Inspirations

Since announcing the Climate Museum UK plan, I’ve been out and about quite a bit seeking inspiration and connecting with like minds. There has been an unbelievable amount of interest in the idea of Climate Museum in all these places.

Here’s a photo-essay, to give a snapshot of some of these experiences.

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A creative session with my daughter – who is just 18 and just out of a Visual Art & Design course at the BRIT School. Inspired by the graph of rising temperatures, she came up with this concept for a logo. She has some ideas for visual merchandise. More to come on that, and hopefully a design workshop with some other young people.

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To the launch of Invisible Dust’s Under Her Eye, a conference and arts programme about women and climate change. The night included a dance performance of Human Sensor, making visible the pollution in the air.

Then I went to a Guardian Live talk by Christiana Figueres, reflecting on how she insisted on collaboration and mutuality to bring everyone together to sign the Paris Agreement. She also talked about her initiative, Mission 2020, a global campaign to push for urgent action by 2020.

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The next day was the Under Her Eye summit of women and climate change, opened by Christiana and closed by Margaret Atwood, with a great wealth of female artists, campaigners, scientists and politicians in between. There were also art workshops, performances and films, and a sensory banquet the next evening.

IMG-3658To pull out one example of many speakers that I could, there was Laura Faye Tenenbaum. She was a NASA climate communicator but was censored under the Trumpian regime, so she resigned. (Laura on the right). The day was full of conversations about the issues the conference was raising, and incredibly stimulating.

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I bought this book, The New Sylva, a giant tome full of amazing drawings of trees by Sarah Simblet, and detailed accounts by Gabriel Hemery. I bought the book from Rye Books in East Dulwich, who, on hearing about Climate Museum offered to host an event. I’m hoping there will be a discussion this summer about books and resources that might be part of a Climate Museum, and how we can learn about climate without freaking out.

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Then, I discovered on Twitter that Gabriel Hemery was coming to give a talk as part of Deptford Folk‘s programme, near me, at a new cafe in Folkestone Gardens called Festa sul Prato. Deptford Folk are all about getting people into local parks, and celebrating the heritage which lies locally with John Evelyn, the author of the original Sylva. This book was the first to advocate planting trees, and the idea of sustainability. Given that the Earth’s system relies on a critical mass of trees acting as a CO2 sink, mitigating climate change, and yet that they are dying from bigger fires and diseases due to climate change, as well as massive deforestation, trees are a major interest for Climate Museum UK.

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To the Environment Matters event at the London Transport Museum, a kind of evening festival with stall holders, talks and debates. This included an opening speech by Shirley Rodrigues, deputy mayor for Energy and Environment, sharing London’s goal to be zero carbon and to be 50% green by 2050. Being more green means being a ‘national park city’, with more nature corridors, street trees, parks, green roofs, gardens etc. It was good to see ways a museum could host an event such as this.

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An Action Learning Set with associates about how we might develop our work, including Climate Museum UK and similar projects.

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Then I went to Museum Next, which was back in London in its 10th year. I spoke about Climate Museum UK and the idea of Possible Culture. This picture is Lucimara Letelier speaking, who was the only other speaker that day to talk about ecology and sustainability. She has set up an organisation, Museo Vivo, to support museums to be alive, to act as ecosystems within ecosystems. I met her for lunch later in the week.

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The Museum Next this year was at the Royal Geographical Society which was hosting an exhibition from three creative research projects under the umbrella of Culture and Climate Change. This project – a collaboration between the Open University and the University of Sheffield, asks: What kinds of stories, artworks and other interventions are being created in response to ‘the greatest challenge facing humanity’ — a challenge that is also apparently forgettable?

It didn’t escape my attention that climate change was ‘apparently forgettable’ as this exhibition wasn’t mentioned at all throughout the conference and I didn’t see anyone else going in there.

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An outcome of attending Museum Next was to be invited to a meeting at the Reboot the Future Foundation about how arts and culture could contribute to a shift in consciousness, to enable delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Then there’s the irrepressibly imaginative House of Fairy Tales. I went to the private view of their print portfolio, with artworks by some well-known artists, all inspired by tulips. Selling the portfolios is one way they can raise funds. This is an organisation that works with and for children, through the arts and imagination. Developing capacities for children in the context of Climate Change is a key issue for its founder, Deborah Curtis. The mission says: “It is more urgent than ever that we give a voice to the youngest generation to remind and demand parents, teachers, politicians and corporate leaders to embrace the transition to a safer, cleaner, more equal and stable world.”

