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Tennessee Aquarium Receives Nation’s Highest Award for Community Service

10/6/2009 3:06:25 PM

Tennessee Aquarium Receives Nation’s Highest Award for Community Service

Chattanooga, Tenn. (October 6, 2009) —The Tennessee Aquarium has been named a recipient of the 2009 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries. The annual award, made by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) since 1994, recognizes institutions for outstanding social, educational, environmental, or economic contributions to their communities. The Tennessee Aquarium will receive the National Medal at a ceremony held later in Washington, D.C., and a $10,000 award in recognition of their extraordinary contributions.

“The Tennessee Aquarium is deeply honored to be one of only four aquariums ever to receive the National Medal and is proud of its long history of service to Chattanooga and the surrounding region,” said Charlie Arant, the Aquarium’s president and CEO. “The Tennessee Aquarium has been leading the way in education, conservation, economic development and tourism since 1992. This award is a tribute to our staff, trustees, volunteers and community supporters who work tirelessly to help us connect people with nature in a meaningful way.”

“Every day, the Tennessee Aquarium makes a real difference in their community,” said IMLS Director Anne-Imelda M. Radice. “Their exemplary programs respond to community challenges, positively impact people’s lives, and serve as model for the nation’s museums and libraries. I applaud their outstanding efforts and encourage others to follow their example.”

Community service has always been the foundation of the Tennessee Aquarium’s mission to inspire wonder and appreciation for the natural world.  For more than 17 years, the Aquarium has had a dramatic impact on the area, measured by continuing successes in building the local economy through tourism and development, creating new environmental education opportunities and leading vital conservation efforts.

“The Tennessee Aquarium is much more than a tourist attraction. In addition to water research and environmental stewardship, the Tennessee Aquarium presents an educational and inspiring journey of our freshwater and saltwater bodies from the mountains to the sea,” said U.S. Representative Zach Wamp, R-Tenn. “This recognition by the Institute of Museum and Library Services moves the Tennessee Aquarium into greater prominence and celebrates its significant contributions to our community.”

“I congratulate the Tennessee Aquarium for being recognized at the national level for its outstanding record of service to the Chattanooga area, the state of Tennessee and the nation,” said U.S. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “The aquarium is a valuable educational resource and a significant contributor to the life and vitality of downtown Chattanooga.”

The opening of the Tennessee Aquarium in 1992 helped launch a revitalization of Chattanooga’s downtown and riverfront. The tree-lined sidewalks of this once-abandoned industrial hub are now filled with tourists, students and local families who are drawn to the city’s attractions and diverse collection of restaurants. The Aquarium hosts leaders from around the world who come to study Chattanooga’s downtown revitalization.   This impact was extended in 1996 with the opening of the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater and in 2005 with the grand opening of Ocean Journey, the Aquarium’s second building, as part of Chattanooga’s 21st Century Waterfront project.  Nearly two billion dollars of economic development has taken place surrounding the Chattanooga Riverfront since the Aquarium first opened.

The Tennessee Aquarium provides more than one million dollars in free educational programming to the region each year.  Examples of the Aquarium’s impact on regional education efforts abound.  From the standards-based educational programs offered as part of an Aquarium visit, to award-winning outreach programs taken into classrooms within a 100-mile radius of the city, Aquarium educators help inspire tens of thousands of tomorrow’s environmental stewards each year. By forging relationships with the Hamilton County Department of Education, six local museums and two museum magnet schools, the Aquarium and its partners have created a national model for museum-school partnerships.

In addition, creative educational opportunities are offered to home school students, distant schools via live internet broadcasts and to community organizations such as regional public libraries. Classroom teachers also receive free in-service training both on-site and in the schools to help them bring science to life in the classroom.  Recently, the Aquarium’s educational mission has been extended outside the Aquarium’s two buildings with the addition of the River Gorge Explorer. This state of the art vessel carries passengers into the protected habitat of the Tennessee River Gorge. Along the way, the public, school groups and tourists learn about the rich history and bio-diversity of the area.

For more than a decade, the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, (TNACI) has been working to restore freshwater ecosystems by reintroducing imperiled aquatic animals and monitoring their habitats. TNACI has studied, reared and reintroduced nearly 250,000 individuals of imperiled aquatic species to the Southeast including:

  • freshwater mussels
  • lake sturgeon
  • Barrens topminnows
  • native turtles
TNACI is also actively involved with mapping the genetic diversity of fishes in regional streams, and a new captive breeding program for hellbender salamanders.

In addition to the Tennessee Aquarium, other recipients of the 2009 National Medal for Museum and Library Service are the:
  • Braille Institute of America Library, Los Angeles, CA
  • Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, PA
  • Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, Cincinnati, OH
  • Gail Borden Public Library, Elgin, IL
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art, IN
  • Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR
  • Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa, FL
  • Pritzker Military Library, Chicago, IL
  • Stark County District Library, Canton, OH
Any individual may nominate a museum and/or library in the United States and its territories for the National Medal for Museum and Library Service. Members of the National Museum and Library Services Board, the Institute’s presidentially-appointed policy advisory board, review the nominations and make recommendations to the Institute Director who selects the winners.  To view nomination information, please go to The deadline for 2010 nominations is February 16, 2010.

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. To learn more about the Institute, please visit     


Tennessee Aquarium Contact:
Thom Benson,
Communications Manager

IMLS Press Contacts
Jeannine Mjoseth,
Mamie Bittner,

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