Museums acting locally, thinking globally

Today’s Guest Post is by Peter Ord, Executive Director of the Bateman Foundation and Robert Bateman Centre in Victoria, BC, Canada.

The frequently used phrase ‘Think Global, Act Local’ has been a popular rallying cry for community activists and planners over the years.  Hoping to engage local populations in domestic issues that have a worldwide resonance, the phrase attempts to make real any concepts and principles that seem disconnected from the public’s day to day lives. First attributed to Scottish social activist and planner Patrick Geddes in 1915, in support of his book Cities in Evolution, the phrase ‘Think Global, Act Local’ has never had a more relevant connection than today when communities are figuring out how to combat the global impact of climate change.

First Ministers meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau. Montreal Dec 2018. Courtesy Canadian Press
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the first session of the first ministers meeting flanked by Ontario Premier Doug Ford, intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Quebec Premier Francois Legault in Montreal on Friday, December 7, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

For museum professionals, the call to act locally seems to have particular resonance in light of the political changes occurring at the federal and provincial levels. Sudden changes to political leadership, the realignment of national or provincial policies, political gamesmanship between national and provincial leaders, and petty interprovincial disputes seem to cloud the role political leaders can play to win public hearts and minds for addressing climate change activities on the ground.

So what of leadership at the municipal level?

Can museum professionals rely on their local politicians to provide direction when representing climate change and sustainability themes? If we look at the breakdown of public funding for cultural & heritage organizations (like museums, galleries, science centres, archives and heritage sites) the contribution made by local government should make these organizations consider the issues at their own doorstep.

Of the $1.3 billion in 2015 funding that all levels of government made to all heritage organisations in Canada, 19% came from local government, compared to 42% from provincial and 38% from federal governments (see Government of Canada Survey of Heritage Institutions, 2017. For small and medium sized museums outside of large metropolitan centres, I suspect the proportion from local government is higher, especially when including in-kind assistance.

City Hall

At the same time, local municipalities have their own challenges trying to implement and adopt greenhouse gas emission targets while also carrying out public information campaigns. For museums and galleries, this offers an opportunity to engage their publics in a much more direct manner, to bring the global complexities of climate change down to the local level. The opportunity to network with local voices in the interest of environmental sustainability seems much easier than trying to represent national or provincial issues that change too frequently, or are too broad for much of the population to relate to.

How to get started?

Speaking directly to municipal councils and city staff is the most obvious strategy, especially if a particular city department has adopted a climate change charter, like the Climate Change office at the City of Guelph or the Department of Environment & Sustainability at the City of New Westminster.

Conversation for a One Planet Region

Another approach is finding representation in a community initiative or advocacy group in order to maintain an arm’s length relationship with the local government. In my community of Victoria BC, a large number of environmental, cultural and educational NGO’s have come together under an alliance called Conversation for a One Planet Region. The conversation was born after University of Victoria professor Dr. Trevor Hancock brought together a group to explore the impact and dimensions of the Anthropocene on world sustainability. The group’s mission became

advocating for the Greater Victoria Region to achieve social and ecological sustainability, with a high quality of life and a long life in good health for all its citizens, while reducing its ecological footprint to be equivalent to one planet’s worth of bio capacity.

Conversation for One Planet

Sharing this concept of living within one planet ecological footprint (and not one and half planets as the industrial west is presently doing) offers a much more engaging,as well as potentially more creative, approach to convincing the public to think globally. Sometimes changing the direction of a conversation is all that is needed to find new audiences.

Peter Ord is Executive Director of the Bateman Foundation and Robert Bateman Centre in Victoria, BC, Canada. Peter has been a member of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice Advisory Group since Nov 2017.

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