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Shedd Aquarium Efforts Recognized with American Alliance of Museums Award

June 12, 2019

A weedy seadragon floating at Shedd Aquarium.

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the only organization representing the entire scope of the museum community, has awarded Shedd Aquarium with six awards for its leadership, education resources, accessibility initiatives, excellence in exhibition and more. The honors recognize the achievements of individuals and organizations dedicated to excellence within, and support of, the museum field.

Representatives from Shedd Aquarium accepted the awards at the Alliance’s Annual Meeting & Museum Expo in New Orleans.

2019 Institutional Award for Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion

“All Are Welcome: Accessibility and Inclusion at Shedd Aquarium” is honored with the Institutional Award for Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion that celebrates individuals, organizations, or programs advancing the museum field in these areas, either internally through workplace programs and policies or externally with museum audiences and communities. This award is presented by AAM’s board of directors.

Shedd’s accessibility initiative is a comprehensive, organization-wide program to achieve a more accessible and inclusive aquarium for its guests, staff and volunteers, and community. It takes a holistic approach to promoting diversity both in the public experience and throughout the organization’s operations.

2019 Excellence in Exhibition Overall Winner & Excellence in Exhibition Label Writing

Shedd’s newest special exhibit, Underwater Beauty, was named one of two Overall Excellence winners in the 31st annual AAM competition that cites exhibitions that excite and engage visitors. Judges representing design, education, audience evaluation, and curatorial practices cited Underwater Beauty’s equilibrium in its innovative design, graphics, interpretation, including the effective use of interactives, clear content and easily presented ideas. Additionally, two labels from Underwater Beauty were named in the annual excellence in label writing competition.

Underwater Beauty, presented by Citadel, explores the full wonder of our living world, revealing beauty beneath the waves that not only astounds the senses, but motivates guests to protect our waterways. With over a thousand animals representing 100 species from across the globe celebrating the vast diversity and incredible adaptions of aquatic life.  

2019 Excellence in Resources

Shedd Aquarium’s Sea Curious video series is awarded the EdCom Award for Excellence in Resources for exemplary service to the public through the practice of education in a museum. The video series was designed by kids, for kids, with each episode aiming to answer a question about animals by exploring and having adventures at the aquarium to spark curiosity for the aquatic world. Each episode of Sea Curious pairs curious kids from the Shedd Aquarium Adventure Club—a diverse group of Chicago area students ages seven to 10 —with one of Shedd’s Animal Care experts to answer a different question about sea life. The club brainstormed the topics for each video themselves—ranging from animal superpowers and slime, to animal care and even poop.

2019 MUSE Awards

Developed in partnership with Infiniteach, Shedd’s Sensory Friendly App is honored by the Media & Technology MUSE Award Honorable Mention for the use of digital media to enhance the experience and engage audiences. The app is designed to provide tools and resources to make a visit to the aquarium more accessible for families with young children and those with family members with sensory needs such as autism. It includes a visual schedule, communication tools, sensory-friendly maps and more tips to plan your visit, set expectations and ease anxiety.

John Cotton Dana Award for Leadership

Kris Nesbitt, senior director of exhibits and experience development at Shedd Aquarium, was recognized with the John Cotton Dana Award for Leadership for efforts on behalf of public education and community service. The prestigious award recognizes exemplary leadership and is therefore awarded on an occasional basis as extraordinary leadership is brought to the attention of the nominating committee.

With a passion for infusing visitor-centered learning, Nesbitt furthers Shedd’s organization-wide accessibility and inclusion initiative. Beginning with the development of Shedd’s Polar Play Zone, she recognized an opportunity to incorporate universal design to make the experience inclusive for all learners. Further, Nesbitt went on to involve as many people as possible – from a variety of departments and roles – to commit to improving accessibility and embedding it throughout the planning and processes at the aquarium. This has led to improved learning outcomes for diverse audiences under her leadership. Beyond the aquarium’s walls, Nesbitt has served four years on the steering committee for the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium and has mentored nearly 100 next generation museum professionals through the Johns Hopkins Museum Studies program.