CAPP & the Canadian Museum of History – pt. 2

I’m writing this post fresh off the heals of an action organized by and our friends from across the Ottawa / Gatineau Region. It was an unsanctioned alternative exhibit in the lobby of the Museum of History putting “CAPP on display”. We wanted to draw into focus the Museum’s ongoing partnership with Canada’s most notorious Big Oil lobby group: the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).  

Our action took place the morning after the Museum of History’s new exhibit, Canadian History Hall, was featured in the New York Times, and it’s clear why. Canadian History Hall is the largest exhibition about Canadian history ever developed, and the content is very unapologetic of the dark times.

Activists hold unsanctioned exhibit at the Museum of History putting Big Oil on display
Activists hold unsanctioned exhibit at the Museum of History putting Big Oil on display

It took me three hours to get through just one of the three galleries that makes up this incredible exhibit. During my visit, I walked into a room with the words ‘Idle No More’ in prominent view, and to the Mi’kmaq Honour Song loudly playing in the background. It is a stunning tribute to Indigenous-led resistance to colonial realities like missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and boys and the horrendous conditions on many First Nations reserves.

But I couldn’t help but feel the deep contradictions at play. The massive oil companies that CAPP represents are the culprits of ongoing displacement and disenfranchisement of Indigenous Peoples across Canada. The loss of connection to the land and culture due to the environmental and health impacts on Indigenous communities living near sites of extraction, transportation and refining of fossil fuels is well documented. Not only that, but the Harper-era assaults on environmental protections were aided and abetted by CAPP lobbyists. These attacks were fuel to the fire do the Indigenous sovereignty movement “Idle No More”, which the Museum so prominently displays.

Another display in the exhibit noted the dilemma the Federal government is in by both signing the Paris Climate Agreement and soon after approving two massive tar sands pipelines. They’re referring to Kinder Morgan and Line 3 which, if built, would make meeting the Paris targets impossible. CAPP has been a staunch supporter of both pipelines.

Even with the 1 degree of global warming we are currently experiencing, the impacts of climate change have been devastating, particularly for people in low-lying island nations and in arid regions like sub-Saharan Africa and in the Middle East. But climate impacts are hitting closer to home to as the crisis intensifies, and CAPP’s fingerprints are all over dangerous climate disasters.

Just this Spring, Quebec and Ontario was slammed with record breaking precipitation, pushing thousands of people out of their homes. In May of last year, the already dry area near Fort McMurray, became drier because of higher spring and summer temperatures and earlier spring snow-melt. The resulting wildfires was nothing short of horrific. While we were demonstrating in the Museum there is a wildfire raging in BC.

Activists put "CAPP on Display"
Activists put “CAPP on Display”. CAPP lobbies for expansion of the tar sands and blocks action on climate change as climate impacts worsen in Canada and around the world.

If our decision makers continue to give in to demands from Big Oil lobbyists like CAPP, we can expect these impacts to get much worse.

I won’t pretend that I didn’t feel discomfort causing a disruption in the Museum.  It’s an institution I have fond childhood memories from, and which I have growing respect for as they show intention to decolonizing their content. Not to mention the fact that the Museum has expressed solidarity with Algonquin people opposing the Kitigan Zibi Condominium development.

Besides that, CAPPs sponsorship is a drop in the bucket in terms of the Museum of History’s total revenues. As the most visited museum in the country, it’s visitors like you and me who contribute the most to the Museum’s pocketbook.

More than that, though I believe that the Museum of History has an obligation to show leadership in the fight for the climate and for the rights of Indigenous people. By cutting ties with CAPP, the Museum’s decision makers would send a strong signal that the era of Big Oil polluting our planet and our politics is over.

The good news is, as Museum’s own CEO Mark O’Neil confirmed at their AGM in April, CAPP and the Museum of History have reached the final year in their sponsorship agreement.

What remains now is a commitment from O’Neil that the Museum of History will not re-enter negotiations with CAPP for future sponsorships.

It’s time to make sure that the Museum stands on the right side of history.

If you want the Museum of History to cut ties with CAPP, sign the petition and talk to your colleagues, family and friends about it.




The Case for Cutting Museum Ties to Big Oil

This article is the first part of a two part series written by Guest Blogger, Katie Perfitt, the Canada Divestment Organizer with*. Katie is currently running a campaign calling on the Museum of History in Gatineau, QC to drop the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. In this piece, she explores the myth of acceptable oil sponsorship. In the second part, you’ll hear from Katie about why the Museum of History is well placed to be on the leading edge of the Fossil Free Culture movement in Canada.

