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Where water flows

July 17, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

IMPERIAL — Just as irrigation turned the Imperial Valley into a fertile farming community, the Imperial Irrigation District is hoping its new exhibit depicting water's arrival to the Valley will be equally enriching for Pioneers' Museum visitors.

After years of planning, IID has completed and unveiled the first of several exhibits in its gallery at the museum, a large faux waterfall extending to the gallery floor from a high wall decorated with a photograph and mural of the Colorado River.

IID made its original commitment to fund a portion of Pioneers' Museum's new wing in 1993. The IID Board of Directors passed a resolution to contribute $150,600 to the project, district spokesman Ron Hull said. In return, IID was given gallery space in the museum to exhibit displays relating to the district.

The contribution was taken out of an indirect fund and was repaid to that fund in three years, Hull said.

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But as the wing was built and other donating organizations filled their gallery space and completed their displays, IID's gallery remained empty.

"We always knew, in addition to buying space, we'd have to do something with it," Hull said with a laugh.

Hull says planning for the exhibit began about three years ago. IID representatives looked at museums and exhibits across California, getting ideas for what they wanted in their own museum space.

They liked the quality of artist JoAnnDutton's work in Pioneers' Museum. The Palm Desert woman had designed the wing's cattlemen and wildlife society galleries. IID commissioned Dutton to create the gallery's central faux waterfall.

Dutton said IID officials told her they wanted an exhibit about Colorado River water coming into the Imperial Valley, but basically gave her "carte blanche" to create the display.

"We recognized it was going to be expensive to do correctly," Hull said.

Hull said IID spent $75,000 on the design, construction and equipment of the central exhibit. While the costs may seem high, Hull said IID intends this and future exhibits to last over 10 years, with only minor changes being made. Some of the interactive portions likely will be changed periodically, Hull said.

The investment appears to be paying off.

"It's a plus to our educational program. We're here to educate," said Lynn Housouer, Pioneers' Museum director.

The IID exhibit, like the museum's other galleries, is an important feature as it tells part of the Imperial Valley's history, Housouer said.

Now that the first exhibit is complete, IID is turning its attention to filling the remaining space on both sides and behind the faux waterfall. The process will be done in three or four phases, Hull said.

One possibility is to turn the empty area to the left of the central waterfall display into a small theater with about 20 chairs where people can watch IID's "Abundance from the Desert Floor" video and other historical films, Hull said.

Dutton said she is doing research for the gallery's second phase. Though she does not yet know what this display will look like, she said it will focus on the time period of 1907-1928.

"It's going to be more interactive," Dutton said, adding that people will be able to touch some of the displays.

"That's important as far as learning goes. The idea is to get people to learn without realizing it," Dutton said.

Hull agreed.

"Our goal is to make it interactive so it's not just pictures hanging on the wall," he said.

Overall, Hull said, IID wants to create a gallery that will be both educational for student groups and a tourist draw for snowbirds and other visitors.

For now, the empty areas are blocked off by curtains though Hull said plans to design the gallery's second phase may be brought before IID's Board of Directors at an upcoming meeting. Construction on the second phase possibly could begin this fall, Hull said.

Staff Writer Kelly Grant can be reached at 337-3441.

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