Museums and Bioregionalism

Context of this piece

This provides some background to my response to Daniel Christian Wahl’s piece on Cultural Institutions and Regenerative Cultures. In this he outlines the role cultural institutions could play in transitioning the world to a fairer, healthier future and to heal damaged ecosystems. He asks three questions, inviting responses, which I am responding to. This is one of two posts in response, outlining a proposed change programme.

This work sits within our Climate Museum UK Activist Museum Award enquiry into how museums can move beyond Extractivist models of culture, to create Regenerative museums and more commons-based approaches to collecting.

In November 2019, I was invited by Diane Drubay to take part in the Museums Facing Extinction, a sprint event by We Are Museums and Climate-KIC at the Futurium in Berlin. Afterwards, I proposed the idea of a collaborative enquiry-based programme based on Bioregionalism and Regenerative Culture. The programme, outlined below, would aim to help transform museums on a global scale, building on their distinctive qualities so that, with their partners and communities, they can respond to the climate and ecological emergency in a proactive way.

Core components of the programme

· A working group or ‘think tank’ to shape principles/statements, consulting museum networks with international and environmental interests, to include heritage/museum representatives from Global South and indigenous communities. These principles can be based on Daniel’s Manifesto for a Regeneration Rising.

· A global online resource and campaign to include:

o Calls to action to take part in the enquiry

o Statement of core principles and an understanding of the planet’s Emergency, its causes, impacts and solutions.

o Mapping the range of museum/heritage/culture types, and sector networks/associations, and their stance or roles in response to the Emergency. It can use our Mapping Culture tool as a guide.

o A summary ‘decision guide’ to existing cultural sector environmental frameworks/protocols, ranging from simple one step actions (e.g. the Oil Sponsorship Free pledge) through to full spectrum action plans (e.g. Julie’s Bicycle Museums Environmental Framework). To include prompts for decision-making — to map each in relation to remit, values, assets, risk & impact.

o Accessible overview of principles of Bioregionalism and Regenerative Culture, as well as a systemic approach to the UN SDGs, the Earth Charter, Biomimicry principles, Transition Network, and Project Drawdown.

o Stories of projects that exemplify museums working with regenerative/bioregional principles in participatory ways with communities. Call out for existing examples, prompting for evidence on environmental & relational differences made.

· Collaborative enquiry projects, first prototyped through a series of design sprints then leading to some funded projects applied in places. These would use virtual tools to enhance international learning. As these projects are enacted, more case studies will be generated for the online resource.

Working assumptions for the programme

  1. There is potential to work at scale

That there are is enormous potential to work at scale, reaching 80,000 museums and countless heritage groups or trusts, worldwide, particularly if this involves existing associations and networks.

That ‘global working’ must necessarily include and foreground museums/heritage in the Global South and in indigenous land-defending communities, meaning that this proposal and all the components of any projects must be open to change as involvement is widened and resourced.

2. Bioregionalism and Regenerative Culture

That there is an opportunity gap to use Bioregionalism and Regenerative Culture ideas to accelerate an effective sector response to the Emergency. Bioregion is shorthand for ‘bio-cultural region’ and is rooted in the idea that cultures develop in relation to the natural ecosystems they inhabit. It is defined by characteristics of the natural environment rather than man-made divisions (e.g. nations). Bioregionalism allows change-makers to break down global issues to a local level, perhaps magnifying or adapting existing solutions practiced locally or elsewhere, creating accessible pathways for active involvement.

That working with the frame of Bioregions allows museums to work with ‘communities of expertise’ and ‘communities of locality’ to explore and apply creative solutions to issues such as poor health from processed diet/air pollution, climate-related crop failures, local resistance to renewable energy, deforestation & land-burning, a decline in local enterprise, or a dependence on imported food. They might use the assets of the museums to convene, educate and help people imagine and amplify Regenerative solutions. Many multi-solving benefits might arise, for example, providing new ecological products for the museum to sell, new economic models based on mutual exchange, renewable energy sources for the buildings, or ideas for changing the narratives of the museums.

As an added layer, the problem-solving teams in one locality might also share learning with teams in similar bioregions. These partners might be rooted in very different cultures or economies but share challenges such as being below sea level, at risk of forest fires, affected by snow/glacier decline, or adapting to rapid growth in urban density.

