What role for museums in challenging climate change

Credit: Harrison Moore

On July 29 and 30, 2021 (in the International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development), the G20 of Culture, an international assembly that has brought together the world’s 20 largest economies (as well as 40 invited delegations) since 2008, was held in Rome. This meeting was an opportunity to bring back to the international table the key importance of Culture as an engine of development and regeneration, including post-pandemic recovery.

The event was the culmination of a multi-year effort that resulted in the Declaration of Rome, a policy document that set forth fundamental principles and related policies and lines of action taken by the world’s leading industrialized countries for the growth of the cultural sector globally.

Focus point 3: Actions to address climate change.

Culture has been understood as a powerful tool for triggering social practices aimed at improving the future of the planet, strengthening the sense of social inclusion and sustainability, through the incorporation in cultural policies of actions for climate improvement, the promotion of international design and cooperation at the scientific level (with the aim of helping to identify principles and international standards for environmental and heritage conservation and protection).

From Declaration to Action!

Of the 32 lines of action identified by the Commission, which correspond to actions related to the 5 founding principles, only 3 are dedicated to the issue of climate change. In general, the Declaration provides guidelines that need to be translated into policy-making formulas and operational actions to be applied starting from the national territorial level down to the local level to touch individual organizations.

Museums driving change

Let us then analyze some examples of initiatives organized by Italian museums that represent good practical examples of how cultural institutions can act as facilitators and activators of a common consciousness with respect to climate change.

Polo del 900 Torino. The Winds of the Environment – is a program of events in continuity with the project Sustainable (in)Worlds (2019-2020). It intends to address issues related to climate change and environmental challenges, with a focus on sustainability. Among the various collaborations, the one with Nesta – a British social innovation agency – aims to investigate the relationship between art and science in relation to climate change, while the one with DIATI – the Department of Environmental Engineering and Territory of the Polytechnic University of Turin – will materialize in the thematic meeting series “Conversations in the Library.”

Museo del Novecento Firenze. The Wall – Sustainable Thinking Evolution – is located on the ground floor of the museum: it is 12 meters of continuously updated “vertical” narrative, in which events, cultural phenomena, and architecture are shown, constituting tales of how the relationship between man and nature, the basis of the concept of sustainability, has been transformed over the centuries. The focus is on innovations in the field of building materials and architecture.

Museum of Natural History Verona. Everyday Climate Change. Photographing Climate Change – Between Oct. 6, 2018 and Jan. 13, 2019, the museum hosted an exhibition produced in collaboration with the Scavi Scaligeri International Center of Photography in which 70 photographs and a documentary-short film were presented, all centered on the theme of climate change, interpreted by the expert and attentive eye of 27 world-renowned photographers. In addition to dedicated lectures and events, there was also a section devoted to the studies and research of the Natural History Museum.

MAXXI Rome. DataMeditation. A Meditation for the Environment is a workshop brainchild of artists Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico that focuses on a technology-mediated meditation practice. Participants can learn to generate data in an autobiographical mode to understand their relationship to climate change, the habitat in which we live, and society. The data generated, visualized and sonified to create a sensory experience in an anonymous and aggregated form, will be transformed into a participatory work displayed in the museum.

MANN Naples. Understanding Climate Change-the National Archaeological Museum of Naples in collaboration with National Geographic has organized an immersive exhibition between October 2019 and August 2020 to delve into the causes and effects of global warming. An experiential journey to understand how the Earth has been transformed by climate-related disasters and hardships. The exhibition was also an invitation to reflect on how everyone*s daily gestures can help reduce risks in the future.

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