#CACH week digest

28 03 2010

The week of awareness of Climate Action in Culture & Heritage is at an end. Considering I did very little but tell a few sympathetic people to tweet & blog, and tweeted a lot myself, it generated quite a lot of interest.

It started with Tate Modern’s Age of Stupid screening and then their Royal Society climate futures symposium. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend, so couldn’t amplify and report them, and there was only one tweeter, the stalwart Susan Poupard. Given that there don’t seem to be any papers published or media reports (though please send any you know of), I wonder what impact this event had. Are we becoming tired of symposia on how artists can work with scientists to tackle problems like climate change? Do we need to broaden and enrich the discussion? What is the wider educational legacy of all these gatherings of great minds?

One event that was a key reason for holding the week was cancelled so there were fewer events to report from than hoped. However, I did present at Museum-ID’s event on Greener Museums, along with Rachel Madan and others.

The week concluded appropriately with Earth Hour at 8.30 on Saturday so at least it was bookended nicely, starting with a hard reminder of how stupid we’ve been, ending in a positive global action.

Despite the reduction in event attendance, there was plenty of news to report, for example, the ‘neutrality’ issue regarding the Science Museum’s new climate science galleries.

Also, Axis, RSA Arts & Ecology and the Ashden Directory all wrote articles and tweeted about them for #CACH. They were:

‘Eco-bling‘ by Lucy Gibson on Axisweb

The thing we shouldn’t be asking artists to do‘ by William Shaw on RSA Arts & Ecology

‘When science meets art…successfully’ by Kellie Payne on the Ashden Directory

One thing I noted here was that we have three articles from some of the leading UK networks or initiatives on art and climate change/ecology. There are no ongoing bodies or networked initiatives, at least none which responded in the same way, and none of the same breadth, from the museums and heritage sector.

Of course there is a bit of local and specialised activity in museums and heritage, and some of that can be seen in the #CACH tweets.  Also, I hope that the CACH website and framework can start to fill that gap in pulling together culture and heritage on this issue.

One organisation that is trying hard to engage museums and galleries is the Visual Arts and Galleries Association. They are keen to support curators (in general). They used CACH to ask: What kind of ‘stuff’ would be useful for culture and heritage sectors in terms of climate action? Tools? Advice? Links? Seminars? That call out still stands so tweet (in 1st instance) Trevor Horsewood on @horsewoodcc or go to the VAGA website for more traditional contact details.

To finish with a few more highlights:

Tony Butler tweeted from a wellbeing & museums conference in Oslo and then from a conference of the Alde & the Ore Futures Project, which is looking at impacts of rising sea levels on all dimensions including heritage, tourism and the arts.

Tony also passed on some examples of coastal art projects such as Fly in the Face.

We published a guest post by Claire Adler on young people’s views on climate change and museums.

I learned that M-Shed (Bristol Museums) are working with Transition Bristol on involving the wider community in sustainable development. And, just in, here is a post by Tony Butler about how we can set up ‘transition museums’ or museums inspired by the Transition movement.

I learned that ACE restructuring means ‘letting go’ of their Arts & Ecology officer, John Hartley. However, he’ll not be letting go his interest in this and I look forward to seeing what he does next. I had a great conversation with him about the need to redefine the meaning of sustainability for the sector. I think that is a key next step for the taking forward the Framework for Climate Action.

And there was more…Please add a comment if you learned or did anything during the week, or if you have thoughts about what next.

Climate Science, Science Museum and the media

26 03 2010

If you Google ‘Science Museum climate change exhibition’ you get hundreds of results about two current articles in the Times and the Daily Mail. If Times Online had started charging £1 a day for its content today, as was announced in the news this morning, most of us wouldn’t have read their piece. That’s beside the point. The point is that the Times twisted the story, and the Daily Mail twisted it up further and chucked it in the gutter.

This is the story issued in a Science Museum press release. Though mainly I think the Museum deserves defending here, I could pick a few holes in this. My biggest hole is a big murky one, and that is the sponsorship by Shell. I heard from the Natural History Museum that Shell sponsorship had gone wrong for them, so it’s a mystery why the Science Museum accepted (or courted?) it. You’ll note that I link not to Shell’s corporate site but to Shell Facts, so you can get a quick rundown on why this might be an issue.

The second hole might be a hole that isn’t really there, that the exhibition purports to ‘answer questions’ and tell people about science, rather than overtly invite people to ask questions, discover, contribute, act and so on. Without knowing more about the interpretive approach in detail I wouldn’t like to judge on whether it will be more of a ‘telling’ or ‘active discovery’. To see what I mean by this more active approach you might look at Ontario Science Museum’s Challenge Zone. But I expect the exhibition will be lively, engaging and well-considered even if not radical in its educational approach.

The other hole is a bit more of a moth nibble, but still for me it ruins the cloth. I believe that the Science Museum should be developing an overarching public engagement strategy injecting ecology, climate science and future adaptation across its programmes and external channels. I believe this would be more effective and meaningful than a major climate science gallery. However, if any organisation is going to do climate science properly, it must be the Science Museum so I’ll pass a blind eye over that one.

