We Are Museums
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We Are Museums

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

The ‘Museums Facing Extinction’ pilot designed and supported by We Are Museums and EIT Climate-KIC was held in the Futurium in Berlin, Germany, from 21 to 24 November 2019. It provided a space for collaboration across fields of expertise with the collective aim of addressing the climate crisis.

Focusing around four (soon five!) action levels, each of the upcoming ‘Museums Facing Extinction’ events will respond to the challenges identified by the group within the different levels of museums actions. By compiling these practical solutions from each event, an ever-growing database of solutions for museums will be compiled and offered to the community to encourage further collaboration.

In this article, we will dive in one of the toolkits designed throughout the solution-design sprint format of the pilot event produced by the group self-named “The Gift”. They replied to the level of action ‘Your museum represents 80,000 worldwide — Aside from local specialization museums around the planet have similar goals and missions. It is our mission to enable museums to act and think as one museum as a global network.

A Community of Purpose

Following a series of inspiring provocations delivered by the participants, groups were formed to identify key themes or questions to be addressed. Through a natural process of discourse, result-sharing, re-grouping, rethinking and refining, three offerings to the museum's community were eventually drafted. The sprinted solution design produced early themes such as “museums in a local and global context”. They offered that museums should create links between institutions and the people around and be a
facilitator with the aim of creating a community of purpose. Concretely, they suggested that ‘Museums Facing Extinction’ could be ‘scaled-up’ in local communities, where current participants could act as ambassadors and recommended building a network which would provide guidance, additionally creating a list of doable actions regardless of a museum’s size. The idea of a network based on the principles put forth during ‘Museums Facing Extinction’ remained a theme that carried through all phases of solution creation. It also became a contentious subject at certain points of the process, as some participants began to question the usefulness of ‘another network,’ or wonder in which ways they could create something unique and more useful than other networks.

A Cohesive Global South+North Letter of Actions

A related theme also stimulated group discourse; the relationship between museums in the global south and north, and the unbalanced dichotomy between them. The group called for museums in the global south and north to create better connections with one another and (while acknowledging different resources and levels of development) create a cohesive letter of actions. They noted the importance of museums recognizing what other institutions made sense to reach out to and learn from. They also specifically mentioned that northern institutions should avoid, for example, having ownership over partnered projects via funding and that southern and northern museums wishing to cooperate should rather leverage other funding sources.

Towards a Community of Practice for more Efficiency

Lastly, while discussing the unique skills of museum workers and in which ways those skills could be applied to create a space for activism, the group agreed that the museum sector should be a community of practice and encouraged a willingness to share information and data about what does and does not work. This concept was foundational to the eventual offering related to the first ‘Museums Facing Extinction’ action-level.

Bridget Mckenzie (Founding Director, Climate Museum, United Kingdom) shared the first group’s results after the initial two hours of co-creation by offering ‘the gift that keeps on giving.’ She explained that the ‘gift’ would be given to the museum community and would encourage action throughout the sector. She identified the main components of the gift, including a selection of resources as well as a decision-making guide for institutions of all sizes. The decision-making guide was explained as a sort of matrix of protocols, networks, and example cases, allowing curious institutions to answer the question ‘what would happen if we made xy… changes?’

Additionally, the Gift would include a collaborative statement, collectivizing the intent and action of museums worldwide. Bridget mentioned that their greatest challenge had been avoiding the creation of a tangled mass of reflective practice and rather driving change through examples, assistance, and guidance. Annesofie Norn (Curator, UN Live Museum, Denmark) also stated that ‘we need to start with what we ourselves can do, rather than telling other institutions what to do.

Connect Museums Across Bioregions

Eventually, they conceptualized an entirely new way for museums to relate to one another and connect. Bridget went on to describe their idea to connect museums across bioregions with a positive and regenerative focus. This ambitious plan would be initiated by collective principles and a shared statement of purpose. Eventually, people would be invited to suggest projects, with the over-arching goal, as explained by Dr. Maike Weißpflug
(Political theorist and Researcher, Museum für Naturkunde, Germany), to change within the museum and therefore be a starting point for global change. Connecting across bioregions would allow for those changes to address questions which would have perhaps otherwise been ignored.

They also reflected on the ‘Use Your Voice’ Museums Facing Extinction action-level, when they suggested that a call to action at the political level should shine through their future projects.



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Diane Drubay

Founder of @wearemuseums. Co-founder of @alterhen. Arts & Culture for the Tezos ecosystem. Visual artist nudging for nature awareness.