Guest Post by Meaghan Patterson, Executive Director/CEO, Alberta Museums Association*
Questions about climate justice abound both for the Coalition and all museum professionals, and will fuel the work of our sector as we grapple with this issue.
How do we use our platforms to meaningfully engage the general public in the topic of climate change? How can we, as representatives of trusted institutions, become exemplary not only through the stories that we tell, but through our operational policies and philosophies? Through what means can we create a network of shared resources and experiences so that others can visualize ways they can affect incremental change?
On April 7, 2017, at the Canadian Museums Association’s Annual Conference, the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice invited delegates and museum professionals to gather, discuss, share, and generate ideas for ways in which museums, as trusted institutions, can address issues of climate change. Over forty people, representing diversities of geography, institutional size, scope, and governance, interest level, and career stage participated in an animated and productive conversation around this topic. Notes from the session were recorded and distributed to the Coalition members and other interested individuals through social media and a publicly available summary provides context to anyone researching the group. The ideas captured in these notes will help direct and inform the work of the Coalition and provide a fascinating cross-section of work happening in institutions around our country.
The conversation began with an introduction to the goals and mandate of the Coalition as well as a grounding overview by Dr. Robert Janes on the impact of climate change on our ecosystem. From there, delegates actively engaged in a participatory conversation around successes to date, how museums and cultural organizations could enhance efforts around climate change awareness, mitigation, and resilience, and finally a general discussion that addressed some of the institutional and perceptional barriers we encounter as well as tangible suggestions for the Coalition to pursue moving forward.
The breadth of initiatives already underway in Canadian institutions was inspiring and as the discussion progressed, ideas were continuously generated, expanded upon, and deepened.
It truly demonstrated the potential of a committed like-minded group of individuals working toward a common goal.
The overall tone of the conversation was one of optimism, passion, and dedication. Individuals around the room shared successes in exhibitions (both the construction and the content), increasing operational efficiencies, and educational programming. Those present understood the privilege of working in such creative and free environments as museums and, as Colleen Dilenschneider writes, the importance of capitalizing on the public’s trust in museums as institutions of objectivity and knowledge—not of neutrality—as a way to embark on new ways of thinking and being.
Building on Joy Davis’ “Agentic Professionals”, we cannot lose sight of our individual agency and its ability to create organizational change. As a group, our voices hold more weight and our impact is easier to see, hear, and feel.
With the momentum and passion I witnessed in April, the Coalition can inspire fundamental and lasting shifts in the ways museums engage with their audiences, their collections, their spaces, and their stakeholders around climate change. I am motivated by the conversations, inspired by the work of others, and excited to help facilitate these capacity building initiatives across Alberta.
* Meaghan Patterson has been the Executive Director / CEO of the Alberta Museums Association since 2014. Through her work at the AMA, she is passionate about the significant role museums can play in the betterment of society and the importance of building capacity for long term sustainability in all its forms. She is a mom of two fiercely independent girls and attempts to instill the importance of strong, connected communities and sense of place into all aspects of her life.