A Wilder Museum

Last summer, as our team of associates was growing and we were getting to know each other, we took advantage of the Reimagining Museums for Climate Action prize to motivate our visioning.

The resulting vision for our future was that we should become wilder, a distributed museum, inspired by mychorrizae.

Summary of our vision for the prize

Through a Wilder Museum, our vision is to grow wilder and more decentralised, issuing spores of regenerative change. In turn, we will embolden all museums to put climate action at their heart.

An activist museum with no venue, our activations happen wherever our members are based. We work in partnerships and meet people in their communities using art, games and objects to stimulate talk, connections and action. By being transparent and responsive as we evolve, we shake up notions about what museums can be in these times. We hope to be a resilient organisation with members and collections distributed in many places held by shared ethos and resources; and that museums everywhere will see their relevance to the climate story.

This wilder, more distributed, future incarnation of our museum is inspired by the mutual exchanges of mycorrhizal fungi with plants, evoking each of these functions:

Strength: gives structure to soil so plants resist extreme weather

The museum will give courage, help communities adapt and resist climate impacts

Anticipation of threats: transports chemical messages to trigger disease resistance

The museum will educate, anticipate threats, and promote wellbeing

Nurturing: carries resources to weaker/younger plants

The museum will promote compassionate, inclusive practice and justice for all

Distributed: extends reach wider and deeper into soil, drawing in nutrients beyond the plant’s own

The museum will spread with activations by members and local practitioners anywhere.

Museums in a time of Earth crisis must be animated by people – artists, citizens, educators, scientists – to be rich with learning, co-creation, compassion and direct action.

You can find our summary of our concept on the prize website here.

An enquiry into Rewilding Museums

It was a challenging process to enter the prize because, although new and evolving, we already existed. We were already a new museum reimagining museums for climate action. We were doing what the prize aimed to do, as a going concern, so we were operating at a meta-level different from other entry teams. Every time we meet we generate several ideas for ways that challenge notions of museums, and explore potentials for activism and public engagement.

We decided to use the process as an enquiry into rewilding museums, and to acknowledge that our awkward status meant we might not win. We would use the learning to inform what we would become, and in turn use the learning generated and shared by all the prize entries.

Our enquiry was: What would a wilder museum look like? How might we rewild museums? Here are just a few of the many more ideas we generated.

As part of the enquiry we invited the public to share their views on what a Climate Museum could be, generating many ideas too. Read the account of this audience research here. Of the 32 different visions, most focused on how a museum could galvanise action (such that it didn’t need to be a place or collection), and others focused on content and experience (a museum as a place, exhibition or collection).

Although we took account of these great ideas, in our own visioning process we kept being drawn to how we would actually survive as a going concern because we had just registered as a CIC. The prize was asking for concepts, but we needed to make our museum work. At the same time, we aim to work with the museum sector to help reconceptualise museums in an Earth crisis.

Designing a wild installation

As well as thinking about how to reinvent and rewild museums as a whole, we also spent a lot of time challenged by how we would create an exhibition, or contribute to the prize exhibition for the winner’s budget of £2,000. We realise now that we should have just focused on communicating the core concept of our museum.

Our model is that we create activations online and in different real places, in ways that work in responsive partnership to local sites and communities. For example, two of our associates, Genevieve Rudd and James Aldridge are involved in the Yarmouth Springs Eternal project (led by Genevieve), which has opened an exhibition that includes Climate Museum UK display material.

This meant that for the prize submission we weren’t designing a single museum venue but another instance of a responsive installation. We wanted to create a wild pod within the rather high tech Glasgow Science Centre. The installation space we proposed would feel organic and curious, with woven basket pods and seats, trails of hyphae and spores. Artist-created objects and interactives will encourage exploration of nature-based solutions such as rewilding, biomimicry and agro-forestry, and other multi-solving ideas for eco-social justice, tackling the goals of Agenda 2030. We envisaged trails that looped off and out of the pod, finding their way into the rest of the museum, putting an eco-lens on their things. We also wanted to invite Glasgow-based practitioners to use our space for their own activations, and in turn to become CMUK associates in a more sustained way.

The vision for our installation in the prize exhibition

Legacy

The learning from this enquiry has been really valuable, and there is more we can gain from digging back and sharing the thinking with others.

We’re currently embarking on an enquiry with MA Design History students from the RCA into rethinking collecting in an Earth crisis. We’re thinking about:

  • How does the climate & ecological emergency change how we might think about collecting for posterity? 
  • What does it mean to be a distributed museum, and what does distributed collecting look like? 
  • What’s the role of social media, bookmarking and digital journalism in this collecting?
  • How do we balance distributed, participatory collecting with maintaining quality and integrity around our shared principles? 
  • What are any other implications of a radical shift from a museum owning / holding collections to making them accessible for urgent interpretation? 

If you have any thoughts about how we can address these questions, and how we can rewild museums, please get in touch on climatemuseumuk@gmail.com

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