To kick-off our programme ‘Museums Facing Ectinction’, we gathered key international museum professionals for a 3-days workshop at the Futurium in Berlin in November 2019.  The ambition of this gathering was to understand better the current state of museums in their transformation towards climate-friendly futures, identify pain points and find new windows of opportunities.

During this session, we worked on a visual roadmap divided into four stepping stones for change, going from the macro to the micro-level. They illustrate the different levels of actions available for museums to start this transformational journey and become climate champions or climate change-makers.

You can find below the description of each level of actions, few quick and easy steps to make and open-challenges:

1. Join a community of 80 000 agents of change

Aside from local specialization, museums around the planet have similar purpose, goals and missions. Imagine the impact that we can have if we join forces and go towards better futures for people and the Planet.

What can you do now? Put a poster of the Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations on your door, join the Artwork on Strike movement, join Museums For Future and check their actions, join the global strikes of Fridays for Future. 

From our pilot event in November 2019 in Berlin, we realised that this level of research enables museums to think globally, give a meta-perspective on the community and have an international impact which could go beyond the museum industry.

The pilot event was a key moment for this level of research as the participants offered that their museums should create links between local institutions and people and be a facilitator with the aim of creating a community of purpose. Concretely, they suggested that ‘Museums Facing Extinction’ could be ‘scaled-up’ in local communities, with current participants acting as ambassadors. The group also recommend building a network which would provide guidance; creating a list of doable actions regardless of a museums’ size. 

The group from South Australia underlined the importance to engage outside of museum and gallery networks. We should be reaching out to other institutions as well e.g. universities. They also reminded us that, as museums, we shouldn’t only measure success by reach and audience numbers, but also the depth and integrity of the conversations we ignite and foster with our communities.

Coopetition as a strategy. Read more here. (click on Coopetition via this link which leads to the additional research).

read more about it here 

The group called for museums in the global south and north to create better connections with one another and, while acknowledging different resources and levels of development, to create a cohesive letter of actions.  They concluded by stating that future meetings of ‘Museums Facing Extinction’ should invite a more globally representative group. 

read more about it here 

The group from South Australia asked how do we move forward as a proactive climate network when there continue to be major buy in with fossil fuel companies? Is there a way forward with working with these companies to achieve mutual goals which doesn’t compromise or regress climate action?

See map referred to by Vicki Sowry (https://www.gabrielledevietri.net/maps-of-gratitude).

During our pilot event in Berlin, the group conceptualized an entirely new way for museums to relate to one another and connect. They want to connect museums across bioregions with a positive and regenerative focus. This ambitious plan would be initiated by collective principles and a shared statement of purpose. Eventually, people would be invited to suggest projects, with the over-arching goal to change within the museum and therefore be a starting point for global change. Connecting across bioregions would allow for those changes to address questions which would have perhaps otherwise been ignored.

Read the article “Museums and Bioregionalism” by Bridget McKenzie, Climate Museum UK

2. Use your voice

Museums are respected and trustworthy educational entities with the ability to add nuance to the public dialogue. By being educational, inspirational and civic actors, museums are broadcasting themes, visions, and values that influence both local and global communities.

What can you do now? give space in your museum local climate activism, organise panel discussions or workshops with different actors from climate activism organisations, organise an exhibition in the city/streets to raise awareness, organise touring exhibitions on climate change.

The group from South Australia highlighted how important it is to consider a well-designed narrative for exhibitions. How do we curate narratives of physical objects to facilitate discussions of climate history, action/inaction/progression?

They commited to explore new narratives for collections that help audiences understand aspects of mitigation, change, adaptation and resilience. Examples might include reviewing and updating labels to reflect the current understanding of climate change, adding interpretation to objects and exhibitions that illuminate these ideas such as in exhibitions about migration, industry, cars etc. 

The importance of language – how do museums use the right language (both written and visual) to engage those who are disengaged?

The group from South Australia questionned How do we exploit the tension between neutrality and radicality to progress the conversation as well as action?

Audiences value the trust they have between museums. The group from South Australia asked how do we use this trust to progress climate action conversations? Need inclusive strategies to ensure audiences can insert themselves into the climate conversation.

Read this article as reference: In Museums We Trust. Here’s How Much (DATA UPDATE)

Museums should harness the wellbeing power of nostalgia within exhibition design.

How can natural history museums utilise their collections to construct a long arc of history for audiences to deepen their understanding of the progression of climate? As well as harnessing the power of collections, it is also important as a network to acknowledge their limitations and often one-sided view of historical events and archival processes. Favouring the western world, there are often limited representations of social, cultural, political and economic narratives, which will often lead to alienating audiences. Decolonisation of collections must be interwoven within any climate narratives to ensure our audiences have the opportunity to insert themselves within conversations.