3. Extractive colonising culture

That the fundamental cause of the Emergency is an extractive colonising culture, which the museums & heritage sector has benefited from and has helped reproduce. That museums’ contribution to Extractive culture is on a spectrum, and that there is a long history of Regenerative cultural practice where eco-museums and eco-socially engaged arts have honoured and foregrounded indigenous and intangible heritage.

That case studies and new collaborative projects can show and teach the links between Extractivism, colonisation and threats/risks of environmental injustice, while also surfacing possibilities of Regenerative culture (from past practices or new innovations) and climate adaptation.

4. Distinctive qualities of museums

That museums offer distinctive qualities making them suitable to convene such practical enquiry projects. Museums offer places, resources, people and activities which:

· Promote the imagination — of the experiences of others and potential ways of living

· Surface the past — helping us learn from experience and past mistakes, and from Regenerative ways of living in the past

· Translate — enable crossings between cultures, disciplines, environments and times

· Open up dialogue — through narratives, questions and objects, so that these mediating factors reduce conflict but reveal nuanced difference

· Expand perspectives and horizons — enabling contextualised and multi-dimensional understanding of a situation

· Exemplify through material and practice — enabling learning by doing, and accelerated learning

· Care — for material and intangible culture, for more-than-human species, and for each other

That collaborative projects could enable more museums to reach their potential in these qualities, while also testing and demonstrating that these qualities can accelerate systemic change.

5. Multiple beneficiaries

That its global nature would extend benefits to museums and heritage workers everywhere (where online resources can be accessed), as well as those interested in informal education, environmental change and community organising.

That the design sprints to develop ideas for the projects would benefit the participants (museum staff/experts/community representatives) and that the learning would be shared with their colleagues and networks — and made transparent in the online resource.

That the collaborative projects in Bioregions would benefit the wellbeing of the ecosystems, local residents and future generations where effective solutions are applied, but at least would benefit the participants through learning and cross-discipline working that arises from the process.

6. Funding partnerships

That the upscaling (and up-skilling) can be made possible through funding partnerships with philanthropists looking for ways to invest in climate innovation and social justice.

That these funding partnerships should not include fossil fuel companies seeking social licence to continue extraction and pollution. Similarly problematic would be arms and tobacco companies, and the most unethically ranked of fast food/meat, palm oil, sugary drinks and fast fashion.

This programme proposal was shared with Climate-KIC, as they had invited ideas that needed funding.


Core principles of bioregionalism

Taken from

1. The world is made up of bioregions

2. Bioregions are the largest & most efficient sense of scale where connections based on place make sense

3. Bioregions are diverse

4. Bioregionalism connects people to indigenous ways of living

5. Culture stems from place

6. Bioregionalism builds identity

7. Bioregionalism acts locally, and connects globally

8. Bioregions are a framework for change

9. A bioregional movement is a gateway movement

10. Bioregionalism breaks down arbitrary boundaries

11. You are a bioregionalist whether you know it or not

12. Bioregionalism means building the world we want to see

13. Bioregionalism means building systems that are democratic and accountable

14. Bioregionalism builds out of the shell of the old.

See this map of bioregions worldwide.

And this article about how to define bioregions, and how culture is perhaps one of the better tools to define them.

The fields of Regenerative culture

Daniel Christian Wahl writes that people working on Regenerative cultures ask; “how can we collaborate in the creation of diverse regenerative cultures adapted to the unique biocultural conditions of place?”

There are particular strands of Regenerative culture e.g.

· Regenerative design and development; a focus on the built environment and human systems that are capable of co-evolving with nature

· Regenerative economics; bring economic theory and practice into alignment with understanding of how the universe, the planet and humanity actually work.

· Regenerative business explores how the concept of regeneration applies “to business strategy with an emphasis on: human potential, work systems, resilience and growth.” (Carol Sandford)

· Regenerative agriculture seeks to “provide food, water, clean air, a stable climate, biodiversity, good health, security and happiness.” (Commonland)

· There are also Regenerative Arts e.g. art that taps the imagination for greener futures, that experiments with restoring biodiversity, and communicates ways of living that co-evolve with nature.

