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.

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