Museum of History Protest
Supporters demonstrate outside the Museum of History at the launch of the Right Side of History campaign in early April.

CAPP & the Canadian Museum of History

About 5 years ago, the Canadian Museum of History (CMH) (then the Museum of Civilization) was approached by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) — the official lobby group for the biggest oil and gas companies operating in Canada. At the time, CAPP was seeking out sponsorship opportunities in the National Capital Region. An access to information request revealed that CAPP was looking to fund cultural institutions like art galleries and museums close to Parliament Hill, pending they could use those spaces to elevate the profile of Canada’s oil and gas sector.

Within months, the funding partnership was announced by way of a press release issued by the Canadian Museum of History. It was an immediate return on investment for CAPP: they were congratulated as a shining star of corporate philanthropy by the Museum’s own CEO, Mark O’Neill, while also giving CAPP a platform to promote fossil fuel expansion. The resulting press provided cover for CAPP lobbyists who were out lobbying the Harper government to gut Canada’s most precious environmental laws.

The Power of PR

Fossil fuel companies, and industry associations that represent them, cultivate relationships with arts and cultural centers because it helps to create an image of social license for the industry.  This acceptability, becoming increasingly fragile, is necessary for Big Oil to continue to dig, drill, strip mine and frack, pipe, ship and store increasing amounts of oil and gas, despite the worsening climate crisis. It’s not a new tactic — in fact, it’s one taken right from the tobacco industry’s playbook.

It wasn’t that long ago that tobacco companies were seen as respectable sponsors for cultural institutions. But thanks to people powered movement calling out these dirty sponsorships, museums and galleries across the world cut ties to the tobacco industry.

Big Oil must see the same fate if we wish to tackle climate change with the boldness this crisis requires. Half measures or meekness won’t keep +80% of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves in the ground — what climate scientists have deemed necessary to stay within 2°c of global warming.

CAPP Protest
Community members calling on the Museum of History to cut ties with CAPP at the Museum’s Annual General Meeting in April.

We need every corner of society to flex their muscle and stand up to an industry which has knowingly misled the public on climate change, that continues to lobby against climate action in every corner of the planet, and perpetrates human rights abuses around the world. We need all hands on deck, and to use every tool in our toolbox to fight the power of the fossil fuel industry.

The good news?

This shift is underway. Already, over 700 institutions worldwide have heeded the call to cut ties with Big Oil, and the public is starting to clearly see the evil PR genius behind oil sponsorship of arts and cultural institutions. Museums, Art Galleries, and other cultural institutions have been forced to answer the calls by their patrons to end sponsorship deals, divest their assets from fossil fuel companies, or by removing Big Oil CEOs from their boards.

We know that these actions alone won’t stop climate impacts from happening, or bring justice to Indigenous Peoples living near the Alberta tar sands whose water and lands have been destroyed, but it will stir up a critical public conversation about the social acceptability of these companies in our trusted and beloved cultural institutions. In so doing, we strengthen the calls for climate leadership in our political and financial spheres.

How can museum workers get involved in the fossil free culture movement?

Community members calling on the Museum of History to cut ties with CAPP for the launch of the Right Side of History campaign in April 2017.

You’ve heard about the role the personal agency of museum workers can play in Joy Davis’ blog post. You know from Naomi Grattan’s post that museum leaders can take an activist stance. And you’ve read about how to get your Board behind you by writing and approving an Advocacy Policy. With this knowledge & these tools, museum workers can get involved in the fossil free culture movement:

If that strikes a cord, start organizing your people. This divestment guide is a great resource if you’re not sure where to get started. It was made for students in mind, but most of the content is translatable to other campaigns and movement spaces!

In an era of climate change, we must stand united against the fossil fuel industry’s attempts to co-opt cultural institutions. We must send a big message that the age of big oil deceiving the public for its own gain is over. supports a global grassroots climate movement that hold leaders accountable to science and justice. This global movement works together to oppose new coal, oil and gas projects, take money out of the companies that are heating up the planet, and build 100% clean energy solutions that work for all. We believe in a just, prosperous, and equitable world built with the power of ordinary people. If you want to support‘s campaign to have the Museum of History cut ties with Big Oil, you can sign the petition at: and contact Katie to learn more.


