One of the more refreshing aspects of the Museums Australasia conference was hearing from one of our sectors leading thinkers, Robert Janes. I was very excited to be meeting him again (the last time would have been in the early 90s when he was the director at the Glenbow Museum in Alberta, Canada). However, this was not to be as he gave his talk via video choosing not to travel as a stand against climate change and consumption – what a statement that was!
During his address there was plenty of chatter on the Twitter back-channel about what museums can, and should, be doing about climate change. Over the years I have done quite a bit of work in this area and the three observations I have always made are that visitors:
- want museums to be addressing this issue
- want to know simple things they can do to help
- are looking to museums to provide this information and be a sensible voice in the “debates”
However, I personally believe that museums have got this a bit wrong. Inspired by Janes, the issue for me is how can we legitimately talk to our visitors about climate change when we encourage / model practices that support (needless) consumption? Here’s some example across our sector that I could think of:
- Printed materials that visitors don’t want or don’t use (think what’s on programs, exhibition flyers and posters, paper invitations, etc, etc)
- Magazines that continue to be posted to people who will be happy with a simple digital version
- Building expensive exhibitions out of non-reusable materials that are disposed of at the end of the show’s run
- Sponsorship / funding from organisations with a poor record on climate change. Certainly BP’s sponsorship of the British Museum is coming under fire for just this very reason…
- Wasteful materials used in cafes and shops. And while we’re on the subject, do museum shops only source from ethical suppliers, while cutting down on packaging and cheap plastic items??
- Education and learning materials printed out when digital versions will do
And I could go on. So, what to do? Perhaps the answer is as simple as thinking about our everyday practices and taking steps to combat the above, just as visitors would be expecting (and hoping) that we will do.
And, to finish, some background resources on museums and climate change:
- Controversy in museums – has links to various articles and books on this topic.
- Cameron, F, and Kelly, L. (Eds) 2010. Hot topics, public culture, museums. Cambridge Scholars Publishing: Newcastle upon Tyne. Reports on visitor research about contested topics including climate change.
- What did visitors think about a climate change exhibition at the Australian Museum?
- What will visitors do about climate change (after attending the Australian Museum’s climate change exhibition)?
- How does climate change make you feel – students’ personal reflections on climate change
- Climate change and museums – summary of audience research on visitor interest in this topic
- Janes, R. (2010). The Mindful Museum. Curator, 53(3), pp. 325-338.
- Janes, R. (2009). Museums in a troubled world. Routledge:London. Plus a review of this book in reCollections by J. Patrick Greene (Director, Museum Victoria) here.
Something to think about…