The hole that Ben Webster at the Times found is, to me, quite invisible, in giving the title “Public scepticism prompts Science Museum to rename climate exhibition”. He suggested there was a shift from a propagandist position to one of neutrality. The Science Museum response, reported on a must-read blogpost by Climate Safety, and not at this time via any official press release, is that: “After laying out our intentions for the new climate science gallery, the term ‘neutral’ has been adopted in some articles in the press, which is not an accurate description of our approach.” And which continues to affirm that it would uphold the scientific consensus of anthropogenic climate change. [Since I wrote this post, the Science Museum has responded with a press release, clarifying their intentions more officially.]

I can hardly bring myself to give you the link to the Daily Mail interpretation of the story, which includes sleight of hand with Chris Rapley’s own words. But as it’s out there in the wild you may as well see it. This uses the story of the exhibition to remind us again of Glaciergate and the UEA hacked emails and to suggest that public scepticism is emerging as some kind of restoration of enlightenment.

Within moments of these articles being read online, there were tweets twisting other tweets, reporting that the Science Museum was doing a ‘climate sceptic’ exhibition. Now, hmmm, thinking about it that could work.  Or it could just be very wierd and confusing. Whatever stand is taken, sceptical, pro or neutral, and whatever those terms mean, it must involve exposure to science and allowing people to discuss and debate as much as possible.

Update on Sunday 28th March:

I just saw a post about this story on the Third Estate blog. It’s criticising the Science Museum for welcoming climate deniers and for aiming to ‘satisfy the interests and needs’ of people of all convictions on climate change. I commented on it, which you can read on that blog or here:

My own blogpost on this story takes a slightly different, still critical, view. An answer to your ‘why a second exhibition?’ is that the first was a small temp display to coincide with COP15 and the one announced is a major £4m permanent-ish programme, not just a new gallery. They haven’t changed tack. Chris Rapley is passionate about communicating the urgent threat of climate disruption and gets a huge amount of stick for using public money for that. The phrasing you’re critical of is unfortunate but I know that they mean by it to fulfil their duty to engage with the widest public. They must welcome everyone, people of varying convictions. Moreover, they’re keen not to preach to the converted but to engage everyone in the science. Rapley’s words have been unfairly twisted by the press accounts, as you can read in my blogpost.

Greener Museums

25 03 2010

I led a session yesterday at a day by Museum ID all about Greener Museums. My session was about the role of museums & heritage in working with communities and learners to tackle and cope with climate change. The discussion for the day is being continued in a Greener Museums group on the Museum ID Ning network. I don’t have time to do the all the other speakers justice in this post, but I did tweet some highlights and you can see their presentations on the Greener Museums group page.

I might have been a little bit provocative (in a nice way of course). Beneath my argument was a strong concern about the UK’s action on climate. If we base our plans on IPCC projections, that is no kind of risk-based planning, because the IPCC was way too conservative, not accounting for polar melting or  methane emissions. If we focus on controlling UK emissions, we are not acknowleding that we outsource our emissions (we are the biggest outsourcer in Europe and the third in the world after USA & Japan). In the cultural and heritage sectors, if we focus our efforts on controlling carbon emissions (even with broader efforts such as looking at waste & food & tree-planting and persuading others to live greener), or in other words on mitigation efforts, we are still not addressing the far bigger challenge, which is adaptation.

The major contribution of the culture & heritage sectors, compared to most others, is not so much in reducing their own emissions and modelling green practices, but in finding alternative ways to preserve and sustain culture and heritage as places and communities are threatened, and in nurturing people who are more resilient and creative. This means: Making culture & heritage as accessible as possible for the fast exchange of knowledge; Prioritising learning programmes, making them as participatory and active as possible; contribute to the human and cultural challenges of coping with disasters.

The discussion was really interesting: One of the things we agreed is that climate education by museums should be stealthy, integrated, broad and creative. We wondered if we should stop doing climate change exhibitions because it just scares people, puts them off and makes them unlikely to shift to a green lifestyle. I think it is appropriate for some contexts, for example, for the Science Museum, to address climate science in depth with its planned Climate Science galleries. Given that this will produce online learning resources and so on, it would be sensible for other museums to develop programmes that suit their collections and expertise.

Cube Gallery hosts event in #CACH week

21 03 2010

Cube Gallery in Manchester is hosting an event called Brighter Futures on Tuesday 23rd March, 6.30-8.30

The North West Construction Knowledge Hub will mark the launch of CUBE’s ‘Brighter Futures’ exhibition by hosting a debate on low-energy lighting, chaired by Granada television presenter Fred Talbot. The event will explore green lighting options and new lighting technologies; in particular solid state lighting, whilst highlighting the potential energy savings and significant reduction of carbon emissions. Although there will be a panel of guests sharing their knowledge and opinion on low-energy lighting… it will be a lively discussion with plenty of audience participation.

Guests include:

local building contractor Simon Riley-Kershaw
property developer Sian Astley
interior designer Natalie Gray from NoChintz
lighting designer Brendan Keely of BDP
and lighting manufacturer Paul Stephenson


Museums, young people and sustainability

20 03 2010

Introducing a first guest post from Claire Adler, Heritage Learning Consultant. She has drawn this from her work with Kent Museums Youth Forums, an examination of how museums in Kent could address the issues of sustainability and global warming:

‘This generation had their turn’ and ‘you screwed it up’.

