Friday, September 23, 2016

Book Review: Cultural Heritage and the Challenge of Sustainability

Opening to p. 79 of this 2013 book one reads: "In January 2010, Paris marked the centennial of its Great Flood of 1910." (Exhibits showed photographs of the devastation.) "Along with the photographs came the warning that it could happen again." A week ago, in 2016, we watched it happen again. 

Plastic boxes containing artworks are placed for safe-keeping between sculptures in an exhibition hall at the Musee de Louvre which is closed and tourists being turned away, due to the unusually high water level of the nearby river Seine in Paris, Friday, June 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
For all the historians still questioning the relevance of environmental sustainability, please consider Diane Barthel-Bouchier's important work. In her first chapter, "Culture: Our Second Nature", she makes it quite clear with a quote from historian David Lowenthal: "History 'explores and explains pasts grown ever more opaque over time,' whereas heritage 'clarifies pasts so as to infuse them with present purposes.'"

I believe the ultimate "present purpose" of our field is to reverse the damaging effects of climate change so that together we can protect and celebrate cultural heritage, worldwide, and far, far into an harmonious future with this planet. There are so many ways to do that, and each of us has important ways to protect so much more than even the collections at The Louvre.

Routledge, 2013
Barthel-Bouchier's extensive research and hard-earned perspective provides a far-reaching reference work to challenge and inspire us to get a move on! Her narrative of the development of cultural heritage conservation into a "global organizational field" will make you feel like you've missed more than a few boats if your focus is limited to the U.S. That is not her point, though. She is anxious that the field's growth has stretched beyond communities' and nations' abilities to financially support all the conservation work we've identified; and that to make our case we have begun to forsake humanities for science, and make ourselves appear as expert outsiders. That is changing a bit these days.

As climate events and threats become more obvious to more of the world, the sustainability movement within cultural heritage has gained leverage for attracting support, found security in its reliance on science, and reasserted the moral imperative Barthel-Bouchier believes conservationists have as a driver common in their work.

She warns of the continuing tension between the traditionalists committed to "tasks such as documentation, maintenance, risk assessment, rehabilitation, and restoration," and those interested in "fighting against climate change and working toward sustainability, while engaging in efforts to change..." including to promote tourism and to take more flexible approaches to current preservation regulations (see Unwanted Water" at the Center for the Future of Museums' blog).

So, what do you want the profession to look like?

Barthel-Bouchier writes "Exactly how far out front should cultural heritage conservationists be on this issue? How should they define the tasks of mitigation and adaptation as they apply to both built structures and communities? The choice of scope involves risks for the organizational field....Such risk also represents opportunity for the whole field to make sense of where it has been and to help determine the direction in which it is heading."

For those of us involved in sustainability in cultural heritage, we have these joys in our future:
- "the commitment and activism of" locals (whether in an urban setting, a countryside struggling with desertification, or an island nation watching sea levels rise),  Barthel-Bouchier says is our greatest resource - and she's right; and that the
-  "monuments and rituals" that we work to protect can create or reinforce "social solidarity that allows people to live and work together on common goals" - and that solidarity we need in abundance.

Stretch your view of your self, your work, and your responsibility; let Diane Barthel-Bouchier help you.

The Power of Hope: Monarchs or GDP?

You can imagine Supergirl telling Superman "this constant saving the planet is hard work!"
We greenies feel that way too, and sometimes it is overwhelming.

Each time I get to that point where I wonder about the futility of hoping for global reversal required for human survival I come across that person who cheers me on, who makes a change I hadn't expected, or tells me of a great success story.  

Bob Beatty at The Lyndhurst Group and AASLH has saved me a couple times. When my mom
started recycling even when I wasn't around, it blew me away, and so did this speech from 
Mexico’s National Commissioner for Natural Protected Areas, Alejandro del Mazo Maza. He gave it at the Opening Forum Ceremony of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's World Conservation Congress earlier this month: This last season we received around 84.7 million Monarch butterflies and had a 255% increase from last season. This pair of small wings have already moved three countries. President Pena Nieto, President Obama, and Prime Minister Trudeau made a commitment to protect the Monarch butterfly across our countries. And we are getting there. When there is will, there is action, and where there is action there are results.
Del Mazo closed with this: Today most countries are measured by their GDP, in a few years from now, countries will also be measured by the amount and quality of their natural resources. Today the conservation of nature is see as a public spending, a luxury; conservation of natures should be a public investment.
We who work at zoos, gardens, museums, and heritage sites are in the business of public investment. We educate, inspire, and engage the people who grow up and do this work, the people who are grown up and still learning - and still voting, and the people who are grown up and choosing new ways to live and work. 
Every day we do this. We cannot stop, or rest, but we can certainly cheer for each other share our successes, and keep up the good work. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Book Review: The Care and Keeping of Cultural Facilities

Are you faced with the job of developing a team to create a facilities management plan, or an operations and maintenance manual? Are you getting ready to hire a facilities manager and want help thinking of all the responsibilities to share? Or do you wish you just knew more to help improve the way you work with the staff and consultants helping run your building?

