Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Kresge Foundation and Adaptation - What it Says for Museums

It is incredibly valuable. It is a snapshot of the field of climate adaptation as a developing practice, and provides a description of what it must become to effect change.

It is so well-written and researched that anything other than sharing it directly would diminish it considerably. The material in blue, below, is taken directly from the report - but I have selected the pieces that align most specifically with the mission of museums in their communities. These are excerpts I believe reflect the current state of adaptation in the museum field, and a vision of what we can aspire to – in practice and in professional expectations.

Current Conditions
• Despite some progress, practice is not yet advanced to implementation except in limited circumstances.
• Incremental progress in adaptation does not match the accelerating pace of climate change.
• Awareness, understanding, and acceptance of the need for transformative change is present among some, but extremely limited across the field as a whole.

• Tools supporting adaptation are increasingly available, but remain difficult to select and use.
• The field is experimenting widely, but not yet discerning best practices.
• Practice is advancing, but barriers stymie progress from planning to action.

• It understands its mission as preventing, minimizing, and alleviating climate change threats to human well-being and to the natural and built systems on which humans depend.
• It works to create new opportunities by addressing the causes and consequences of climate change in ways that solve related social, environmental, and economic problems.

• Rigorous professional standards and certification are established, based on guiding principles that can be applied to diverse contexts.
• The field facilitates social networking, trust building, and collaboration at scale.
• Actors help communities envision—and achieve—desirable futures

The museum field continuously assesses and decides how to respond to changes in the professions that interact with our work, and changes in the public’s interests. Climate change – how to mitigate it and how to adapt to it – is something we can no longer avoid and still feel we are serving our communities well. 

This report can help our profession embrace the profession of climate adaptation as our ally. What these professionals know and are learning can help us protect our collections and our buildings, while helping to keep our staff and our public safe at the same time. And it will save us money in the long term, and save more than a few of our institutions as well.

Note: The Kresge Foundation funded the report. The work was prepared by Suzanne Moser Research and Consulting (susannemoser.com),  Climate Resilience Consulting (climateresilience.com), and FourTwentySeven Climate Solutions (427mt.com). 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Museums & UN Sustainable Development Goals: I

"When we lift [up] our eyes from the present struggles -- politics, health crises, homelessness and hate -- and look around with a view to the larger world, what do we see?

More of the same."

Not only, this of course, but it is what draws our attention. That is what symptoms do: draw your attention; but they're not the problems. The world's on-the-surface struggles are rooted in poverty and inequality, lack of education and valued work, economic imbalances, and source scarcity, anxiety, and depletion.

That text is from The Value of History column on "Museums and the Paris Agreement" in History News written for the American Association for State and Local History (Autumn 2017, Vol 72, #4). In it I gave examples for ways history museums and historic sites can address 12 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development goals (SDGs). For any other type of museum I could prepare the same article with as much alignment with the SDGs, and an unlimited variety of ways to do that good work.

For 2018 this blog space will include examination of the ways science centers, art museums, zoos, aquariums, museums and historic sites can support the SDGs. I'll start here with historic site and museum examples, but I hope you will offer your own ideas and examples. Together we can make it easier for our peers to join us in #museumsforparis. Together we can show the world that #wearestillin.

SDG#1 No Poverty (End poverty in all its forms everywhere)

Historic sites that were settlement houses, such as Jane Addams' Hull-House Museum or the House of the Seven Gables, provide programming that examine homelessness, poverty, and the need for social networks to support community members, and inspire people to personal and collective action.

These issues are not so far from each of us or our neighbors, and they are common for so many outside our own worlds. A divorce or a job loss, a serious injury or illness, a natural disaster, or an act of terrorism can upend a life, a family, and communities. How can we help ourselves or others if we do not understand these issues, learn to process them, and determine how to respond? We can come to understand these issues and ourselves, and what we can do to create change, through the work of historic sites. The House of the Seven Gables envisions this as "Unbounded, Magnified Good."

SDGs #6, #11, and #15 Clean Water & Sanitation, Sustainable Cities &Communities, and Life on Land
If we tallied museums' and historic sites' landscapes (water and land, garden and yards), and all the hard surfaces (roofs, parking lots, walkways, patios), think of all the surface area we have to turn to environmental advantage! Historic sites often have more impact here than many other types of museums. Farm landscape can be managed organically; historic energy and water systems (fish ponds, water turbines, windmills) can be restored and operated to reduce impact, and you can restore historic habitats for native species and natural services lost to urban development. Historic sites have tremendous opportunity to support their missions and SDGs at the same time.
  • Is water runoff from your site clean? 
    • Does it tax municipal treatment systems or put neighbors or downstream residents at risk? 
    • What could you do to make sure all water leaves your property cleaner than when it arrived? 
  • Does your site make your city more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable? 
    • Do you have a green roof or walls that keeps the community cooler, creates habitat for species, and saves energy while providing visual and emotional benefits? 
    • Is your garden space or central atrium or whole site programmed and accessible to appeal to all, and encourage inclusion?
  • How about biodiversity?
    • Does your property contribute to biodiversity? 
    • Does your programming or research? 
  • Can you convert that hardscape into greenscape? 
    • When you have to repave that parking lot, is it the opportunity you need to install a permeable system to reduce stormwater management construction and processing?
    • Or can you create a catchment system to create habitat while avoiding stormwater management construction and processing? 

