Back in May/June I put out a survey to capture views of museum & cultural professionals on how a Climate Museum could help them, and what kinds of topics you want to explore.
I’ve been delaying analysing and sharing the findings, as I had hoped for more responses, and more from staff working within museums. I’ll keep the survey open, see this link, with the intention of gathering more feedback.
But here for now are the summarised responses of 41 people.
37 of 41 are UK based, most from England.
13 of the 41 work within the museum sector, or within a museum. The rest are freelancers, academics or artists many of whom might work sometimes with museums. In terms of sectors worked in, the biggest category was The Arts at 25%, and the next was Museums at 22%, then Science Engagement at 15% and then Academic 10% and ‘Focus on people’ 10%.
One purpose of the survey was to find out how certain terms are interpreted and what level of interest there is in them. For example, is the term ‘climate change’ a turn-off?
So, I asked: Thinking about what would most motivate you to travel or give time to discuss with others, please rate each of these topics judging by the describing word or phrase.
Although the responses are fairly close, and more responses would show clearer patterns, we can see that the term Climate Change is least popular, and that Regenerative Cultures is striking out ahead of the pack. This is not a common term, but the respondents are generally well informed about culture and climate action. Regenerative Cultures gives an impression of potential to craft a better future. Although ‘regeneration’ has become associated with profit-seeking property development, the term ‘Regenerative’ is increasingly used to mean ecologically sustainable development that brings thriving and equality. A definitive book on this is Designing Regenerative Cultures by Daniel Christian Wahl.
The next question asks for a rating of confidence in discussing and applying each of these topics in their work. Although the respondents are knowledgeable in the field, most rate their confidence as being very low across the board. This suggests there is room for professional development training and networking.
Respondents were asked if any term or phrase was missing from the list. I’ve clustered their responses into rough groups:
Outliers and big categories…
- Human nature
- The crucial significance of biodiversity
- Future visioning
- Regenerative design
- Population control – or put another way – fertility health
- Ending Capitalism
- Material and economic drivers of climate
- The monetary system and the impact of that on people and the environment
- New economic models
- Impacts on global movements
- The local to global picture of what climate change is and what it will affect.
- Developing a global movement based on museums and the climate challenge – integrating and mobilizing all the many initiatives.
- Collective responsibility
- Environmental responsibility
- Sustainable existence, ownership of the current situation)
- Practical advice of what everyone can do, such as recycling, reducing plastic use, conservation and activism.
Health and wellbeing…
- The effects of these issues on mental health and well-being
- The role of animal agriculture
- environmental health and wellbeing
- Health and food
- Health-affecting pollution
Methodologies of engagement…
- Non-verbal public engagement
- Sustainable materials and approaches to exhibition making
- The arts and climate change
- The role of imagination in breaking down fixed modes of thinking (our own and others’), holding open space for creative discussion with others, and developing new thinking and experimentation…this crosses between all of the topics and helps us resist the pull to prioritise some of them at the expense of others… (Also, imagination can foreground what we don’t know and help us embrace uncertainty).
- Policy & practice tools
The next question was about climate change as a distant issue, and how there is a tendency to associate with faraway places. Rather than making ‘faraway’ the leading theme, I asked ‘When we think of climate change, sometimes we associate it with particular places. If this is the case for you, what particular place comes to mind’. I then asked ‘Thinking of this place impacted by climate change, how near or how far away is it in relation to where you are based? 1 is very close and 100 is very far.’
The responses were fairly qualified or mixed. If this was an activity where respondees were asked to put a single pin on a map for a place that they most associate with climate change, then mark how far away it is from their normal home, it would have been more quantifiable.
Two said ‘wherever I am’ or ‘my immediate environment’. Two others talked about their interest in particular local places while thinking of it as a global issue. Two saw it not as a geographical place, but in terms of psychology or their children. Eleven referred to the polar regions, especially the Arctic, icecaps and melting ice or rising seas in general. Six people made other global references: the Global South, coastal areas/extreme habitats, coral reefs, the Tropics, and rainforest. More particular references were to Amazonian rainforest, Africa, South Asia, Pacific islands, Kiribati/Tuvalu, Australia, and Canadian glaciers/northern Canada. One person listed multiple places: ‘Pacific islands, coral reefs, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, the Poles’. The overall rating of how far away the particular place is 62 out of 100 (where 100 is far).
