Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Museums & UN Sustainable Development Goals: II #MuseumsforParis and We Are Still In, #17 a partnership for the UNSDGs

(C) Sarah Sutton 2017
On Earth Day, April 22nd, the World Wildlife Fund and its many partners making up We Are Still In will announce a new sector of contributing non-state actors in support of the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Cultural Institutions.

Last June, on the day President Trump announced the planned withdrawal of the United States from that critical agreement, I created #MuseumsforParis to align the individual efforts of museums, zoos, aquariums, gardens, and historic sites in support of public education and engagement around sustainability and climate change action, and to promote and expand operational efforts to reduce negative impacts and even become climate positive.

Recognizing that added value and power would come through its collective abilities and performance in partnership with other sectors, I looked for a way to leverage our field's public engagement impacts and our operational commitments for the good of the planet and all its living beings. We Are Still In is that opportunity.

Early signatories in the Cultural Institution sector include open air history museums, children's museums, science centers, aquariums, and gardens. They agree that regardless of political alignment or federal government practice, as part of this sector they have a responsibility to their mission and communities to contribute to the upholding of the US agreement.

In the coming months each will learn how to name a set of institutional goals and approaches to supporting that work.
  • This may be energy use reduction in operations and transportation to cut Greenhouse Gas contributions. 
  • It may be participating in a community risk assessment to understand and manage climate vulnerabilities in partnership with residents, emergency planners, and government. 
  • Or they may wish to learn how to shift to socially-responsible investing in the next few years. 
Every institution and every commitment is welcome and so very important to creating the change needed for a healthy planet and healthy communities.

In the next three months Sustainable Museums will provide a series of webinars introducing new and potential signatories to this work, and helping them develop the goals and pathways needed to move forward. I hope you will join us in this work and encourage your peers to do so as well.

It's your mission; what will you do with it?

You can reach me at sarah@sustainablemuseums.net and 978-505-4515 to discuss this further. All questions welcome.You can sign up now via the www.wearestillin.org website.

I look forward to meeting you there.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Book Review: Public Archaeology and Climate Change

Edited by Tom Dawson, Courtney Nimura; Elías López-Romero; and Marie-Yvane Daire         Oxbow Books:  Barnsley, ENG, 2017 

What a relief it is to read a hopeful book about climate change response; and even more so when it shows the exciting ways cultural heritage professionals are using science and the humanities to build new knowledge for managing heritage resources around the globe.

Public Archaeology & Climate Change is a collection of essays by professionals addressing the decisions we have come to know as “advance the line, hold the line, retreat the line, or do nothing” (Cooper, et al. 2007). The authors and their colleagues are researching and testing how we professionals will be able to make informed choices about which actions to recommend. They don’t pretend to have all the answers, but they have many more to offer than our field has been able to muster previously. And the authors don’t only speak Archaeology.

These eighteen essays are clearly-written, and very accessible to non-professionals. They also provide important and reliable examples for other professionals advancing research in the management of archaeological sites threated by the impacts of a changing climate on sites within the world’s ice packs and the line of wildfires, and in its coastal zones.

The text starts with excellent overviews of the challenges of climate change to cultural heritage sites worldwide. The examples in the sixteen following essays address both sides of our protection challenge: how to create the most effective tools for assessing vulnerability, documenting change, and planning responses; and how to raise awareness among visitors and galvanize citizen scientists in a shared mission of caring for these heritage resources.   

The essays present work, in no particular order, in Great Britain, Ireland, France, the United States, the Lesser Antilles, Iberia, Uruguay, Japan, France, Australia, Iceland, and Greenland. This variety of locations provides lessons in understanding regional climate-change issues and the varying climate impacts around the world.

The projects address assessment and monitoring of a variety of sites; indigenous knowledge in resource management; citizen science and participation in identifying, monitoring and protecting sites; use of humanities resources to understand comparative impacts of climate change historically and today, including the accelerating rates of degradation; developing new protection policies; and using tested conservation communication techniques to develop climate stories to raise awareness among visitors to cultural heritage sites.

There are too many bright lights to list here. I can say that there are enough that I commend this book to you for the excellent academic advancement it offers the field. I can also say that I have put it into my teaching syllabus for the graduate class I lead on the social relevance of environmental sustainability and climate change in museums.

I commend to you, in Chapter two, along with an important overview of the history of climate heritage work, the summaries of the eight most relevant recommendations (of 18) described in the 2016 UNESCO report on climate impacts and World Heritage sites. The recommendations were produced by the United Nations Environment Program and the Union of Concerned Sciences, with collaboration from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and US-International Council on Monuments and Sites.

Chapter four on “Improving Management Responses to Coastal Change: utilizing sources form archaeology, maps, charts, photographs and art” is incredibly valuable to any historian or cultural resource manager struggling to either find data to demonstrate change, or to illustrate the relevance of historical collections to understanding and explaining climate change impacts.  

For those exploring effective ways to communicate climate change with visitors, Chapter 12 is a must-read. “Every place has a climate story: finding and sharing climate change stories with cultural heritage” describes the why and how of the National Park Services work to establish a method of communicating climate change stories that is adaptable for any part, climate story, and listener. The particular value here is the reminder to meet the learner where they are, and to use the myriad of storytelling resources at hand depending upon the interests of the learner and the history of this site.

But each essay is an important read. The story of Scotland's Coastal Heritage at Risk Project is an ideal example of community collaboration from citizens to government to record sites, update information on them, and to help prioritize action. The balance of authors offer similarly important examples of cooperative engagement as they describe ice patch archaeology, rescue archaeology, survey programs among cooperating universities, collaboration with tribal communities. They are a marvelous array of ways public archaeology and climate change response is producing new knowledge in the face of potential disaster.

Public Archaeology& Climate Change is a very important contribution to our field because it offers practitioners encouragement and inspiration as they race climate change to identify, record, and understand impacts on cultural heritage sites, and then to a respond to those threats and impacts.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Tweetchat Invitation: Building on Museum 2040

Courtesy, Sarah Sutton 2017
Would you like to follow a discussion on Museums 2040, and a scenario "A New Equilibrium"? How about specifically the exploration of museums' response to climate change effects? Then please join a Tweetchat On March 29th, 3pm EST.

The event is hosted by the Center for the Future of Museums' Elizabeth Merritt, with a few of the authors from the Museum 2040 issue chiming in on their topics.

I'll be there, and this is the stream you can explore, and work off of, for Climate:

Q4: @sarahsutton’s article in Museum 2040 sees a future in which museums are major influencers when it comes to climate resilient. What real-life museums are already helping their communities plan how they will adapt to climate change?

Example A4: The @museumofnaz devoted several of their Future of the Colorado Plateau Forums to community discussions of climate change, including water needs and impact on tourism and recreation.

The focus is museums in 2040, so the chat is not just about Climate, but also museums' roles in addressing truth and reconciliation, new governance approaches, and potential hybrid designs of institutional formats. 

Bring your ideas, questions, and open mind as we chat about the future. 

The link above provides a format for the discussion, some background, and, if you haven't participated in a Tweetchat before, or used Twitter, instructions for joining the conversation.

See you in 2040!

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.