The National Aquarium’s New Event Series Wants Adults to Reconnect With Nature

Fusing art and science, "Voyages" kicks off Thursday with a multi-sensory exhibit experience, live music, and local food vendors.

Prior to her death in 1994, Charm City native Marjorie Lynn Bank explored the ocean with a camera. A seasoned photojournalist whose fascination with the underwater realm took off after a snorkeling excursion in the Cayman Islands, Bank would be remembered for her photographic work with massive sharks along The Great Barrier Reef. Not long after her passing, Bank’s survivors joined The National Aquarium to launch a lecture series in her name. 

But now, roughly 30 years after the Marjorie Lynn Bank Endowment was founded, “lectures are different,” explains Sarah Doccolo, who oversees community programming at the aquarium. “People have access to the internet in ways that they didn’t 25 years ago. You can watch an expert on the TED stage from the living room while on your phone.”

So, this past year, Doccolo worked with aquarium leadership to dream up ways of engaging newer audiences: “We wanted to reach different groups who might not just hang out at the aquarium,” she adds.  

The result is Voyagesa string of multi-sensory experiences designed to bond visitors with nature, and with Baltimore, by intersecting themes of art and science. On Thursday, July 21, the aquarium will kick off the first chapter of the series with an audio-focused tour of exhibits curated by Baltimore breath artist and beatboxer Dominic “Shodekeh” Talifero. Planned in partnership with a team of community and scientific advisers, the event will also highlight an after party with local eats, drinks, and entertainment. 

“This first chapter of Voyages is focused on biodiversity, as a theme and an overall point of advocacy,” says Talifero, who recently completed a months-long research stay at the aquarium, in which he mastered themes like animal communication and spoke at length with Voyages’ scientific lead Ashakur Rahaman

When asked to arrive at an artistic conceptualization of what biodiversity is, Talifero remembers thinking, “That might be unrealistic, because that’s a whole phenomenon, a whole lifetime, of study. But understanding vocal diversity as a bridge between my world and the world of biodiversity that exists at the aquarium, I [realized I could] synthesize the paradigms.”

To that end, Talifero pulled from several sea animal calls to curate six eclectic breath art compositions with layers of somatic visualization that he says will help participants spot differences between human and animal-made noises. While listening through headsets provided by the venue, Talifero says that guests will have a chance to “see vibrations of the animal calls and my own vocalizations represented in real time. The same way you would see a pebble strike the [water’s] surface, you can see vibrations move out from that point of contact,” he explains.

After the experience, an adults-only after party in the institution’s Pier 4 building will feature a live DJ set by award-winning musician, performer, and Baltimore Boom Bap Society co-founder Wendel Patrick; bites from the vegan-friendly Sporty Dog Creations and Haitian-influenced SoBeachy; sweets by Cajou Creamery and Pure Chocolate by Jinji; and a lineup of themed beverages curated by Kendra Robinson of B-Side Cocktail Lounge and The Sagamore Pendry. Among Robinson’s featured sips will be the “Sunshine and Fishes,” a partnership with Baltimore Spirits Co. 

“Part of the ethos of Voyages is really to involve the community,” says Doccolo, who also hints at a surprise musical guest slated for 9:30 p.m. “With the series as a whole, we’re really hoping we can give adults the opportunity to come back to the aquarium, or visit for the first time, and reconnect with nature—to rekindle that relationship with the natural world and get excited again. While we have so many conversations about climate change and the reality of that, the aquarium is a space where we can artfully connect with the science of what’s happening and celebrate what does exist.”