at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) are quickly immersed into a multi-colored alluring world called “the plaza” in DMNS’ newest installation, ¡Cuba! The plaza, designed as a Cuban city square with storefronts that can be entered to view each part of the exhibit, is fashioned after typical architecture in Cuban cities such as Havana. It allows for viewers to explore various aspects of Cuba such as the biodiverse caves, forests, and coral reefs all the way to Cuba’s religion, transportation (depicted with a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air centered in the room), and tobacco cultivation for Cuba’s infamous cigar industry. 

Viewers of the two-part exhibit (“the plaza” and a separate historical component featuring local Cubans) are also thrown into the typical daily life of Cubans with tabletop activities based in the café section of the plaza. The tabletop activities allow for participants to delve all their senses into Cuban lifestyle with games like Cuban dominoes, aromas of Cuban coffee, and songs one would typically hear on Cuban radio. 

“We wanted to introduce people to Cuba’s biodiverse climate with our research in various ecosystems around the island,” Cybil Holmes, Early Childhood Education Specialist at DMNS, said. “We also wanted to introduce people to Cuba’s rich history and cultural traditions to make a more well-rounded exhibit.”

Cuba is resident to some of the world’s healthiest coral reefs. Museumgoers are able to dive deep into the ocean life and real-life coral reef ecosystem called Gardens of the Queen. On the other side of the exhibit, viewers engage in a wall display of the caves that “honeycomb” throughout the island that are peppered with ancient artifacts, graves, and wall paintings that provide a deep historical background into Cuba’s immense history. Observers also become acquainted with extinct wildlife, such as the Giant Owl that stands to be around three feet tall and lived  11,700 to 126,000 years ago.   

As museumgoers stroll through the plaza, a quick turn around a corner takes viewers of the exhibit into the second part of the immersive feature. Viewers become acquainted with four local Cubans through photos and statements from those featured. Fourty-forth Mayor of Denver, Guillermo Vidal; Elaine Gantz Berman, past member of the Colorado Board of Education; Kristy Bigelow, owner of restaurant Cuba Cuba; and Maria Garcia Berry, founder of CRL Associates all shared their stories of coming to the United States. Some were part of “Operation Peter Pan” in which over 14,000 minors were flown into the United States in the 1960s, unaccompanied by their parents.

“In an act of love, my parents sent me on a Pan Am flight to the US at the age of 10,” the statement on Vidal’s banner regarding “Operation Peter Pan” read. Reminiscing on his time in Cuba, Vidal said, “Though I have been exiled from my homeland for nearly six decades, I find I am still deeply rooted in the island’s rich dark soil. I yearn for my Cuban brothers and sisters to experience the freedoms and opportunities that have filled my life.”

The installation unveils the lush cultural, historical, and biodiverse civilization of Cuba and allows for museumgoers to be immersed into knowledge of the island’s profound lifestyle.

¡Cuba!
Open now through Jan. 20, 2019
www.dmns.org

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