Simple, concise and straight to the point; this is the view of a group of 15 and 16 year old boys who attended the Kent Museums Youth Forums when asked about sustainability and global warming.  This group understood that although their parents’ generation has caused many of the problems of global warming (somehow their grandparents were absolved of all responsibility) it is going to be theirs, and their children’s, responsibility to solve or live with the results.  They were aware that however much museums want to address the issues of sustainability and global warming they need to do so by targeting their parents rather than them as ‘they [our parents] are paying the taxes which will help solve the problems’ and will be choosing who comes to power and which policies are brought with them.

The two groups of teenagers that were involved in the Kent Museums Youth Forums were aware of the issues that had caused global warming and were getting most of their information from the TV and school – through the Religious Education, Geography and Citizenship Curricula – interestingly they do not seem to think they are finding out about it through the Science Curriculum.  What is more worrying is that a lot of the participants had an uncritical view of how multi-national companies, such as EDF and Shell, are presenting themselves as ‘eco-friendly’ through their TV advertisements.  Does this raise a bigger issue about how teenagers are taught in school? Has the critical imperative of youth to challenge authority and media been diluted?

If museums are to engage young people in the issues of sustainability, they want the museums to contextualise the issues and solutions in exhibitions and events that resonate with their lives; whether it is through the 2012 Olympics and the recycling of materials used in the production of the venues, or the big news stories of how climate change has caused the rise in piracy in Somalia.  When this generation become tax payers they will need this knowledge to assess the historical and contemporary context of these issues to influence local, regional and national policy.  Museums are one of the many places that have a responsibility to contextualise the issues of global warming and sustainability and also offer solutions for the future for both young people and their parents.

E: claireadler@btinternet.com W: www.claireadler.co.uk

Public information or propaganda?

18 03 2010

The ASA has ruled on nearly 1000 complaints in response to DECC’s adverts about climate change . This is of interest to the cultural & heritage sector, for example, in the light of criticism of the Science Museum’s Prove It exhibition about climate change in the run up to Copenhagen. The ASA code is to allow adverts that provide a public information service but not political ads that aim to influence opinion on a matter of public controversy.

I’ve already seen lots of reports of the ruling that suggest that DECC & Ed Miliband have been rebuked, that ads have been banned, suggesting that the complainants got their way. However, Miliband’s response to the ruling makes it clear that the ads are allowable as a public service: “The ASA has comprehensively vindicated the accuracy of the TV advert we made and rebuffed those who attempted to use the advertising standards process to question the reality of manmade climate change.”

On an aside, I’m bothered by the fact that the DECC messages, based on the IPCC report, are misleadingly conservative in their estimation of the threats of climate change. Yes, the adverts might have been unsettling and I wasn’t too impressed by their use of children and nursery rhymes. But, overall, the public information we receive via DECC and the BBC is inadequate. The BBC coverage of Climategate, for example, has focused on the relatively insignificant Himalayan glacier mistake without referring to the IPCC failure to base predictions on polar melting and methane emissions from permafrost.

The main reason for highlighting this advertising issue is to raise some questions about the role of museums in providing a public information service. I strongly feel that the value of cultural & heritage organisations is that our modes of engagement are less about broadcast and more about participation. People trust our expertise but also feel that they can ruminate, challenge, investigate for themselves. Rather than advertise we provide stimuli, ask questions and offer spaces for people to explore ideas and solutions. Although the Prove It exhibition was criticised by climate skeptics, it was overtly an invitation to investigate evidence and decide for yourself.

I wonder what the MLA sector could have achieved if DECC had given them £6 million (the cost of this advertising campaign) to engage audiences around climate change. Maybe we should collaborate on a pitch to DECC? If so, what would we propose to do?

First #CACH event is at Tate

12 03 2010

Tate and the Royal Society collaborate to bring together scientists and artists to imagine the social and psychological impacts of climate change.

The event begins on Friday 19 March at 18.30 with a screening of drama-documentary The Age of Stupid (2009), which is followed by a discussion.

Tate Modern is holding a symposium in collaboration with the Royal Society next weekend (19-20 March) about Rising to the Climate Challenge: Artists and Scientists Imagine Tomorrow’s World.

Here’s their description: “Presentations, panel discussions and a public forum following a series of break up sessions where the audience will have the opportunity to formulate propositions and questions to the speakers with the help of a group of facilitators. Speakers in the symposium include: Professor Brian Hoskins, Lucy Orta, Robert Bloomfield, Natural History Museum, Coordinator of International Year of Diversity-UK, Tomás Saraceno, Professor Steve Rayner, Agnes Denes and Professor Corinne Le Queré.”

Frustratingly I can’t go as I’m showing my photographs in an open weekend. But, it will be the first event in #CACH week, Climate Action in Culture & Heritage. It would be fantastic to see lots of blogging, tweeting and other kinds of web chat from the event, using the #CACH tag.


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