By: Emily Johnsen, Stephanie Shapiro, & Sarah Sutton, of AAM’s Environment & Climate Network
How great is the museum field’s impact on the United States? Greater than you may realize: the American Alliance of Museums (AAM 2017) tells us there are about 35,000 museums and historic sites in the United States, contributing $50 billion in USD to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), including $6 billion USD to trade, transportation, and utilities.
In our economic and carbon footprints, and through that public trust, we find our responsibility and public authority to significantly impact climate change.
The best current research, and much experience, tells us that aligned efforts, consistent support, and cooperative practice is what helps create change on a scale that has substantial and necessary impact. Zoos, gardens, aquariums, museums and historic sites of all sizes have the ability to develop coordinated, collaborative efforts to make environmentally sustainable behaviors and practices a priority in our institutions and in our communities. We have the opportunity now to leverage our capacity to create and scale that change through We Are Still In (WASI).
Cultural institutions are joining WASI to build their skills and knowledge in sustainability and resilience, and to collaborate with each other and across sectors. Cultural institutions are part of solutions to bigger problems in their communities: climate resilience, social equity, just transitions, reduced environmental impacts and more. Through WASI, we find our opportunity to be that change.
As of April 2018, cultural institutions are a formal sector of the WASI coalition – the world’s largest gathering of “sub-national actors” committed to the goals of the Paris Agreement. We are aligning the significant abilities, resources, and influence of our sector, with the work and resources of other sectors, to address challenges and opportunities associated with environmental sustainability and a changing climate for the benefit of us all.
AAM endorses participation in WASI (Museum, July/August 2018), and the Environment & Climate Network’s WASI team is working hard to encourage wide participation. California institutions, including Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, California Academy of Sciences, and Monterey Bay Aquarium have joined, as have state and regional museum associations.
The focus of our work is much more than reducing carbon; it is how to use education, research, and communications to mobilize collaborative and collective action, from every sector, to pursue an inclusive agenda for significant environmental impact. These impacts are research-based commitments to benefit the planet through the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the Paris Agreement. Institutions choose their own paths, according to their own missions, to tackle important causes in their community and on behalf of the planet’s populations.
WASI is made up of 23 organizations, including Bloomberg Philanthropies, Ceres, Climate Nexus, Environmental Defense Fund, Rocky Mountain Institute, Second Nature, Sierra Club, Sustainable Museums, The Climate Group, We Mean Business, and World Wildlife Fund. The Secretariat, made up of World Wildlife Fund, Ceres, and Climate Nexus, manages the day-to-day operations. The leadership team, made up of point people from each sector, coordinates the participation of the more than 2,800 signatories from higher education, faith organizations, health care, business and investors, state and tribes, and cities and counties. Sarah Sutton is the Sector Leader for Cultural Institutions. That means we have a knowledge and power pipeline that runs from our sector to six others already doing this work and looking for collaborative partners.
Through WASI, cultural institutions:
It is complex work and a heavy lift to develop mitigation and adaptation responses that protect our 35,000+ sites and museums and their resources, and to respond to new regulations. On their own, site staff cannot discover and implement responses to a wide array of new challenges while also fulfilling their day-to-day responsibilities. It is only through cooperative efforts that any sector can adequately deal with these multifaceted challenges.
Other sectors have knowledge and resources that we need. Cultural institutions have subject matter expertise, trust as an information resource, public engagement bandwidth, and communication skills that other sectors need. The cultural institutions sector strengthens WASI by leveraging sites’ resources and participation in community-based and other cooperative initiatives. WASI strengthens the cultural institutions’ sector by highlighting sites’ and museums’ economic value, knowledge resources, and public engagement capacity for environmental and climate response through mission-based activities. WASI also strengthens individual cultural institutions by sharing resources and expertise to advance environmental sustainability and climate responses, and by being the conduit for multi-sector cooperative initiatives. WASI can be a gateway to potential projects ranging from community energy production, to cooperative green infrastructure development and funding, and to joint research projects with schools and universities, or product development in investors and businesses.
Next month, the world is coming to California for the Global Climate Action Summit, an international gathering of heads of state and their sustainability teams to discuss advancing each nation’s commitments. Sarah Sutton, lead of the WASI Cultural Institutions sector will be there, as will a number of cultural institution signatories. They will share what they learn about the national effort to create collaborative paths to significant environmental impact – and make sure that museums, zoos, gardens, aquariums, and historic sites can benefit from and add value to that important work.
Please consider attending one of our weekly Zoom sessions to introduce you to WASI, explore how to sign up, and hear about the commitments you can choose or set for yourself. You can sign on at any time, and add or change your commitments at any time. What matters is that you see where you can start, and you can begin by attending one of our weekly Zoom sessions, with more to be listed on the AAM website each month.