Last weekend I failed to make it to the Private View of the Blockadia exhibition at the Guardian, curated by Andrew Price. (I failed to make it as I’d been on the march for a People’s Vote on the final deal for Brexit). Blockadia Britain is an exploration of creative protest relating specifically to climate justice between 2007 and 2017 throughout the UK. The exhibition looks at a number of intersecting practices across the arts, education, and activism that evolved out of a much greater awareness of the impact of the fossil fuel industry and its effects on social and environmental wellbeing. I took part in a workshop to contribute ideas for this exhibition so I have some insight but would like to see it installed. It closes on 19th July.

 

 

 

 

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Prototyping event

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Thanks to the support of Arts Admin in providing a space at Toynbee Studios, there will be a prototyping workshop on 20th July (2-6 plus drinks until 8). This event will be a part of the Season for Change which is an exciting collaboration between Arts Admin and Julie’s Bicycle sparking cultural responses to the climate emergency.

So, come along to a free workshop to dream up and prototype a mobile Climate Museum UK.

This session will involve working in teams to hack up ideas for a mobile museum using all kinds of stuff like cardboard boxes, coloured paper and pens, old magazines, some key facts and stories, and most importantly drawing on your own ideas and skills.

These prototypes may then be documented and shared online to get public feedback, and subsequently to help fundraise to create the museum.

Places are limited, but participation is not selective. Those most warmly encouraged to book are people who:

  • Would be keen to continue being involved in supporting Climate Museum UK beyond this workshop (e.g. helping to fundraise or promote it, or being part of an editorial advisory group)
  • Have experience in design, science communication, creative activism, museum interpretation, storytelling, advocacy in climate justice etc.
  • Can definitely commit to the date and stay with it for the afternoon (we’ve all done it, booked to a free thing and then not turned up BUT this project is too important for that!)
  • Are over 16 (or if under 16 accompanied by an actively participating parent or carer)

To book your free place, go to this Eventbrite link.

Unsafe ideas

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Photo by Steve Cadman, via Wikimedia Commons

Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A and former Labour MP/Shadow Minister, has written a piece for the Art Newspaper, responding to protests about the Museum’s acquisition of  a portion of the Robin Hood Gardens housing estate. This social housing was/is an icon of Brutalist architecture, and its proposed demolition has been one of the most contested issues of architectural preservation, rumbling over the past 10 years. Read Stephen Pritchard to get the view of those protesting the V&A’s acquisition and display of this architectural fragment at this year’s Venice Biennale. He suggests that this is ‘accumulation by dispossession’ as the residents have been decanted and displaced, while London’s new property is snapped up by foreign investors. The acquisition objectifies the lived experience of its inhabitants.

New research was announced yesterday that the UK has 9 of the 10 poorest regions of the whole of Europe. A major contributing factor is expensive housing. This poverty and inequality will only increase as we descend into the unknowns of Brexit, led as we are into it by hard Brexiteers who want corporations to be free to evade ‘red tape’, in other words, human and environmental rights.

I’m interested in what Tristram Hunt said: “Leaving aside the new social housing planned for the site or the constructive role that cultural institutions can have in promoting much-needed urban regeneration, behind this critique is the increasingly popular conviction that not only can museums not be neutral sites, but that they also have a duty to be vehicles for social justice.

“Rather than chronicling, challenging and interpreting, we should be organising demonstrations and signing petitions. I am not so sure. I see the role of the museum not as a political force, but as a civic exchange: curating shared space for unsafe ideas. And in an era of absolutist, righteous identity politics, these places for pluralism are more important than ever.”

This is setting up on the one hand museums as ‘political force’ as ‘organising demonstrations’, and on the other hand, museum as ‘civic exchange’ as a ‘shared space for unsafe ideas’.

However, those who argue that ‘museums are not neutral’ are not saying that museums should be organising demonstrations or signing petitions. (In a timely manner, this campaign was relaunched today and images of new T-shirts are all over social media.) They are saying that “museums have the potential to be relevant, socially engaged spaces in our communities, acting as agents of positive change”. In other words, they curate shared space for unsafe ideas. They advocate that this curation should be informed by enduring and common ethical principles, resisting the more negative outcomes of identity politics. A shared space has to exclude or critique violence, hate and injustice, otherwise it cannot be a shared space.