This work is far easier than it appears. It aligns with much of what we already do. It requires no mission creep, no extra money, no change in programming. You could do all that, but you don't need to. 

All it requires is thinking intentionally about how our institutions support the common good - oh wait, that's what we do every day, we just didn't see before how it aligns with the global good. 

Now we do. Contact me, please. Join #museumsforparis    sarah@sustainablemuseums.net 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Start the New Year with an Intellectual Bang!

Please, please read The Future of Natural History Museums, edited by Eric Dorfman and published by Routledge for ICOM. It is a marvelously thoughtful, well-researched, and energetic look at where natural history museums have been, are right now, and may rightly go if their staff and leaders are courageous enough to venture forth in the manner humanity requires.

The international set of authors provides the perfect perspective  to summon museums to challenge business as usual and to confront the changes to our planet. All other forms of museums have a place in confronting Humanity's worries, yet the authors make it clear that the natural history museums have a special mandate to do so.

If you are...
...looking for inspiration...
...teaching in museums studies or citizen activism around climate change
...a futurist
...a museum leader...
then I strongly recommend this important book.  It should be a backbone text in any personal or professional program of study as we each prepare for a dramatically different future for the museum profession.

Christopher Norris writes in his Introduction, "There is considerable difference, however, between studying the past and belonging in the past." "Natural history collections are widely recognized as part of the national and international research infrastructure..."

Lynda Knowles' essay "International and National Legislation" is very through (especially given space available) and valuable - do not miss it; you need it to lay your role in this global profession.

The multi-author chapter on "The Essential Role of Museums in Biodiversity Conservation" beautifully addresses the intricacies of the science and natural history museums' responsibility for citizen engagement for biodiversity: "...how can they 'inspire the citizenry to become the environmental conscience of the nation' (Krishtalka and Humphrey, 2000)? [Natural history museums] need to lower the barrier to conservation action by capitalizing on easy access to information through digital and virtual platforms, and the popularity of social media to promote solutions through specific, locally relevant, choices for action."

Nearly all the authors bring the present-day status of natural history museums into context with the Anthropocene, "a proposed geological era that reflects human impacts so pervasive as to influence the geological record. These effects will be detectable millions of years from now, bu whoever might be looking, as an unprecedented band of plastics, fly ash, radionuclides, metals, pesticides, reactive nitrogen, and consequences of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations." (Editor Eric Dorfman, p. 2, referring to Waters, et al., 2016.)

Eric Dorfman, Emlyn Koster, T. Simioti Nyambe, in making a case for relevancy of natural history museums, write "nature-focused museums should whole-heartedly become resources to illuminate the meaning and implications of the Anthropocene." and "The Anthropocene represents the best available frame of reference for engaging society in planet Earth's best possible future."

Christopher J. Garthe, in his excellent, excellent chapter "That Natural Futures Museum" (you see that, yes, Futures?), writes "The central challenges of the twenty-first century, whether pertaining to climate change, food security, intellectual property, or traditional knowledge, all have interconnections with the natural sciences. Additionally, as humankind is part of the natural world and all global challenges innately concern humans, natural history museums are - especially as compared to other museums -- perfect places to learn about, and address, the issues of the twenty-first century."

This book is for and about natural history museums. It's the best yet out there as a call to action and an absolute must-read for anyone in the museum profession. It often mentions zoos, aquariums, and science centers. We can easily widen this call to all types of museums - I do all the time. I hope you can all hear me now after reading how natural history museums are staking out important territory to their benefit and the planet's. Wouldn't you want to as well?

The Anthropocene is about what man has done to the planet. It can be argued that the zoos, aquariums, and science centers have more of an emphasis on the planet than on mankind compared to the art and history and children's museums, yet the arts and humanities are not - by any stretch of the imagination - exempt from this discussion! They must contribute to this discussion. Why and how has mankind come to this point, and how will we respond? This is the responsibility of each of us in the museum field, no matter what type of institution we work for: study ourselves and the world around us so we can make a better future for all. 

Conal McCarthy in his terrific closing "Commentary" writes "This long-held division between the sciences and the arts is unfortunate and debilitating, but, as it is itself the product of history, it can be overcome." "The longtime split between the 'two cultures' of the sciences and the humanities has to be healed, and the two sides integrated, so that students in courses and professionals in museums benefit from a more holistic and interdisciplinary nexus of training, practice, theory, and research."

May these synergies become the marks of success in the New Year for us all.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Ransom Note From the Future: The Last Chance...

Plastic Plague II: Bishop Museum Display

Do you know this photo? It's Chris Jordan's iconic photo of plight of Earth's other living beings exposed to human-generated trash and other environmental gradation.

The Richard T. Mamiya Science Adventure Center, the Bishop Museum  has a few examples of trash sculpture describing ocean trash and animal endangerment. This image has always been the most compelling for me.

To find such dangers on an isolated atoll (see Albatrash label) demonstrates just how dangerously pervasive human impacts are.

Abandoned fishing nets make up this bird's nest. Last night on the news we heard about a successful disentanglement of a Humpback whale of Maui. Plastic and ghost nets are two of the great scourges on the sea. Three cheers for the scientists and watermen and waterwomen who help protect sea life,  the citizens who keep on hauling this stuff out of the ocean, and the museums that keep sharing these messages.