Saturday, May 5, 2018

Museums & UN Sustainable Development Goals: IV #1, #13, #15, #17 on Oahu

This post is a call to action for Honolulu's museums to work together on community resilience to climate impacts, and to provide an example for peers in other cities, especially in the 100 Resilient Cities

When the world around us changes profoundly, culture and community are our best resources as we work to adapt and thrive. The recent flooding in the islands has brought as many stories of generous assistance and sacrifice as they have of tragedy. This is common in a disaster: the most prevalent summary of the disaster experience is how community came together in unanticipated ways.

We need not wait for a crisis to connect more deeply with community; there are ways to prepare our communities so that they experience less damage, and the people feel their common strength and more agency in creating the safe future they deserve. Resilience planning, particularly with the support of cultural institutions, is a valuable way to do that. If we leave it to government alone, then we will not be able to shape the result as much as we desire. Certainly, the work is too wide-ranging, too detailed, too important to leave to one authority. We must share the authority and responsibility.

I urge Hawaii’s charitable institutions, particularly those with an emphasis on arts and humanities, and science and technology, to take the lead in hosting resilience discussions around the state. Our institutions are more trusted than government, other nonprofits, and even credible news outlets (Dillenschneider, 2017). Our sites are familiar and welcoming locations for important, potentially challenging discussions. Our staff and collections have many of the intellectual resources and professional connections to inform these discussions and to educate participants on the science and history that can guide us in finding new solutions. Museums and similar institutions can take the lead in bringing together emergency and public office planners, and residents so we can co-create a stronger, thriving future.

(c) Sarah Sutton 2018
We find culture in our family and neighborly traditions and habits, in our community history and present-day efforts, and in the histories and stories of the land, sea, and people. We find community wherever we look on our islands. I commend the Bishop Museum for its resilience planning session during March, and the Resilient Oahu staff for its willingness to work with cultural institutions to contribute to the island’s resilience plan. Let’s expand that work.

Strawbery Banke Museum is facilitating community discussion on response to nuisance tides and sea level rise in Portsmouth, NH, where its neighbors also own and worry about historic structures. The Annapolis Historical Commission, MD, is leading the country in addressing nuisance tides and sea level rise in historic economic districts.

What conversations does your community need around resilience? How can your institution make these happen? Use the materials provided, for free, on the websites of the National Institution Standards and Technology (complex), and the National Park Service (much more accessible) to plan your resilience study and response. Ask your local cultural institution to host and help design those talks with government and emergency planners, college and university staff, business owners, architects and landscape designers, scientists and heritage practitioners. Work with the City & County of Honolulu Office on Climate Change, Resilience and Sustainability.

This is our home; if we wish it to shelter and nurture us, we must help it to do so.   

Sarah Sutton is principal of Sustainable Museums, a Waialua-based consultancy helping museums, zoos, aquariums, gardens, and historic sites become more environmentally sustainable and work with their communities to become more resilient to the changing climate. She spoke at the Hawaii Museums Association’s conference May 4th and will be speaking on July 11th  in ‘Iolani Palace’s Nā Mo'olelo Lecture Series , both in Honolulu. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Museums & UN Sustainable Development Goals: III #11 & #17 Strawbery Banke Museum and Sea Level Rise

I've invited a guest post by Rodney D. Rowland at Strawbery Banke Museum. His story of how the museum works with City of Portsmouth, NH, to address Sea Level Rise impact is an important example of the vulnerability assessment process, and the special value of museums in that process for advancing the science of understanding, and the special role of museums in community engagement for planning. 

The museum sits at the lowest point in the City.
Strawbery Banke Museum is located 400 feet from the banks of the Piscataqua River, in downtown Portsmouth NH. It is a nine-acre living history museum that maintains 37 historic houses, most on their original foundations. In keeping with its commitment for Strawbery Banke to be “a place to learn, a place to gather and a sustainable resource for the community,” the museum has adopted specific “green” initiatives in its most recent Strategic and Long-Range Plans. From adopting ‘zero waste’ practices at signature events to selecting a higher-efficiency chiller for the seasonal ice rink, Strawbery Banke considers environmentally-friendly practices good for the health of the planet and the museum.

Toward that end, Strawbery Banke is now collaborating with the City of Portsmouth as a case study in identifying and mitigating the impact of sea level rise on the waterfront and on ground water. One house, the Shapley Drisco House (yellow building in the photo), was built in 1795 along what was a tidal inlet called Puddle Dock.  The inlet was filled in in circa 1905. This building serves an important interpretive “Change Over Time” message for the museum, showing two time periods (1795 and 1955) in furnished spaces on the first floor. The building is also an important income-producing site for the museum for its rented commercial space on the second floor.
For over a decade the house and contents have experienced accelerated deterioration due to salt water infiltration during, originally, storm surge and, now, astronomically high tide or King Tides. The increased rate of infiltration is due to a rise in overall sea level.  During tidal events from December 2017 through March 2018, 16 to 27 inches of salt water was observed in the basement. [Sarah's note: see the fantastic time lapse video here.]

Mechanic Street, one block from the museum,  during a King Tide.
Seeking a solution to this increasing threat to Strawbery Banke and other low-lying properties in the neighborhood, the City of Portsmouth invited the museum to join in its Local Advisory Committee (LAC) for the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment on Historic Portsmouth. Using data and maps created during the Coastal Resilience Initiative, the LAC undertook the process of evaluating parts of the City most vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge with the objective of selecting test sites to model mitigation strategies. Every property in the high risk area was given am historic value, a cultural value, and a monetary value. Strawbery Banke, with some of the most historic and well-preserved houses, and 90,000 annual visitors, and assessed property value, achieved a score in the top tier for all three. All of the evaluated at-risk areas were included on the City’s storyboard. As mitigation strategies are fully-vetted they will be include at this site for the community to follow. 

As this partnership continues to grow, other organizations are coming forward to talk about what they are doing in the area of climate change. In March 2018, the museum hosted a summit with 12 other state organizations to share ideas and research, alongside Strawbery Banke and the City. It is these community wide partnerships that will help create the best solutions. Spread the word, share your stories, and make sure you are at your Climate Change Assessment table!

Rodney Rowland, Director of Special Projects and Facilities, volunteered for Strawbery Banke first in 1976. He is currently responsible for the historic properties on the site, overseeing the properties and restoration department and is project manager for various projects.  After graduating from Lake Forest College with a B.A. in history, Rodney interned with the museum, then joined the museum staff in 1990, as curatorial assistant working with the Curator on new exhibits and processing the decorative arts collection.  He later became Collections Manager and was lead objects conservator for the 1943 Little Corner Store project.  In 2004, Rodney was promoted to manage the construction of the TYCO Visitors Center (2005) and the Carter Collections Center (2008).  603-422-7525,

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 and 978-505-4515 to discuss this further. All questions welcome.You can sign up now via the 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 (,  Climate Resilience Consulting (, and FourTwentySeven Climate Solutions (