Children’s Museums and the Climate Crisis

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On September 20, in support of youth voices and in recognition of the challenges our society faces, ACM shared the ACM Climate Crisis and Resiliency Task Force Statement, with a preliminary draft action plan. This statement is the latest in a suite of work from the ACM Board of Directors’ Climate Crisis and Resiliency Task Force, first launched in February 2019.

As a next step, ACM hosted a leadership call on October 10 to engage children’s museum staff from across ACM’s membership in discussing how our field can mobilize around the climate crisis.

To start the call, we considered the question of “Why us, why now?” As ACM Executive Director Laura Huerta Migus explained, our conversations are grounded in ACM’s Strategic Roadmap, anchored by our vision of a world that honors all children and respects the diverse ways in which they learn and develop. Climate is a global issue affecting the lives of the children we serve, and the operations of our member institutions. In fact, ACM has been called to respond to concrete examples of climate crises, as seen through the mobilization of the ACM Disaster Relief Fund in recent years.

Next, we polled the participants on the call, asking them, “What is the most top of mind issue around climate and resilience for your museum?” Respondents overwhelmingly answered, “How to increase public awareness/education on climate change.”

These results highlighted another motivator to initiate the Climate Change Task Force: the growing youth movement around the climate crisis, including the recent Global Youth Climate Strikes. Brenda Baker, Vice President – Initiatives of the ACM Board of Directors, noted the importance of lifting youth voices as an association dedicated to children’s museums. She advocated that our field consider how to amplify youth voices, and rethink the ways we position ourselves in our communities as a result.

As a way of illustrating the ways museums are already taking action on the climate crisis, several members of the ACM Board Task Force presented the work their museums are currently doing.

Brenda Baker shared Madison Children’s Museum’s two new exhibits, Forces of Nature (about alternative energy) and My Planet, My Future (about reinforcing environmental stewardship), the latest in twenty-five years of environmental work from the museum.

Joe Cox from the Museum of Discovery and Science noted that his museum frames its work by asking, “What are the skills we can give children so they can thrive in a new world?” This attitude is seen in projects such as Aptitude, a workforce development program that encouraged students to develop an app on Climate Change and Coral Reefs.

Lara Litchfield Kimber described how Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum is building in climate education into the museum’s ongoing expansion project. The forthcoming Mid-Hudson Science Center will have a dedicated gallery to climate science and clean energy.

Tifferney White described a large suite of climate science work done at Discovery Place Science, including the Explore More Life exhibition dedicated to biodiversity and sustainability. The new Discovery Place Nature will also be organized with the big idea of moving people from reflection to transformation around climate.  

Next, Laura asked the Task Force to weigh in on an important question: how can our field handle the challenges of addressing the climate crisis? Brenda noted that we need to act more quickly and more boldly, and that our field must work to share resources. Joe added, “There’s so much to learn and so much to do, we need to work together to have solid solutions.” Lara and Tifferney both noted the issue of urgency, acknowledging the challenges of conveying a state of urgency. Both Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum and Discovery Place are using growth projects as an opportunity to spark these conversations at the community level.

Next, Brenda shared the Task Force’s ACM Climate Crisis and Resiliency Task Force Statement and Action Plan in more detail. In the preliminary action plan, the Task Force identified five “areas of influence” where children’s museums are poised to create change: Programmatic Experiences, Alliances and Advocacy, Documentation and Research, Outreach, and Association Infrastructure. The first two areas, Programmatic Experiences and Alliances and Advocacy, provide opportunities for ACM member engagement around creating collective action and elevating youth voice. Documentation and Research outlines what the field has already done, what we’re doing currently, and future best practices and actions. Outreach is about understanding larger trends within both the museum and sustainability fields. Association Infrastructure looks at how ACM can update its operations to proactively respond to climate change.

Following the action plan, webinar participants engaged in a lively discussion, guided by two sets of questions:

  1. How have you been able to make the climate crisis a strategic priority? / What are the challenges your museum faces in making the climate crisis a strategic priority?
  2. What resources have you leveraged to convey the urgency of climate change to your community? / What resources would help your museum convey the urgency of climate change to your community?

Over the next six months, the Task Force will continue to grapple with these questions, in collaboration with engaged ACM members, to expand upon this preliminary action plan. Ultimately, a final draft will be presented to the children’s museum field during ACM’s upcoming conference, InterActivity 2020: PLAY The Long Game, in St. Louis from May 5-8.

Click here to watch a recording of the presentation, and here to download the slides. Interested in joining the conversation? Join the ACM Climate Crisis Community on ACM Groupsite.

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.