Institute of Archaeology


Exploring the role of museums in tackling climate change

30 June 2021

Rodney Harrison (UCL Institute of Archaeology) is exhibition curator for Reimagining Museums for Climate Action, which has just opened in Glasgow.

Photograph by Stuart Wallace for Glasgow Science Centre

Reimagining Museums for Climate Action at the Glasgow Science Centre explores how museums and galleries can help create solutions to the climate crisis. The exhibition presents a range of new, creative ideas in response to the challenges of the climate emergency, with exhibits from all over the world, including the United States, Singapore, Brazil and the UK.

The showcase has been carefully curated by Rodney Harrison as well as Colin Sterling (University of Amsterdam) and Henry McGhie from the heritage consultancy Curating Tomorrow, in consultation with the Glasgow Science Centre. It is expected to remain in place until November, when Glasgow will host COP26, the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference.

According to Rodney:

In the lead up to COP26, as the world focuses on how to address the climate emergency, Reimagining Museums for Climate Action explores how museums, galleries and collections, broadly defined, might help the world to secure global net zero and adapt to protect communities and natural habitats. In doing so, it makes an important argument for the value of participatory arts, humanities and social science-based research in developing creative solutions to the climate crisis.” 

Reimagining Museums for Climate Action, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), began as a design and ideas competition, launched for International Museum Day last year. Responding to the two main pillars of climate action – mitigation and adaptation – the competition asked how museums could help society make the deep, transformative changes needed to achieve a net-zero or zero-carbon world, as well as addressing their own large carbon footprints. There were over 250 submissions from 48 countries, with proposals from architects, designers, activists, artists, student groups, academics, Indigenous communities and those already working within museums from across the globe.

Alongside this, for International Museum Day in May this year, the Reimagining Museums for Climate Action project team relaunched an expanded version of its website, which provides virtual access to the exhibition. The site is divided into three sections – Rethink, Reimagine and Mobilise. It also includes research material from the project team, a host of further submissions to the design and ideas competition, and key resources to inspire radical climate action. The site will be updated with even more material – including a museum toolkit and a book which expands on the exhibition concepts – in the run up to COP26.

As Rodney indicates:

The Museums for Climate Action website, alongside a forthcoming museum and climate action toolkit and publication, will provide a rich source of information and inspiration that can help museums, academics and the public at large to explore how they might be able to change to better support climate action.”

All resources will be freely available to download.

Screenshot from video installation, part of the Natural Futures Museum exhibit. Copyright: Denilson Baniwa

Rodney discusses this project, as well as his research on Heritage Futures, as part of a recent episode of BBC Radio 3’s Green Thinking programme on Heritage and Climate ChangeThe programme addresses a number of questions, including the role of museums and heritage organisations in the climate emergency, and should we stop cultural and historical landmarks from falling into the sea, or is it time to learn to say goodbye? Rodney and Caitlin DeSilvey (University of Exeter) highlight a range of issues from lost lighthouses to net-zero carbon museums, and their work on the shared project, Heritage Futures with presenter Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough (AHRC/BBC3 New Generation Thinker based at the University of Durham).

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  • Top image: Photograph by Stuart Wallace for Glasgow Science Centre
  • Bottom image: Screenshot from video installation, part of the Natural Futures Museum exhibit produced by People’s Palace Projects senior project manager, Thiago Jesus (UK) and filmmaker Takumã Kuikuro (Brazil) on display at Glasgow Science Centre as part of the Reimagining Museum for Climate Action exhibition. Copyright Denilson Baniwa