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      Connected | May 23, 2022

      PEM and The Climate Museum lead the way in climate education with new exhibition

      Guest Contributor

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      Guest Contributor


      ABOVE IMAGE: The Climate Museum’s Climate Signals installation in New York City. Photo by Justin Brice Guariglia.

      In 2014 I left my job as a civil rights litigator, liquidated my retirement account, and moved into a donated office space to start the Climate Museum, the first climate-dedicated museum in the United States.

      Eight years later, it's a true honor to have partnered with the Peabody Essex Museum on the new exhibition Climate Action: Inspiring Change. Through this exhibition, PEM demonstrates profound leadership at the intersection of culture and climate, mobilizing the power of museum programming for good. As the climate crisis intensifies, the need for this type of leadership is immense.

      Anjali Mitra, The Seas are Rising, So Are We, 2020, Materials. Courtesy of Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs, Inc.

      We at the Climate Museum know — through studies and firsthand experience — that the public is hungry for more exhibitions and programming like this. The Climate Museum’s mission is to inspire action on the climate crisis with programming across the arts and sciences that deepens understanding, builds connections and advances just solutions. Sixty three percent of adults in the U.S. are potential climate protagonists — both worried about the climate crisis and not yet active on it.

      Anjali Mitra, The Seas are Rising, So Are We, 2020, Materials. Courtesy of Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs, Inc.

      Mobilizing people in this enormous demographic to take steps toward climate action and community building is the single most important thing we can do as cultural institutions.

      Museums like PEM also hold immense public trust and popularity. Research shows that the public perceives museums to be highly reliable sources of information, both in general and on climate. Their trustworthiness, and their broad, and remarkable, popularity make them a powerful tool for reshaping the public’s understanding of the climate crisis and catalyzing collective action. We’re also heartened by studies that show that asking visitors to take mission-consistent action enhances the immense public trust that museums hold. Climate Action is a phenomenal example of a museum mobilizing these superpowers for climate progress.

      Critical to climate progress, and to the Climate Museum’s theory of change, is that this sense of community in the museum sector should be seen as part of a broad renewal of the aspiration for different forms of “town square” – public spaces or commons accessible to all – now with an increased focus on justice and belonging. The climate crisis and the crisis of inequality are completely bound up with each other. The commons we are helping to revitalize must be based on principles of equity and inclusion.

      I became aware of the climate crisis as a crisis of inequality because of my background in the study of civil rights in the United States and the practice of social justice law. As a lawyer, I worked in close conjunction with activist organizations and movements, and that orientation has strongly shaped my work at the Climate Museum. Creating space for a civic community to develop is an essential component of the museum’s work.

      The exhibition Taking Action at The Climate Museum. Photo by Lisa Goulet
      The exhibition Taking Action at The Climate Museum. Photo by Lisa Goulet.

      We do this by convening people to learn and move together toward a brighter future through pathways that include interdisciplinary exhibitions, art installations, interactive panels, performances, science events, youth programs and more. Interdisciplinary arts programming is a fundamental pathway into climate engagement because of the intensely communal nature of the arts in human culture. Climate arts create a sense of connection, which fosters the very community we seek to build.

      Interdisciplinary arts programming we’ve presented has moved our audiences, and I’m certain the same will be true of PEM’s Climate Action. Our very first gallery exhibition, In Human Time, presented the work of artists Zaria Forman and Peggy Weil in partnership with Parsons School of Design, exploring ice loss, humanity and deep time. Visitors responded with resolve — “I feel the overwhelming necessity to do something… NOW,” one visitor responded — and a hunger for more: “Never has this made more sense than now — A hurricane Irma survivor.”

      We also present programming outside museum walls. Public installations and programs allow us to engage with local and diverse communities in a concerted way. Our citywide art installation in the fall of 2018, Climate Signals by artist Justin Brice Guariglia, activated public parks and plazas in all five boroughs of New York City. At an Ask A Scientist day, passersby most commonly asked one question: “What can I do?”

      The Climate Museum’s installation Climate Signals. Photo by Lisa Goulet.

      Our exhibition Taking Action provided an answer to that question. The exhibition intended to provide guidance and support on specific civic actions we can take together for climate progress. Taking Action mobilized tactile exhibits, maps, physical interactives, and a custom app to deepen understanding, strengthen connections, and create a wave of individual and collective action on the climate crisis. Through a sticker wall — each sticker representing one action — visitors could see collective action visualized, with their individual actions in concert with a whole wall of others.

      I hope the Climate Action exhibition at PEM will provide visitors with that same sense of empowerment, resolve and connection. I also hope that more museums will follow suit, addressing the climate crisis in their work. The integration of climate subjects into museums is essential and PEM is setting a shining example.

      Climate Action is on view in the Dotty Brown Art & Nature Center through June 25, 2023. The exhibition leverages creativity, science and participation to raise awareness about the underlying issues of climate change, focusing on known solutions, including Indigenous practices, to foster action. The goal is for each of us to move beyond our fear and feelings of helplessness and make informed choices to take positive steps forward.

      Miranda Massie

      Miranda Massie is the Climate Museum's Director. In 2014, she left a career in social justice law to start laying the groundwork for the museum. As a civil rights impact litigator, her honors include Fletcher Foundation, W.E.B. Dubois Institute, and Harvard Law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellowships, as well as a Mentorship-in-Residence at Yale Law School. She is currently a public voices fellow with the OpEd Project and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Her previous board service includes a Head Start organization for migrant farm families and the Center for Popular Democracy. Miranda holds a J.D. from New York University, an M.A. from Yale University, and B.A. from Cornell University. Her numerous guest teaching engagements include the Masters programs in Interaction Design at the School of Visual Arts, in Museum Studies at NYU, in Architecture and Landscape Architecture at RISD, and in Climate and Society at Columbia University. Miranda is active within several global coalitions focused on climate-oriented work in museums. She speaks frequently on the need to integrate programming on the climate crisis across the cultural sector.

      IMAGE ABOVE: Photo by David Noles.

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