A key here is in Hunt’s suggestion of “leaving aside…the constructive role that cultural institutions can have in promoting much-needed urban regeneration”. His use of positive terms in this sentence suggests he believes that museums do have a political role, as promoters of regeneration. But, just as museums are not neutral, the processes and outcomes of urban regeneration are not neutral. Regeneration is not always ‘much-needed’, or rather it is not always the solution to the structural needs in a community of multiple disadvantage. And if it is a solution, it is rarely done in a way that allows for regeneration of nature, for community ownership of common assets, or for truly affordable access to shelter. It is usually done too fast, with Community Consultation, Cultural Strategies and even Sustainability bolted on as Corporate Social Responsibility. Museums can have a great role in regenerating areas, but this does not work for people or for nature if the measures are purely economic. (There are possibilities for a more helpful mindset for regeneration.)

Museums do indeed have a role in curating shared spaces for unsafe ideas about how we might live well together and thrive in our places, whether local places or our shared planetary home. Museums being ‘agents of positive change‘ (or ‘not neutral’) is the opposite of being agents for groups who have exploitative agendas (e.g. property developers or oil companies) or the narrow identity politics that Hunt rightly does not want to support. Museum professionals need to have heightened awareness of the values and historical frames that form their assumptions about growth, regeneration and justice. They also need to be aware of the impacts of their relationships with partners such as developers, corporate sponsors, object donors or politicians. We together need to explore the possibilities of curating these shared spaces, in ways that are sociocratic, pluralistic and also eco-centric.

I have a great deal of respect for the V&A, its staff and programmes, and believe that they have contributed greatly to professional practice in this area. The appointment of Helen Charman as Director of Learning and National Programmes will see further positive development.

The Robin Hood Gardens project and Hunt’s defence of their approach seems to be a misstep as part of a progressive shift. The V&A’s article about the Robin Hood Gardens acquisition does not indicate anything of a desire to be a shared space for unsafe ideas. There are no links to residents’ voices, no reference to the local people involved in the campaign (only the architects), and no invitation to express views in relation to it. Adding these would be positive steps to take.

Climate Museum UK is intended as both a museum in its own right and an agency for developing the capacities of museum workers to curate shared spaces. These shared spaces of museums will increasingly have to deal with more contested issues and sites, as the climate emergency comes home. They will need to embrace unsafe ideas in an incredibly unsafe global situation.

The first step

Yes, I’m taking the first step to making a Climate Museum for the UK!

In fact, the first steps came many years ago:

  • In 2006 when I left my great job as Head of Learning at the British Library, wanting to set up my own organisation for thrivable culture (Flow Associates).
  • In 2008 when I set up a website called Climate Action for Culture and Heritage.
  • In 2009 when I became involved in the Dark Mountain Project and contributed to the Happy Museum manifesto.
  • In 2010, after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, when I became involved in the Art Not Oil movement.
  • In 2014, becoming involved in the annual Remembrance Day for Lost Species.

And so on, year after year, taking part in one initiative or another, up to:

  • Autumn 2017, attending the Julie’s Bicycle Creative Climate Leadership course. At the end of this course I pledged to create an organisation that would be dedicated to creatively stirring a response to the climate emergency.
  • January 2018, attending the Cambridge Museums Climate Hack and producing an idea for Ngaru, the Ghost Boat.
  • April 2018, attending the international symposium on Museums and Climate Change in Manchester, I heard Miranda Massie from New York’s Climate Museum speak, and realised that I needed to be inspired by this, and to create a public-facing, open organisation, a platform for others to lead and shine.

So, this is it. Things have heated up. It’s time to do this.

A first step will be to apply to do something at the Festival of Change during the Museums Association conference in Belfast: “We need to talk about climate justice”

I’m going to be at the Under Her Eye conference next weekend, about women and climate change, organised by Invisible Dust, keeping eyes and ears open for ideas and collaborators.

I’m working on a visual handbook for self-help to planet-help, called Find Your Flow and Change the World. Some of these visuals will become a small exhibition for Climate Museum UK.

A key part of CMUK will be a core display that is replicable and hireable. I want to create a small ‘exhibition’ that I can carry in a backpack as a prototype for this. I’m thinking about setting up a co-design workshop as part of the Season for Change this summer.

In terms of working out the constitution of CMUK, I’m hosting an Action Learning Set next week, of 5 women with similar goals and interests, taking each of our visions in turn.

I’m thinking about a project with others making a range of textiles and garments inspired by these these graphs of rising temperatures. (There’s already some people making blankets using the data but there could be more possibilities.)

Please get in touch if you have ideas or want to chat.

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Annual temperatures in central England from 1772-2017 Image source Climate Lab Book

 

Creatively stirring response to the climate emergency