From Outputs to Outcomes – Are You Making the Shift?

For museums to have meaningful impacts on the cultural problem of climate change, they will need to shift from a focus on outputs to outcomes. (Douglas Worts commenting on Joy Davis’ recent post Agentic Professionals: How individual museum workers can champion climate justice)

So what might a shift to outcomes-based program evaluation look like?

In 2013 I* had the privilege of working with the Ontario Museum Association in association with the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport to develop an Outcomes-Based Program Planning & Evaluation Webinar and Workbook. These materials are online and available free of charge. Much of the following post is drawn from these resources.

What is Outcomes-Based Planning & Evaluation (OBPE)?

Outcomes-Based Program Evaluation is a systematic way to plan user-centered programs and to measure whether they have achieved their goals. OBPE goes beyond documenting what you did and measures what difference you made in the life of your audience. How has your audience changed?

Why OBPE for the Coalition?

The mission of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice is to mobilize and support Canadian museum workers and their organizations in building public awareness, mitigation and resilience in response to climate change. Ultimately, we hope the work of the Coalition will have an impact not only on museum workers and their organizations but also on their publics, the citizens of Canada and the world.

Planning for and evaluating the outcomes of museum programs and exhibits helps us to focus on and document the changes we want to see – public awareness, mitigation and resilience in response to climate change.

Being able to express and demonstrate what difference museums’ climate justice programs and exhibits might and do make is invaluable. Why?

  1. Funds for museums are decreasing.

  2. Community needs are increasing.

Previous evaluation measures focused on money, numbers of people served and on client satisfaction . These are outputs. These measures don’t really assess the impact of programs and exhibits on museum & cultural heritage audiences. We need to know if our efforts are making a difference in the lives of our citizens – and, if they are, to be able to share those results with others in a meaningful way. We need to know the outcomes and impacts.

For an example of one museum doing just this, see National Museums Liverpool – Making a Difference

So what are the components of OBPE?


Inputs – The materials and resources that the program uses in its activities. These are often easy to identify and are common to many organizations and programs. For example: equipment, staff, facilities, standards (Standards for Community Museums in Ontario), information, etc.

Activities – These are the tasks, or processes, that the program undertakes with/to the audience in order to meet the audience’s needs; for example, recruiting participants, promoting the program, networking, training. Note that when identifying the activities in a program, the focus is still pretty much on the organization or program itself, not on changes in the audience.

Outputs – These are the most immediate direct products or results of your program. Program outputs are typically measured in numbers. For example, the number of  … people who participated, classes who completed a program, materials developed, workshops given, supplies consumed, web site hits, etc. Outputs create the potential for outcomes to occur

OutcomesThese are changes that occur to people, organizations and communities as a result of your program. These changes, or outcomes, are usually expressed in terms of:

  • Knowledge and skills
  • Behaviours
  • Values, conditions and status

Impact – This describes your vision of a preferred future and underlines why the project is important. It refers to the longer-term change that you hope your project will help create or to which your project may contribute.

Photo by Caroline Grondin, Upsplash
Photo by Caroline Grondin, Upsplash

Splash & Ripple

Imagine your program is like a rock thrown into a pond. Your program makes a splash. The different outcomes measured are the ripples.

Inputs are like the person & the rock.

Activities are like dropping the rock.

Outputs are like creating the splash.

The ripples spreading from the splash are like your Outcomes,

that later become your Impacts.

The edge of the pond represents the Situation.

(Plan:Net Limited & Stratecona Research Group 2008)

In my next post, I’ll focus on measuring outcomes.

In the meantime, check out these Free Resources …

Betts, Tracy. “The Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide.” idealware. idealware. October 2011.

Diamond, Judy, Jessica J. Luke, and David H. Uttal. Practical Evaluation Guide: Tool for Museums and Other Informal Educational Settings. Second. Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2009.

Indiana University IUPUI & Institute for Museum & Library Services. What is Outcomes Based Planning & Evaluation? IMLS. 2006-2010.

McNamara, Carter. Basic Guide to Outcomes-Based Evaluation for Nonprofit Organizations with Very Limited Resources.

Museums Association of Saskatchewan. Evaluation Workbook: A Basic Understanding of the Program Outcome Evaluation Model. Regina: Museums Association of Saskatchewan, 1999.

