Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Conference Panel Preview: "Museums UNITE to Improve Communities" with Dr. Robert R. Janes

Dr. Robert R. Janes has worked in and around museums for over 40 years as an executive, consultant, editor, author, board member, archaeologist, instructor, volunteer, and philanthropist – devoting his career to championing museums as important social institutions that can make a difference in the lives of individuals and their communities. Dr. Robert Janes will be a panellist at the Closing General Session and Panel: “Museums UNITE to Improve Communities” taking place at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, September 23, 2017 at our upcoming conference.

Can you tell us about the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice and its overarching goals?
The Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice (CMCJ) is a network that mobilizes and supports Canadian museum workers and their organizations in building public awareness, mitigation, and resilience in response to climate change.
In order to do that, the Coalition will:
  1. Help build awareness of the importance of, and capacity for, climate change responses within the museum community;
  2. Help to mobilize museums as participants and activists in public discourse and action on climate change;
  3. Support museums in strengthening public awareness and mitigation of climate change;
  4. And lastly, we want to empower museums to lead by example.
What was your motivation for creating the CMCJ?
There are two personal reasons underlying my interest and concern in climate change, and my commitment to the activist role that museums can assume in addressing this critical issue. The first reason is that I’m a sentient being on planet earth, and I believe that I have a personal responsibility to confront the reality of climate change and try to protect the planet upon which we depend.
The second reason is that I am part of a family – I have parents, brothers and sisters, a spouse, a son, a daughter, grandchildren, cousins, etc. – each one of us is part of the web of life born of a deeper sense of time. With the consequences of climate change mounting daily, I am reminded of the words of ecologist, Joanna Macy: “If the next generation matters to us, and the children born to it do as well, then what about their children, and their children’s children?” It is time for all museum workers to assume their personal agency and take action in the world to address climate change – born of this deeper sense of time.
Climate change is clearly our civilization’s most serious challenge. Last year, 2016, was the hottest year ever measured. The previous record was set in 2015; the one before in 2014. Fifteen of the 16 warmest years have occurred in the 21st century. It is this thinking that led to the formation of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice.
Why did you decide that a coalition of interested individuals would be the best means for creating awareness, mitigation, and resilience around climate change, specifically in museums?
Museums are ready to become involved in the climate change issue, but to do so they must inform themselves of the issues; determine what they might do in response; assemble the necessary resources; and consider how they can collaborate with other museums, government, and environmental organizations. To support museum involvement in promoting climate change awareness, dialogue, and mitigation, a coalition of Canadian museums is required to provide contacts, ideas, projects and some degree of coordination.
Our hope is that the Coalition will serve as a trustworthy broker to facilitate healthy and respectful dialogue among different points of view on issues confronting museums and their communities as they address climate change.
Why is public discourse about climate change an important topic for Alberta’s museums?
Museums are uniquely qualified to contribute to climate change awareness, mitigation, and resilience, as they have several exceptional characteristics:
  • They are expressions of community and locality;
  • They are a bridge between science and culture;
  • They bear witness by assembling evidence based on knowledge and they make things known;
  • They are seed banks of sustainable living practices that have guided our species for millennia;
  • They are some of the most free and creative work environments in the world;
  • They enjoy an unprecedented degree of public trust;
  • They are skilled at making learning accessible, engaging and fun.
  • Museums employ over 24,000 Canadians and contribute $650 million in direct salaries and wages. Museums educate 7.5 million school children annually and receive over 59 million visits per year.
Museums are also highly qualified to contribute to the issue of climate change because they are civil society spaces where substantive issues can be aired, discussed, and acted upon. These unique qualities must now be put to work in combating the increasing challenges of climate change and its impact on Canada and the biosphere.
Museums and galleries must assume a broader sense of stewardship for the world around them. The potential for museum engagement in this critical issue is vast and a support system is now required to enable museums to fulfill their potential. No social institutions have a deeper sense of time than museums, and museums by their very nature are predisposed to exercise their larger view of time as stewards of the biosphere.
How does the Coalition hope to unite museum professionals around this topic?
Presently, we have convened a national Advisory Group of six Coalition members to provide overall governance and share the work. Members of the Advisory Group are Christine Castle (Ontario), Joy Davis (BC), David Jensen (BC), René Rivard (Quebec), Naomi Grattan (Alberta) and myself also representing Alberta.
The Coalition welcomes participation from people who support the goals outlined above and who are employed within Canadian museums and other cultural institutions along with those who work in support of museums in Canada and around the world including, among others, board members, volunteers, consultants, students, scholars, and public servants.