Museums/heritage and environment networks

This list is not comprehensive. There are also many, 100s if not 1000s, of networks of practitioners, researchers and organisations in areas of Arts and Climate Action, Culture and Ecology, Sustainable Exhibitions, Creative Science Communication, and so on. This focuses on the museums and heritage sector, and networks with an international outlook. Please comment to tell us about others:

American Alliance of Museums’ Environment and Climate Network (formerly PIC Green Museum Network) is a collaborative and pro-active community working to establish museums as leaders in environmental stewardship and sustainability, and climate action.

Climate Heritage Network: international, heritage sector including museums & arts galvanising action for mitigation & adaptation with strong link to UN & ICOMOS. Seeded 2018 and launched October 2019 in Edinburgh.

Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice: based in Canada but with international intent and social media reach. Climate justice & inclusion. Formed Sept 2017.

Cultural Impact: German organisation for a strengthening of the social impact of cultural institutions & Museums

Culture Declares Emergency: UK-founded but with international declarers & subgroups. A community of cultural organisations & individuals declaring climate & ecological emergency. (Includes museums, and could include a subgroup of Museums Declare). Launched April 2019.

Eco-museums: a type of museum with some networks in areas where eco-museums are strong e.g. France & Canada. Knowledge sharing between small/independent museums. Long established.

Ecsite: International. Science centres & science museums in support of SDGs. Their Tokyo Protocol was agreed in 2017.

Gallery Climate Coalition The goal of the GCC is to facilitate a greener and more sustainable art world. Launched in 2020.

Green Culture: In the West Balkans. An international multi-sector platform in the Western Balkans that adopts sustainable measures and collaborates to find solutions to today’s most pressing economic, environmental and socio-political problems. The Creative Industries are the leaders of our mission. We connect four sectors, the Green Creative Sector, Green Business, Green Science and Green Philosophy, to take a main lead in finding sustainable solutions and communicating them to the wider public. By starting in small communities a ripple effect will unfold, sending the message throughout the region and beyond.

Happy Museums Project: UK-based but with intention for an international affiliate network. Museums for wellbeing of people, places & planet. Formed c.10 years ago

ICOM Sustainability Working Group: International. Considers the museums’ potential roles in cross-sectorial sustainability initiatives: through their collections, as information resources, as communicators, as educators, as facilitators, as activists and advocates, and as users of natural resources. Established September 2018.

Julies Bicycle Creative Climate Leadership programme: an international growing cohort of trained leaders. See recent outcome of a course. See also Season for Change

Ki Culture is a non-profit organization which provides sustainable solutions for the cultural heritage sector.

Museum Climate Collective Poland: Responding to the challenges posed by climate change, the Muzeum Śląskie cooperating with a curator from the POLIN Museum and with the support of the We Are Museums community, started to initiate in May 2019 a long-term action addressed at the local community of Katowice and the Silesian Region.

Museums & Climate Change Network: global, mostly in US and Australia. Museums, science centres & academics. Formed in 2013.

Museums For Future: Europe/international. Supporting climate strikes/Fridays for Future. Formed November 2019

National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation — NNOCCI: USA-wide, network of informal/cultural education, science institutes & climate communication

Sustainability in Conservation (SiC): an international NGO aimed at promoting sustainability and environmental awareness in conservation of cultural heritage and related fields. The group was founded in 2016 to support environmental responsibility, highlighting the duality of conserving the planet along with the art and heritage it contains.

We Are Museums: a community of museum changemakers for good of people and planet, powered by innovation. They run a programme called Museums Facing Extinction, and have virtual meet-ups on how museums can cope with and tackle crises including COVID-19 and climate breakdown.

We Are Still In: US/Alliance of American Museums, #MuseumsforParis, a programme created by Sustainable Museums, aligned with We Are Still In, to create the Cultural Institutions sector joining the other orgs/states/sectors declaring they were still in the Paris Agreement. Formed Spring 2018

If you feel moved to support me in my work as an unsalaried Regenerative Culture leader, you can make a donation here.



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Director of Flow & Climate Museum UK. Co-founder Culture Declares. Cultural consultant & researcher, artist-curator, educator.