Patton, Michael Quinn. Utilization-Focused Evaluation: The New Century Text. 3rd. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1997.

Plan:Net Limited & Stratecona Research Group. “Splash & Ripple: Using Outcomes to Design & Manage Community Activities.” Plan:Net. PLAN:NET LIMITED. 2008.

Plan:Net Limited. “Splash & Ripple.” Health Canada. n.d.

Thomson, Gareth, and Jenn Hoffman. “Measuring the Success of Environmental Education Programs.Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society.

*I am M. Christine Castle, PhD, a Canadian museum educator and consultant and a member of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice Advisory Group. More info on me here.

One Person Can Make A Difference – Building the Coastal Connections Temporary Exhibit at the Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site [Case Story]

This week’s Guest Post is by Brooke Lees, Curator, Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site, Richmond, B.C. Brooke shares the story of how an historic site can mount a meaningful exhibit about the impact of climate change on our oceans with little money but many committed community partners.

The Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site sits on the picturesque Steveston waterfront in Richmond, BC. The site is owned and operated by the City of Richmond, and a small team of dedicated staff are working with partners to complete a multi-phased restoration of the site’s cultural landscape and 14 heritage buildings. Each year, new permanent exhibits open to the public that focus on maritime heritage and the social and living conditions of the multicultural people who worked on the waterfront. Exhibit themes focus on telling the stories of the past, interpreting them as relevant to the present, and commenting on implications for the future.

Exhibit panels - credit Joel Baziuk
Exhibit panels – credit Joel Baziuk

The new temporary exhibit, “Our Coastal Connection,” at the Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site explores our historic ties to our local rivers and west coast environments, and how this has sparked the imagination of many local groups working to celebrate and protect our waters for the future. Over 20 groups are profiled within the exhibit, all of which have dedicated remarkable efforts in areas of water conservation, education, awareness, recycling and entrepreneurship.

The exhibit started with the hope of spreading awareness about the current state of our oceans.

As we go about our daily activities, we forget that our collective actions on land are affecting ecosystems far off shore and out of our direct line of sight,” said Brooke Lees, curator of the exhibit. “A staggering amount of plastic is finding its way into our global oceans every year – 8 million metric tons, which is equivalent in weight to 20,000 fully loaded 747 airplanes. As you can imagine, this is wreaking havoc on marine life and ocean environments. This problem is of course also negatively impacting fish stocks – something vital to our fishing community and the very foundation of the historic fishing village of Steveston.”

“The exhibit outlines the issues, and showcases water stewardship and educational initiatives that began with the efforts of local individuals. Many local people are banding together to implement creative solutions to one of the greatest problems of our time – and this is truly inspiring. These people deserve to be highlighted, and I’m hopeful that their work will inspire others to remember that one person can make a difference, and that every effort at home and in the community can have far reaching impacts.”

Exhibit displays - credit Joel Baziuk
Exhibit displays – credit Joel Baziuk

Although permanent exhibits at Britannia are funded through capital projects, there is no annual budget for temporary exhibits, maintenance or updates.

“In order to continue providing visitors with the latest research and new engaging relevant topics, we have to get creative,” says Brooke. “We work closely with partner groups that provide us with in-kind donations and we do our own research, writing, design and installation.”

Our Coastal Connection was researched, designed and installed with a budget of only $2,000.

“We had the opportunity to work with many enthusiastic people who felt compelled to share their stories and photographs, donate objects for display and provide their research for use in the exhibit.” Brooke explained. “It was a wonderful community effort, and the resulting exhibit is something we are all extremely proud of.”

An open house held on Saturday, June 3 launched the exhibit, with over 250 people in attendance. Visitors explored the exhibit, and met representatives from the Emerald Sea Protection Society, Fraser Riverkeeper and the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation. These exhibit partner groups captured visitors’ unique water stories, challenged them to be water champions, showed them what’s lurking in the depths under the waves, and gave them a sneak preview of cool new technologies soon to be released.

Exhibit demonstrations - credit Joel Baziuk
Exhibit demonstrations – credit Joel Baziuk

The exhibit open house was engaging, interactive and extremely well received. Visitors were fascinated with the photographs and information demonstrating the amount of plastic affecting our oceans  – many learning about this environmental crisis for the first time. Visitors left the exhibit with a greater understanding of current marine conservation issues, and were inspired to make changes at home to incorporate ‘greener’ habits in their daily routines.

