In April 2017 Happy Museum Director, Hilary Jennings, appeared via video at a Canadian Museums Association Panel – Beyond Rhetoric; Beyond Neutrality: Introducing Three Game Changers.   The moderator: was Robert R. Janes, FCMA and the other panelists were: Nika Collison, Haida Gwaii Museum at Kay Llnagaay; Beka Economopoulos, The Natural History Museum, Brooklyn, New York

The following is a brief summary of the content of the session – we will add presentations when available.

Robert Janes introduced the session by quoting Neil Postman, the American culture critic, wrote that

“a museum must be an argument with its society… a good museum always will direct attention to what is difficult and even painful to contemplate.”

Three seasoned museum professionals will approach this responsibility by presenting distinct examples of self-reflective museum practice that depart from traditional conventions while at the same time linking culture and nature — a profoundly important linkage essential to our collective well-being. Collectively they will offer strategies to assist museum professionals in how to “change the game.”Good afternoon and welcome. On behalf of our panel, I want to thank each of you for being here today. The theme of this conference is “Changing the Game”, and the conference program notes (quote):

What would Canada’s museums and galleries look like if we defied conventional wisdom, took greater risks in how we deliver, facilitate and select cultural stories, programming and content, and really changed our game? (end quote).

Please note the word “stories.”  We all agree that museums exist to tell stories—about people, communities and nations — but who is telling the story of the early twenty-first century? Corporations and governments are, but it is the story of ceaseless economic growth. Their rhetoric is agonizingly familiar and destructive, as author and activist David Korten clearly describes – consumption means happiness; economic inequality is unavoidable, and rampant environmental damage is regrettable. Although we know that this story is corrupt and false, it is the predominate story in our public lives and it defines our common future.  This story, however, is destroying the planet upon which we depend.

Humanity needs a new story. Museums need a new story.  We must move beyond the doomed economy of industrial growth to the recognition that the connection between individuals, communities, and nature is the key to our collective well-being. It is incumbent upon all museums to help envision and create this new narrative in partnership with their communities, and then deliver this story using their unique skills and perspectives.

With this in mind, we have assembled a panel of three game changers, all of whom are adept at reflecting on their work, defying conventional wisdom, taking risks, and telling a new story. And in keeping with the purpose and description of this particular panel, all of them are adept at creating their own arguments with society, and directing attention to what is difficult and often painful in their museum work.

These three game changers also have one other, most important, thing in common. Each of them has a profound and enduring respect for the natural world. Each of them fully understands and values the meaning of social ecology – that is – social and environmental issues are intertwined and both must be considered simultaneously. They also know that this is the critical linkage to our collective well-being.

I would now like to introduce our first game changer.

Nika Collison, is the Curator at the Haida Gwaii Museum (Saving Things House) at Kay Llnagaay on Haida Gwaii. Nika specializes in historic and contemporary Haida art and culture, and has served as a curator for almost 20 years, creating an impressive record of major exhibitions and publications. She is a senior negotiator for Haida repatriation initiatives and works on a global scale to build partnerships between the Haida Nation, museums, and the public. Nika is also the principal singer for a traditional Haida dance group. Nika….

Presentation to be added

I would now like to introduce our second game changer.

Beka Economopoulos is the Founding Director of The Natural History Museum, a mobile museum that highlights the socio-political forces that shape nature. Established in 2014, this museum was initiated by Not An Alternative, an art collective that specializes in cultural strategies for social change. Beka has 20 years of experience working in advocacy, education and communications. She was the Director of Online Organizing at Greenpeace, and the Director of Strategy at Fission Strategy, where clients included the United Nations Environment Programme. 


Presentation to be added

Our third and final game changer is Hilary Jennings. In keeping with her commitment to the well-being of the planet, Hilary declined to increase her carbon footprint by flying to Ottawa and, instead, will join us with a pre-recorded video presentation.  Hilary is the Director of The Happy Museum Project, which works with museums and their communities across the UK to build resilience through well-being and environmental sustainability. Hilary has worked extensively in the craft sector, including serving as Interim Chair of the Craft Industry Board. She is also a co-founder of the Case for Optimism –  a network which creates space for practitioners in the arts and cultural community to maximise their creative responses to global challenges. 

Hilary’s presentation by video as above

After a short discussion in a packed seminar room,  Robert concluded with a penetrating quote from the Millennium Project Team on the state of the future.

Humanity may be emerging from small-minded adolescence to planetary adulthood. We have been trying on roles of what it is to be Chinese or French, engineers or artists, for thousands of years, isolated into our own narrow beliefs of what we think to be true and right. Now it is time to grow up and become an adult planetary species…The stakes are too high to tolerate business as usual.

Or, more bluntly, in the words of Stephen Weil, the renown, museum scholar-practitioner:

Unless museums can and do play a role relative to the real problems of real people’s lives – then what is their point.

By presenting via video Happy Museum saved 1.58 metric tones of CO2 .  The cost of the flight and the time involved in making the trip was used instead to make the video.