Then you will find wise advice and detailed support in The Care and Keeping of Cultural Facilities by Angela Person-Harm and Judie Cooper, both of the Office of Facilities Management and Reliability at the Smithsonian Institution.

The book may be written by Smithsonian staff, but it takes care to offer options for much smaller institutions, and to provide a wealth of resources adaptable to all sizes and types of cultural facilities.

It has a thorough index, and great resource section, and a solid bibliography. Throughout there are examples of real-life experiences and wisdom provided by practitioners from museums, zoos, and libraries in the US and Canada.

I particularly appreciate the admonition "No matter what one's role in the museum environment, it is important to have an understanding of facility-related issues. Staff should understand how the facility supports the museum's mission, and how it affects the museum's bottom line, as well as how they, as users, affect the facility's performance."

So, do you now how much energy costs your institution? Have you toured the HVAC equipment spaces - ever? Do you know where the recycling gets stored and if it is picked up appropriately? When was your last emergency preparedness drill? How effective is your event management approach at avoiding and earning compensation for damages during rentals? There's even information on environmental sustainability in operating your building.

This is a must-have for your institutional library. Use it to train staff, as support for preparing management plans, and help to orient experienced professionals new to the world of managing cultural facilities.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Join a Green Team for Green Leaders

In January 2017 Sustainable Museums is starting the first of two Super Green Teams. These are study communities, and the first is for campus-based informal learning institutions: zoos, aquariums, gardens, and open air history museums and farms. {The second is for history museums and historic sites - it starts in September 2017.}

The purpose is to create a learning-group of institutions with shared interests and related concerns, then provide the structure of regular communication and support to advance institutional sustainability goals.

Are you ready to advance your current green work? Would you appreciate a team of your peers to think with and to source examples? Join a peer group with ideas, experience, and energy to inspire you. Whether you’re a green team leader, sustainability manager, or operations guru, if you are the one to make a difference at your institution, then you’re the one to join us. 

The field is changing; informal learning institutions are expected to set an example in environmental impact, yet it's impossible to keep up with current best practice and anticipate changes to the field. 

That's my job. As your team leader and coach I can bring you the information from your field and related ones, and share the information and sources you're looking for. As a national consultant my time spent visiting sites and speaking to funders, practitioners, and leaders in the field, can be turned to your advantage.  

And your peers - the ones who may have finished similar projects, or have similar questions - they are your learning team. It can be tough to fit new learning and new practice into an already-busy schedule, even when it makes a big difference. There are marvelous opportunities for strengthening our missions while caring for the environment - and it's easier to do if you're working with and learning from others as you go.

Twelve organizations can be part of the team - Let's keep this small enough to customize the work to fit your needs. 

  • Facilitated discussions to advance green practice
  • From-the-field reports and customized content for group calls 
  • Shared learning among group members
  • Links to valuable resources - contributed and collected: articles and blog posts, product examples, case studies, sample forms, templates, online databases, supporting your needs
  •  A copy of The Green NonProfit: The First 52 Weeks of Your Journey, and The Green Museum 2nd Edition
  • Accept the participation agreement and choose payments for either monthly or twice-yearly
  • Have computer and online access to use the conferencing system
  • Participate in January’s initial call and at least five more monthly 75-minute web-based guided discussions with the group (all eight strongly recommended: January – May; and September -- November)
  • Plan for me to visit with you at your site for a particular project or overview
  • Schedule separate additional support focused on the change of your choice
Join the Team: Ensure your institution’s environmental impact is positive, and you’ll never again feel alone during your green journey
Interested? Let's talk about how this team may help you make the difference you want. Please email me at or call me at 978-505-4515. 

The monthly fee is $350 or $4000 if paid in two January/June installments). Add $2650, all inclusive, if you would like a visit to your site once during the year for a boots-on-the-ground conversation.
P.S. - If you're interested in the historic sites and museums team for fall 2017, please email me to book a spot {we'll start sooner if need be} and we can think about potential funding partners to cover your participation.