“These ‘aha’ moments are what we are considering a success in terms of exhibit impact,” says Brooke. “And many of our visitors are recording their feelings in our exhibit guest book, complete with pledges of what they promise to do to help.”

Exhibit activity - credit Joel Baziuk
Exhibit activity – credit Joel Baziuk

Our Coastal Connection will be in place for one year, and will reach an audience of over 120,000 visitors to the Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site. Volunteers and staff are excited to welcome the public to the new exhibit, and to inspire people to remember why we love our waters and what we can do to keep our rivers and oceans clean and safe for everyone to enjoy.

For more information about the exhibit, visit or contact or 604-238-8050. Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site is located at 5180 Westwater Drive in Richmond BC.


Meeting the LEED Gold Standard – Markham Museum Collections Building [Case Study]

*Guest Post by Cathy Molloy, Director of Markham Museum, and an Ontario Museum Association Board member.

Completed in 2011, the Markham Museum Collections Building was built as an exhibition hall and storage area for artifacts and archival material. This remarkable building serves as the gateway to the Museum.


Markham Museum connects the history of Markham to today’s new ‘settlers’ by examining our environment and the tools we use to adapt to our changing world. The 25-acre Museum site offers: exhibits, school programs, public programs and events, private event venues and research facilities.

A little background – the Museum is owned and operated by the City of Markham in Ontario, Canada. Markham has an active Sustainability Office . All City facilities are ‘waste free’. Even Museum events are ‘waste free,’ and all vendors and visitors are to use only compostable or recyclable materials.

The Museum also has several gardens and features built with partners, such as native plant gardens, waterless gardens and a windmill to aerate the storm retention pond at the back of the site. Programming at Markham museum is very much focused on sustainability and shared human technologies such as pottery, textile working and food production. So, it was natural that our collection building was designed to fulfill LEED requirements.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design® (LEED) is a rating system that is recognized as the international mark of excellence for green building in over 160 countries. Since 2002, the Canada Green Building Council® (CaGBC) and LEED Canada have been redefining the buildings and communities where Canadians live, work and learn.

The certification program focuses primarily on new, commercial-building projects and based upon a points system. The more points you earn, the higher your rating. Based on the number of points achieved, a project then receives one of four LEED rating levels: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. LEED-certified buildings are resource efficient. They use less water and energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Markham Museum met LEED Gold qualification by meeting a number of standards, including:

  • Alternate Transportation
  • Reflective Roof
  • Water Reduction
  • Construction Materials
  • Mechanical Systems
  • Healthy Workplace

Alternate Transportation

The Markham Museum Collections Building is located within close proximity to multiple public transit routes, (Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), Government of Ontario (GO) trains and buses, York Region Transit and others.) In addition to providing bike racks for visitors and employees, the City of Markham encourages carpooling by providing designated carpool spaces close to the main entrance and is an active member of Smart Commute Markham – Richmond Hill.

Reflective Roof

To reduce the impact on the surrounding environment,highly reflective roof materials were selected. The reflective materials provide highly reflective surfaces that will assist in reducing energy demand in the summer and reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect.

Water Reduction

To reduce the potable water demand of the Markham Museum Collections Building, dual flush, 6/4.2L flush water closets, waterless urinals and 1.9 LPM faucets have been provided in public washrooms. As well, the staff shower features a 5.7 LPM shower head. These measures have contributed to a potable water reduction of over 40% against baseline conditions.

Flush choice on toilets

In addition to these measures a 20,000L rain water system for water closet flushing has been installed to greater reduce the potable water demand of the building.

Collectively these installed measures have reduced the water demand of Markham Museum Collections Building 92.72%, saving a total of 276,253L per year against a standard baseline.

Construction Materials

Markham is an ideal location within Southern Ontario to source many construction materials manufactured and extracted within 800 km of the site. These regional materials, such as concrete, reinforcing and structural steel, and landscaping materials account for 30.71% of the materials used to construct and finish the Markham Museum Collections Building.

recycled materials:concrete:steel

Also, recycled materials account for 11.32% of all materials, and of the waste generated during construction and demolition, 88.9% was diverted from landfill.

Mechanical Systems

The Markham Museum Collections Building incorporated a Geothermal Heat Exchange System. This system uses a CFC/HCFC free refrigerant that is pumped through a series of pipes 110m below ground. Once preheated by the earth, the refrigerant is used to preheat the high efficiency water boilers used to supply hot water to the building’s heating coils and heat pumps.

