How the Coalition “Popped-Up” at a Conference – and found museum workers care about climate change

Today’s Guest Post is by Julie Tomé, a Museum Teacher at the Royal Ontario Museum and Douglas Worts, culture & sustainability specialist with WorldViews Consulting, both in Toronto, Canada.

Photo courtesy Christine Castle

What were we doing at a pop-up?

Earlier this year the Ontario Museum Association (OMA) invited members of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice (CMCJ) – Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) BRanch – to develop and staff a pop-up booth at the OMA Annual Conference in Toronto. Inspired by a case study about real-time collaboration at the University of Washington in chapter 7 of Nina Simon’s book The Participatory Museum, we planned several activities that aimed to engage conference delegates in conversation about the role of museums with respect to climate justice.

Strategizing for Change and Impact

As conference-goers ambled up to our pop-up booth, many were curious about a wall full of questions with Post-It note contributions from delegates.

As people approached, they were asked how they might answer the question, “What cultural impacts are you aiming to create through your work in museums”? The question caused many to pause and reflect.

Then a second question of, “are you largely trying to create impacts at the level of individuals, groups,organizations, communities, or even the environment – or perhaps all of these?”

 Doug Worts

It was clear that few people had thought very concretely about the cultural impacts their exhibits, programs and other projects were aiming to generate – at least not much beyond individual visitors being satisfied or learning something. However, the wall generated some very in-depth conversations. Commonly, the discussion drifted into discussions about the various possible stakeholders (i.e. who are all the players, human and non-human, that are implicated in various public programs). It didn’t take long for folks to see that, not only are the needs of individual visitor fairly diverse and wide-ranging, but the needs and opportunities for engagement of different stakeholders, (e.g. groups, communities, organization and the environment) can be very different from those of individuals.

Photo courtesy Douglas Worts

Since the Coalition has a primary focus on problems that manifest in climate and weather, participants in the Pop-up were asked about how they might best connect to societal trends – like climate change. How museums both understand and link to societal trends and forces that are already shaping the living culture (day today life – not institutional culture) is vital to sort out. And with climate change being a potentially lethal symptom of societal behaviours that are driving this trend, the conversations about these linkages were lively.

One of the overarching points that the Coalition was trying to make here was that,

if museums want to catalyze public actions, leading to shifts in behaviours and systems that are currently driving climate change, it is imperative that the planning activities of museums are designed around meaningful impacts on more than individual visitors who are out for a leisure time experience.

GTHA Branch, CMCJ

To this end, conversations ventured into discussions of experimental strategies in which museums, along with artists, scientists, historians, storytellers and more engage the public in co-creative activities in which people connect their actions to a vision of a sustainable future.

Illustration courtesy Douglas Worts

Certainly these conversations left everyone feeling somewhat challenged, but also thoughtful about how museums could better plan for cultural impacts that would be relevant to the forces that are bearing down on our collective well-being.

The bathroom wall – Tell us how you really feel!

 No one will ever know who leaves behind the messages on the walls of public restrooms. Our bathroom wall was a white board, but the idea was the same – it gave delegates a place to express themselves freely, to tell us how they really feel about climate change. As you can see from the image, people got creative and even multilingual with it.

The “bathroom wall” was a creative, free-form way for people to share their thoughts and feelings. Photo courtesy Julie Tomé

Democracy by pompom

Conference delegates “vote”about how they feel about climate change. Photo courtesy Melissa Smith

If you noticed the “Vote using a pompom” at the bottom of the wall and were left wondering, wonder no more. Melissa Smith organized a quick poll to gauge how people are feeling about climate change –simply take a pompom and drop it in the box that reflects your emotion.

Success stories

Julie Tomé organized the collection of success stories. Armed with an iPad and microphone she gathered a few success stories from a few delegates. They ranged from building architecture to partnership programs for families to a no-trash festival. Here is one of those stories …

Tales from our museum partners in Alberta

At the same time as we were collecting these powerful stories, Chris Castle shared at our table (and later as part of a conference Ignite session) the new 5 part video series, Taking Action Against Climate Change, produced by the Alberta Museums Association (AMA) in partnership with the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice and Shadow Light Productions. Containing practical examples of how individuals can take proactive action to address climate issues, the videos are free and are intended to be shared across multiple platforms. The videos are hopeful and engaging, and demonstrate not only what museums are doing to mitigate their carbon footprints but also how individuals and other institutions can, by making sustainable choices, affect real change to address this global problem.

It was a busy day and we had many people come by the booth. We had nearly 50 sustained conversations with people from all over the museum field – from students to seasoned veterans. The reaction to the booth and to the existence of the Coalition was positive and enthusiastic. Many signed up for our bi-monthly Newsletter.

It seems that museum workers are aware of the urgency of meaningful action with respect to climate change and overwhelmingly agree that we should be part of moving forward as humanity faces this challenge – be it through education, mitigation, or adaptation.


A big thank you to the Ontario Museum Association for their tremendous support and encouragement and to the following Coalition members who helped make our booth possible – (in alphabetical order) Christine Castle, Megan Crawford, Elizabeth Doyle, Amy Hetherington, Christina Kerr, Melissa Smith, Barbara Soren, Julie Tomé, Douglas Worts

Photo by Sarah Jane Elliott

As a Museum Teacher at the Royal Ontario Museum, Julie Tomé shares her passion for all things science and history with young and old through school programs, camps, exhibitions, and special programs. Her career in science communication started 20 years ago at York University’s Allan I. Carswell Observatory, through which she is a co-host of the York Universe radio program.

Douglas Worts

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.

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