For more information about the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice please the CMCJ blog or follow the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Keynote Interview: "If Not Here, Where? The Museum as Bridge in Polarized Times"

Tony Butler is Chair and Founder, the Happy Museum Project and Executive Director, Derby Museums, UK. Tony Butler will be presenting the Keynote Address titled “If Not Here, Where? The Museum As Bridge In Polarized Times” at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, September 21, 2017 at our upcoming conference

Can you describe the Happy Museum Project and how it helps museums address pressing social and environmental issues in new ways?

As Director of Derby Museums, I love looking at Joseph Wright’s painting A Philosopher giving a Lecture on the Orrery in which a lamp is put in place of the Sun in Derby Museum. Painted in 1766 at the height of the British Enlightenment, it shows a group of children and adults listening attentively to a learned man explaining the wonders of the planet and the universe. The people in this picture are curious, eager to learn and attentive to the teller. Our museums, inspired by the human instinct to acquire, categorize, and show off objects, help us to make sense of our place in the world.

The Happy Museum Project looks at how the museum sector can respond to the challenge of creating a more sustainable future. It provides a leadership framework for museums to develop a holistic approach to well-being and sustainability. The project re-imagines the museum’s purpose as steward of people, place and planet, supporting institutional and community well-being and resilience in the face of global challenges.

The project has worked with 35 museums in England and Wales to undertake small interventions exploring these ideas. Commissioned projects included: • In Canterbury - A ‘pharmacy’ made of recycled paper dispensing well-being treatments in the museums suggested by local people. • In the Garden Museum, Lambeth - A community run winter cutting garden exploring the ethics of the flower trade. • At the London Transport Museums - A safe space, conversation hub with homeless charity in London. • At Woodhorn Colliery Museum - A comedian in residence exploring how laughter, humour, and comedy can be used in interpreting historic collections.

These museums form a community of practice through which the program creates, tests, and shares practice, fosters peer-learning, and creates spaces for deeper and more innovative thinking. This is all backed by programs of research and advocacy which underpin and share thinking within and beyond the museum sector.

Why do you think it is important that museums take on the role of agent of social change?

As open and public spaces, museums must be mindful of our environment and the need for a more equal society. They should also seek to change perceptions of the world so that people look at their own places differently.

The function of museums as social spaces is significant. With recent trends seeing city space being increasingly transferred to private ownership, museums are an important bulwark against the erosion of the public realm. For many people, a museum visit is not a solitary activity but an opportunity to spend time with family or to meet up with friends. Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre in London, has described the centre as, first and foremost, ‘a place for encounters.’

We want museums to encourage active citizenship; challenging individuals to be more active within civil society (and includes individuals working in museums as well as their communities). Using what they learn from connections within their communities, the work of museums should better reflect current trends and issues which affect people’s daily lives. Active citizenship also relates to awareness and understanding of connectivity across the world, seeking international associations to contextualize local issues (and vice versa).

Museums encourage visitors to be psychologically ‘present’, with attention focussed completely in the here and now, and on the aesthetic qualities of things. Experiencing this kind of involvement is not only enjoyable in itself, but is associated with wider psychological benefits.

How do you think this work fits into our Conference theme or the work of the AMA?

Having read the recommendations from AMA’s sustainability report, many of its principles resonate with Happy Museum thinking. When we began Happy Museum back in 2011 we talked about sustainability as a three-legged stool of Social, Financial and Environmental qualities. The prominence you place into culture and into health and well-being adds two vital, extra legs.

I was especially drawn to the stages of organizational life in the report, which makes them appear like organisms which might evolve, expand, plateau and sometimes die. I think there is a dangerous ‘myth of permanence’ about museums which leads to many not being prepared to be useful or relevant to their communities. A few years ago, Mark Robinson wrote extensively about adaptive resilience, which though not quite Darwinian in scope, suggested that the most resilient organizations were the ones which could adapt their mission and values to external conditions.

The same could be applied to how communities (or countries) adapt to external shocks. The most resilient are the ones that are able to moderate their behaviours through sharing and giving. I’d suggest that in the light of the Brexit vote – the UK is showing all the signs of very ‘unadaptive’ behaviour!

For more information about the Happy Museum Project, please visit: happymuseumproject.org/

Tony Butler will present the Opening Keynote If Not Here, Where? The Museums As Bridge in Polarized Times at the Alberta Museums Association / Western Museums Association Joint International Conference UNITE 2017 in Edmonton, Alberta. For more information about Tony's talk or UNITE 2017, please visit https://events.bizzabo.com/UNITE2017.