The next question was: Coming closer to home, perhaps, what is the main challenge facing the community you know best and/or work with?
Issues around public engagement and framing of the issues…
- The general population’s lack of engagement with the issues.
- Not taking issue seriously
- Acceptance of impacts of climate change on daily lives
- Lack of awareness and reluctance to recycle.
- The complete lack of concern and denial about the climate challenge – business as usual.
Understanding the urgency of climate change and potential scale of impacts.
- Engagement with the scale of the problem in a way that generates response.
- Lack of political knowledge
- Fear of being sufficiently forthright about the reality of anthropogenic climate change as this is seen as being ‘too political’.
- The question of how to live in an ethical way with regards to sustainability (so that’s about everything from how to reduce waste to how to care for nature and how to educate (and inspire) children about the multi-dimensional problems we face.
- The political mindset and selfishness needs to dramatically change
- Engaging school children, primary and secondary
Specifically within the practitioner groups…
- Challenges around collaborative practice, including the development of skills and attitudes for open, honest and patient dialogue.
- That of digital/commercial artists “only a fraction are seriously interested in climate change…”
- Creative practitioners/artists struggle with “how to deal with the facts of climate change of the general indifference / lack of priority in wider society, and what practically arts can achieve in the face of all this”
Direct environmental impacts…
- Emissions – London Rubbish disposal – London Green spaces – London Housing developments on green spaces
- Summer heat waves. Flooding due to heavy rainfall.
- Global warming, overuse of disposables including plastics
- Impact of development, fragmented ecosystems
- Development pressures (new homes etc)
- Air pollution, carbon dependencies, lack of community spaces and green spaces.
- Air pollution and traffic
Combined and systemic issues…
- Reconnecting with our environment and each other
- Personal changes to reduce CO2 emissions
- Plastic, energy use, moving towards renewables, economic equality
- Regeneration, respect for the environment.
- Understanding systems change and interconnectivity and applying resulting thinking to business / initiative development
- Living sustainably, using resources more effectively, taking ownership for immediate environment.
- Social justice issues
- The bottom line. Profit generation.
- Air pollution, sustainable development which respects natural and cultural landscape uses, flooding, food security and social justice.
And a direct challenge to act: “To rip up the roads, replace them with grass and start growing vegetables on them whilst installing a local zero carbon energy grid”.
The next question is: What do you think is the primary contribution your field of work could make to tackling big challenges such as climate change?
The responses to this are very much in accord, with some slight differences between most that emphasise education or raising awareness, and smaller numbers that emphasise supporting people to organise, or generating imaginative visions and capacities. Some particular suggestions include:
- Make it possible for children to suggest and implement changes with adults in a fun way
- Serving as an intelligent and caring storefront for public dialogue, involvement and action.
Exhibitions – which can educate and inspire people to meaningfully debate the ‘big questions’ like climate change…
Then, the survey asks about the barriers faced: Still thinking about your field of work, to what extent are you affected by the following barriers to effective action on tackling these big challenges?
- Self-satisfaction; commitment to neutrality; apathy
- Lack of agency: almost all of the options above are routinely cited by clients as reasons why *they* can’t prioritise work on the big challenges; these clients include senior leaders in education, who frequently point to the need for external permission to act via instruments such as inspection frameworks, curricula, government policy etc.
- Increasingly relentless pressure of activity allows little time to reflect in a way that leads to change or action. Systemic issue.
- The long-standing structures and processes by which museums operate sometimes mitigate against change.
- Lack of opportunity
- Lack of viable alternatives
Then: If you could do any kind of project to creatively stir a response to the climate emergency (and other/linked issues), what would you do?
Most of the project ideas are exhibitions, talks and touring plays. Some of the more unusual ideas include:
- A period of time where we paid everyday citizens not to work/other but spend their time with others talking about what matters in their lives or communities in relation to global climate justice
- City-wide vehicle-free days
- Hacking Fox News would be one productive way of approaching this.
- An attention-grabbing project for all primary schools nationwide to take part in, combining science and the arts.
- organise all of the current sub-critical initiatives into a global movement of critical mass, capable of influencing public and political opinion. There are 55,000 museums in the world – the largest franchise in contemporary life.
Thank you to everyone who contributed.