Illustration by Meg McKenzie
The big WHY?
Humanity faces the linked catastrophes of:
- climate change
- a mass extinction of vital biodiversity due to deforestation and climate change
- a degradation of ecosystems health everywhere, with our air, our rivers and oceans, and our food-chains full of plastic, chemicals and other pollutants.
Linked to all this is rapidly rising inequality within and between nations, and the deterioration of democracy and human rights. The environmental crisis is worsening injustices faced by people in the Global South, indigenous land defenders in particular, and over time it will intensify inequalities experienced in every country.
There is growing recognition of the contribution of arts and heritage to prompt shifts in the ways we relate to one another and the world, in our values and behaviours. Climate change is a cultural and systemic problem. There is also a growing international movement of cultural organisations concerned with these social and environmental challenges.
However, there are some problems:
- There is very little funding and support for the practice they might wish to do. (Only 4% of philanthropy goes to the environment, and most of this to animal welfare. In the UK, public funding for the arts is very stretched.)
- There is tentativeness in the publicly funded sector about the radical approaches needed to address the climate emergency, such as tackling the political influence of the fossil fuel industries.
- A general lack of ecocentric thinking across all professional sectors that also affects the cultural sector.
Why a Climate Museum?
Some might assume that museums are stores of past things and about stories of past times, inappropriate for climate change as a story of now and future. But museums can be vitally alive places, where questions and meanings are debated, past interpretations challenged, connections are made, people are transformed and solutions are found. A museum is a place to muse.
Also, the Climate Museum UK will be a mobile and participatory programme of conversational activities, diverse voices and creativity, first and foremost. It will not be a monolithic institution, and perhaps not ever a single high status venue. It will explore a wide range of themes beyond climate science, focusing on the lived experience and social dimensions of climate change and planetary boundaries.
What are the inspirations for Climate Museum UK?
A key inspiration is New York’s Climate Museum working towards opening a major attraction in the city. The initiator, Miranda Massie, was astounded that nobody had taken the Climate Museum name when she initiated the project in 2015. Further, it seems astounding that nobody has used the name elsewhere in the world, something the New York Climate Museum is happy to see. Climate Museum UK is not a subsidiary or franchisee of New York’s Climate Museum, but honours it as the first to use the name and for the vision it holds of empowering public to take climate action.
It also draws on my experiences in cultural engagement and environmental activism.
I’m Bridget McKenzie, supported in this project by a small network of collaborators. These include my daughter Meg McKenzie, partner Brian McKenzie, and my co-director in Flow Associates, Susanne Buck. Several people have given time and ideas, including exhibition designer Lucy Carruthers. I work 1 or 2 days a week developing Climate Museum, and hope this might increase and that more practitioners can get involved.
CMUK draws on and contributes to our experience helping cultural organisations thrive so that in turn their communities can learn, create, connect and flourish. For example, we work with Happy Museum, a project in which museums explore how to create wellbeing for people, places and planet.
I am a Creative Climate Leader. Creative Climate Leadership is a new programme for artists and cultural professionals to explore the cultural dimensions of climate change, and take action with impact, creativity and resilience. It’s coordinated by Julie’s Bicycle and supported by Creative Europe. I developed the plan for Climate Museum UK as a pledge following my participation in this.
I’ve been running personal projects on culture and climate action since 2008, including:
- Everyday Ecocide: Challenging an ecocidal mindset in our media and culture, including denial and erasure of climate change
- Beuysterous: Promoting creative activism for trees and forests, as protecting and planting forests are key to climate action
- Possible Culture: Resources, training and conference speaking – for cultural organisations to anticipate future environmental and social challenges.
And am working on a voluntary basis to support:
- Culture Unstained: Challenging sponsorship of cultural organisations by fossil fuel industries
- Lost Species: Supporting the annual Remembrance Day for Lost Species.
- ONCA: Creating space for change, based in Brighton.