Natural History Museum of Utah's new immersive exhibit explores 'deep dive' into a world of color

The Nature of Color exhibit explores color at the Natural History Museum of Utah. The museum is the exhibit's first stop on a national tour.

The Nature of Color exhibit explores color at the Natural History Museum of Utah. The museum is the exhibit's first stop on a national tour. (Natural History Museum of Utah)


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Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — For a moment, you can experience a world without color.

When you enter the Natural History Museum of Utah's newest exhibit — The Nature of Color — all colors are replaced with gray. Your clothing, skin and hair will fade into gray before slowly returning to their natural hue. An overhead sodium vapor light emits a single frequency, preventing the full spectrum of color.

"It's an interesting way to start an exhibit because here we are going to do a deep dive into color and how it affects literally every aspect of our lives. You stop for a minute and think about what if we didn't have it," said Claire Davis, the museum's exhibit designer and preparator.

The Nature of Color is an immersive exhibit featured at the Natural History Museum of Utah, its first stop on a national track.

"One challenge of being the first venue on the traveling tour is that there's a lot of things to figure out. We're sort of a prototype, actually; and to be engaged in that process — partnering up with the American Museum of Natural History and figuring out what we can do to make this better with them — is really cool," said Tim Lee, director of exhibits. "It just shows how we respect them and they really respect our input, as well."

The interactive and immersive exhibit provides opportunities to really play, with your entire body, Lee said. The nature of the exhibit, while fun, also is backed by research.

"People learn better and retain information more when they're more engaged. Whole-body experiences really have a huge impact on how people retain information, and so providing those opportunities for people to learn in that way is definitely a priority for us as a museum," Davis said. "But that's definitely been kind of a hallmark of our museum, is always making sure that there are opportunities to actually engage and potentially be hands-on."

The exhibit explores how color is made, the emotion of color, the symbolism of colors throughout cultures and history, the use of color in nature, and the science behind the spectrum of colors.

The interactive station exploring the emotion of color is one of Lee's favorite features of the exhibit.

"I think this one I really liked because over the last two years has been really difficult for us. So this exhibit does bring a playfulness and enjoyment, a celebration of color and of life and also being in touch with your emotions," he said. "You get to sort of share and celebrate and recognize that we have these differences in this particular interactive."

As immersive and interactive experiences have gained popularity in recent years, the concept isn't new.

"Something I love about this particular exhibit — where immersive experiences are very popular right now — this exhibit is bringing in the objects, the science, the text, all of those traditional things that we have in museums and incorporating it into that immersive experience," Davis said. "So you both get the fun of being in different environments, but also you still get all of those classic museum experiences at the same time."

Part of experiencing different environments includes bringing the outside world in. To demonstrate nature's various uses of colors, the museum features live animals — including a gecko that Davis said can "play an Academy Award-winning role as a stick."

Also integrated into the exhibit were nods to Utah. One nod included replacing an Auburn University football uniform with a University of Utah uniform. Another includes a display case featuring the entire spectrum of color and the diversity of the Natural History Museum of Utah's collections. Integrating the museum's collection in a localized piece was important to staff, Davis said.

"In addition to being a venue for entertainment and education, this really is an institution that safeguards a priceless collection of objects. Their whole role is to preserve them for the rest of time," Davis said.

"It's the way we live, and it's immersed in every part of our day-to-day lives. I think we're inspired by nature — we're surrounded by it — and inspired by our culture. We're a hub. We are a destination for an international crowd that finds beauty in our ecosystems and environments," Lee added.

The exhibit will be open until Aug. 14. To purchase tickets, visit nhmu.utah.edu.

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Ashley Fredde covers human services, minority communities and women's issues for KSL.com. She also enjoys reporting on arts, culture and entertainment news. She's a graduate of the University of Arizona.

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