3. Act like a neighbor

Museums act as a part of micro-communities, they can become neighbours fully integrated into their district and be part of the local ecosystem. Together with local stakeholders and grassroots movements, your museum becomes a powerful role model encouraging local social responsibility and can have a global impact on the planet.

What can you do now? create a community-managed resources centre with shared-equipment and material with the local organisations, sell local or sustainable products in your shop, un upcycling workshops, turn public spaces into community gardens, offer a climate-anxiety first aid line.

Power of the individual. As well as focusing on the systemic approach, we should also still place an emphasis on the individual.

Opportunities for museums to innovate product, process, system and service, both incrementally and radically.

Engaging with more residential businesses surrounding our institutions.

Harness the power of communication by leveraging off of the regional networks.

Nature in the DNA of the Museum — Principles for Local Engagement

The ‘Botanical gardenization’ of the museum has the goal of creating ‘an oasis in an urban jungle.’ This idea came from the pilot event in Berlin where they addressed the ecosystem and the local community as one, and 3 aimed at establishing a route for institutions to take into consideration natural elements on their own doorstep. It is important to understand who your audience is as well as how they value and experience nature. With that knowledge, museums are in a better position to create an impact on their community. It is important to establish a transdisciplinary approach and creating partnerships with local organizations, as well as with the community, in order to enhance flexibility and adaptability. Fostering an empathetic relationship with Nature is the main goal of this idea.

Find here their template, which included guiding principles and suggested activities such as: hosting team meetings outdoors and brainstorming in the forest, adopting local plants into the museum office space and establishing a garden in front of the museum, or documenting the local ecosystem and putting the map on display in the office.

4. Turn your museum green

The museum acts as an entity having a physical self, being a place to work, to conserve, to research, to welcome visitors, to create experiences and moments of transformation.  Turning the museum into a climate-positive institution will qualify museums as examples of sustainable practices from the building, to the offices, exhibition production, and products sold.

On top of its physical space, the digital version of the museum should also be considered for its heavy carbon footprint. Indeed, it is getting bigger each time one object from the collection is digitised and put online, that one event is streamed and then published online, etc. Adapting the digital behaviour of your museum to climate restriction is the new level of research and actions we added to our list after our pilot event. This level addresses the museum as a digital individual as well as a big digital player and a future digital activist.

What can you do now? use an energy audit software to test your process and building, use recycled material in your exhibition production process, recycle paper waste from your communication materials into gift papers, install different garbage bins for your different wastes, use solar panels as the first option before electricity, start a no-plastic museum transformation process, provide shared-car or buses for your employees, install smart light installation to avoid extra-consumption, install LED lighting system,  offer vegetarian and vegan options at the restaurant, ask your chef to scout for local providers, install beehives on the roof, keep rainwater and re-use it, turn your green spaces into community-gardens and organise urban wildlife or plant-caring workshops, head towards a zero-waste policy, check the carbon footprint of your website, avoid video streaming on the background (socket), avoid website design based on scrolling down, raise awareness on digital sobriety among your teams, colleagues and visitors

Caring practice should not only extend to a museum’s collections, but also to people who work for the museum, as well as the people, communities, and cultures from whom they receive collections. The group of participants in our pilot event in Berlin introduced the plan to make an ethical guideline for care in the museum and acknowledged that while acting as a caring neighbour depends on each communities’ needs, there are simple actions that every institution can take, such as establishing a “talk with a stranger” table in the café, which would, in turn, create an atmosphere of care.

Having established the goal of avoiding shaming others into action and rather helping others to do better, museums can be part of a larger set of relationships with care. The museum sector could aim to reduce the negative aspects (i.e. value association) of their practice of care and increase the positive (i.e. cherishing), and effectively reduce isolation and increase connection in the community.

A ‘care audit’ or ‘health check’ could be the first step for a New Ethic of Care. It could focus on: staff, policy, community, services, and the building. It could discuss pay, development, recruitment, and work environment within the museum. The surrounding community could assist in executing the evaluation itself.

Many suggestions already available regarding how to improve staff experience, and how to care for museum objects (ICOMM guidelines) but those risk engaging in the negative form of care (i.e. value extraction) rather than a more positive and generative approach. The focus should be on cultivating a flourishing environment and locality.

A first draft is available here. 

The notion of mobile museums. Reaching out to other organisations and institutions to hold/present exhibitions. This would allow for museums to occupy much smaller office spaces and would use existing brick and mortar businesses and/or other digital platforms. This movement could incidentally foster a strong and interconnected neighbourhood, as cited under action level 3.

Insert your exhibitions materials in a virtuous loop’.  This challenge will go deep in the understanding of the waste circle around the material used by temporary exhibitions, respecting the national laws and local specificities. It will produce frameworks and solutions so local systems of exhibition recycling can be implemented.

This page is in constant evolution. It feeds on what we produce during the working sessions we set up internationally. If you have a question or want to add something to the list, please contact us