Mechanical Systems

These systems and other energy efficient measures have resulted in an energy cost savings of 56.28% against the base building design.

Healthy workplace

Special emphasis was placed on creating a healthy indoor environment for the current and future employees of the Markham Museum Collections Building. Construction practices that consider indoor air quality were put into place and monitored throughout. This included using only low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) products to reduce and eliminate harmful off-gassed pollutants.

The Town has also implemented a Green Housekeeping Policy that includes environmentally friendly cleaning methods and cleaning product requirements.


Embracing Change: Museums and Activism

Guest Post by Naomi Grattan. Naomi teaches museum management for the University of Calgary and the Alberta Museums Association.


The concept of activist museums emerged as one of the strongest themes at MuseumNext, 2016, a global conference on the future of museums. Created in 2009, according to its founder Jim Richardson, “MuseumNext came out the shifting technological landscape of the first decade of the 21st century. Digital media was [sic] transforming society and shifting audience expectations and we saw that museums needed to embrace change, or risk extinction” (MuseumNext, 2016, section 1). He explained that

delegates are interested in the power that cultural institutions have to inform the public about challenging issues, how museums add to the political power of a city and how we can ensure that culture is open to all (MuseumNext, 2016, section 7).

A move to an activist position is almost a complete reversal of the traditional museum model in which an institutional voice of authority was held up as the ideal (Anderson, 2012, p. 3). Janes (2009) described this as “authoritative neutrality” (p. 59) and exposed the fallacy at the heart of it: when museums avoid taking risks because they might antagonize sponsors or corporate partners, they are, in effect taking a position in line with corporate values and beliefs, and is therefore not neutral.

Janes (2009) went on to acknowledge that moving beyond the so-called “neutral” position “requires judgement and risk-taking, and the potential for both enhancing the public good, or abusing it, lie dormant in every opportunity” (p. 59). In other words, it is impossible to take a neutral position when presenting topics and objects to the public, so transparency, clear values and careful planning become critical. An activist model is a direct way to align with a specific sector or community, by taking a clear stand on an issue and actively working with community towards a shared outcome. Read more from Janes in his blog post The Elephant in the Room.

Activist Museums & Groups

The Natural History Museum (Natural History Museum, n.d., About), a project of Not an Alternative (a New York based non-profit), strives to affect public discourse through art, activism and theory and is a good example of an activist museum. Created in 2014, the Natural History Museum is a mobile museum that takes a position on environmental science, making a point of examining the socio-political forces that shape nature. In partnership with other museums, it works to:

reframe the past to save the future . . . [by] partnering with museums to develop programs that help make the subjects of science and natural history more relevant to the day to day lives of the communities they serve . . .[its] programs pick up where traditional exhibits leave off, by connecting static displays to pressing contemporary concerns and world events. (Natural History Museum, n.d., About)

Among its activities, the Natural History Museum wrote an “Open letter to museums from members of the scientific community,” signed by 148 scientists. It is significant to note that in January 2016 David Koch stepped down from the board of the American Museum of Natural History, although he remains on the advisory board of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (Yuhas, 2016, para. 1).

The rise of activist museums intersects with the rise of other activist groups also focused on museums, such as Liberate Tate, which calls specifically on the U.K.’s Tate Museum  to take a leadership role in society on the global issue of climate change by abandoning its sponsorship support from the oil company British Petroleum (BP).

There are many models for the ways in which museums can become more connected to community—whether through community building, co-creation, participation, or activism—but the theme is clear: museums must operate in relationship to the world in which they exist.


Anderson, G. (Ed.). (2012). Reinventing the museum: The evolving conversation on the paradigm shift. (2nd ed.). Lanham, MD: AltaMira.

Janes, R. (2009). Museums in a troubled world. Renewal, irrelevance, or collapse? Oxon, UK: Routledge.

MuseumNext. (2016, July 4). A short interview with MuseumNext founder Jim Richardson. Public Art Magazine Korea. Retrieved from

Natural History Museum, the. (n.d.). About. Retrieved from

Natural History Museum, the. (2015, March 24). An open letter to museums from members of the scientific community. Retrieved from

Yuhas, A. (2016, January 21). David Koch steps down from board of New York science museum. The Guardian. Retrieved from

*Naomi Grattan has worked in and around museums for most of the last 17 years, sontributing to four cultural capital projects, and recently completing her MA in Leadership at Royal Roads University, which focused on museum leadership development for the sector in partnership with the Canadian Museums Association.  Her thesis is available online here. She teaches museum management for the University of Calgary and the Alberta Museums Association. You can reach her at:


Saskatchewan’s Ecomuseums, Planetary Wellbeing, and Climate Justice – A Symposium Report

Guest post by Douglas Worts, a culture & sustainability specialist with WorldViews Consulting, in Toronto, Canada.

In the late 1960s, two innovators in France’s cultural world devised a novel concept that would turn the notion of ‘museum’ on its head.  If traditional museums are based on centripetal forces that bring together cultural objects, history and people into a single site, then George Rivière and Hugues de Varine’s proposal for a centrifugal variation was revolutionary.

Specifically, they imagined a museum that consisted of a territory, a population, collective memory, elders, heritage and special sites, all held in dynamic relationship through centrifugal forces.

Essentially this approach argued for museums that were woven into the fabric of community as well as the lives of individuals, where people, museum and city/town are one. Theirs was a living, integrated approach to ‘the place of the muses’, as opposed to an institutionalized approach to culture. The name given to this new approach to museums was ‘ecomuseum’.

Over the past 50 years, experiments and variations on the ecomuseum theme have been explored around the world (see Peter Davis, Ecomuseums: A Sense of Place – 2nd Edition) – in both rural and urban settings. Some ecomuseums have reinvigorated entire regions – socially, environmentally, culturally, economically. Some of these experiments have become living-heritage sites that are largely geared to tourism.  However,

the ecomuseums most interesting to me have been developed through the work of consciously engaged communities that have roots in heritage, a commitment to the wellbeing of the present and which collectively generate a vision of the future. It is within this context that consideration of climate change, and its negative affect on planetary wellbeing becomes a powerful force.

Glenn Sutter, a curator of human ecology at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, has been given a mandate to foster ‘community-engaged museums’ (aka ecomuseums) across this prairie province of Canada. In collaboration with the Saskatchewan Museums Association and Heritage Saskatchewan, many efforts are being made to encourage communities themselves to form ecomuseums that will meet their local needs – culturally, socially, economically and environmentally.

In April of 2017, a symposium was organized in Regina to bring people together from many fledgling ecomuseums across the province.  Its purpose was to strengthen the growing network, to share stories and to acquire new tools. Veteran museum consultant and Canadian innovator of ecomuseums, René Rivard, provided a keynote address that reflected on the excitement and impacts of ecomuseums around the world. (René Rivard is also a member of the CMCJ Advisory Group.) Many local people contributed stories about their communities and the ecomuseums with which they are involved.

I was invited to provide a day-long training workshop – which I called “Planning for Cultural Relevance”.  The core of the day revolved around an introduction to two planning tools, called Compass and Pyramid, developed by sustainability consultant, educator and planner, Alan AtKisson – using the fictitious community of Greenburg.

Although this workshop was not focused on ‘climate change’ specifically, it includes processes and concepts that are relevant to those involved in the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice network.

Climate change is one of many challenging outcomes that spring from the shifting cultural realities of our day, combined with our complex globalized world, and all within the biological limits of the Earth’s biosphere. As museums strive to address climate change it is vital to exam and work with the systems environment that is our current reality.

Such an approach necessitates that museums develop and utilize a nontraditional set of processes for:

  • understanding the needs and opportunities of individuals, communities, organizations and the natural environment;
  • generating strategies for active public engagement;
  • formulating a commonly held vision of a future that is possible and sustainable;
  • measuring impacts and changes as a result of humanity’s growth and development.

There remains enormous untapped potential for museums to facilitate cultural wellbeing and cultural impacts across our world.

* Douglas Worts is a culture & sustainability specialist with WorldViews Consulting, in Toronto, Canada. Douglas approaches culture broadly, as ‘how we live our lives’, seeing museums as potential facilitators in forging an emerging ‘culture of sustainability’.  His professional work combines a 35+-year career in museums with over two decades exploring how culture shapes and directs the prospects for global human sustainability. Within Douglas’ museum career, experimental exhibits and audience research, coupled with organizational design and change management, have been of central importance. Systems-thinking is fundamental within his work. Douglas has published, taught and lectured widely on his work.