The California Association of Museums and its members have led in this way before with the Green Museums Initiative and the Ignite conversations. We are grateful that Celeste DeWald (Executive Director, CAM) and Michaeleen Gallagher (CAM Green Museums Initiative Committee Co-Chair; Director of Education and Environmental Programs Annenberg Foundation Trust @ Sunnylands) and are continuing to create space for conversations about new phases of this work. We on the WASI team seek to help the field reach beyond its borders for the greater good, and hope that you will help us keep up that momentum.
The changes that our human world need most are all related to climate change. If humans address the causes and opportunities of that changing climate, we can build a safer and more just, healthy, and eventually, peaceful world. Museums have both a limitless value in building that world, and a shared responsibility to do so.
Growing up undocumented in a working class, mixed-status family, questions of injustice were often on my mind, as was the perceived pressure to pursue a career that would make my parents’ sacrifices worth it. When I began my undergraduate education, I naturally chose Political Science as my major—I dreamt initially of going on to law school, defending and supporting my parents and somehow, through my success, proving myself worthy of citizenship. In my many classes on constitutional law and political theory, however, I felt isolated from my peers whose relationship to the bureaucracy of the legal system was different from mine and who felt safer talking about their experiences than I could.
In my third year of college, I began interning at the Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG), a political poster archive that approaches materials in the collection as historical documents and works of art. It was a stroke of luck that lead me there, a mixture of pending major requirements, astrological guidance, and a quick search for the word “political” on my school’s Career Center website. I didn’t know what an archive was and didn’t understand words in the job description like “cataloguing” or “preservation.” The organization’s website, however, advertised an upcoming exhibition titled No Human Being is Illegal using Yolanda Lopez’s well-known artwork, “Who’s the Illegal Alien, Pilgrim?” I had never heard my humanity defended in such a beautiful and assertive way, and Lopez’s defiant mix of anger and humor transcended immigration narratives I was used to. Despite my confusion around what the work entailed, I was allured by the images and applied.
“Bigger Than Any Border,” Julio Salgado
Once the archival internship began, I quickly fell in love with CSPG’s collection of social movement prints and posters. Through the task of cataloguing the collection, I became exposed to migrant artists documenting their own existence as well as that of dynamic grassroots movements for change. The first time I came across Julio Salgado’s artwork, I felt empowered by his colorful characters who boldly exclaimed, “Undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic!” and “No Sir, I will NOT show you my papers.” Through these vibrant and seductive artworks, I learned about immigrant communities actively resisting xenophobic policies like Arizona’s SB1070 and the Secure Communities program. By showing that others like me were openly fighting to defend our humanity, the artwork allowed me to overcome feelings of shame and isolation.
Learning the practice and theory of archiving was life changing, especially because the posters I worked with provided alternative realities to me for the first time. In addition to teaching me more about my own identities, the collection exposed me to struggles for justice all over the world, from Zapatistas in Chiapas to Palestinians in Gaza and beyond. The artwork documented an intimate side of political history I’d never learned about in my classes, one where organized groups of people challenge their oppressors and win. For someone of undocumented status, documenting these victories was a new and radical possibility that changed my personal, political, and professional trajectory.
About the Author/CAM Fellow:
Karen Limón Corrales received her B.A. in Political Science and English Literature at California State University, Long Beach. She was a Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern in 2014 at the Center for the Study of Political Graphics and has since worked at various museums in communications, education, and visitor engagement. She currently works at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
By Michaeleen Gallagher, GMI Committee Member, CAM Board Member, and CAM Past President
As California continues to lead in areas related to environmental accountability, the state’s museum community will also see new legislation and regulations that affect our operational practices. CAM’s Government Relations Committee already reviews bills that may affect museums overall. Moving forward, CAM’s Green Museums Initiative Committee (GMI) will also be looking at legislation that affects museum operations with a focus on how they relate to sustainability and the environment.
GMI will utilize CAM’s blog as a platform to share this information as well as engage in other discussions on green programming and environmental accountability in California museums. As this collaborative model progresses, we hope to increase our cross-committee approach to expand the scope of perspectives and bolster the work of all of CAM’s committees.
In this first blog post, we will highlight AB 802, a bill passed in 2015 that goes into effect on June 1, 2018. AB 802 specifically addresses benchmarking energy use and is intended to provide building owners and stakeholders with information about their building’s energy performance. In the U.S., twenty-four cities and one county are already requiring this type of annual energy benchmarking. The data provided through the benchmarking process helps utilities and governments identify areas of need when designing programs that provide financing, technical expertise, and training.
According to the California Energy Commissions (CEC), the information can also inform real estate investment decisions. Museums can take this opportunity to show leadership in operational practices, allowing us to highlight areas where we are already providing sustainable models. According to the CEC, it may also open funding opportunities and expertise partnerships to achieve increased energy efficiency and share those successes.
Note: It’s important to understand that although the bill refers to “commercial buildings,” in our conversations with the CEC, this designation is a general definition and will include museums. Eventually the regulations will include all commercial and multi-unit residential buildings in California.
How does AB 802 affect institutions in 2018?
“AB 802 requires that utilities provide whole building, aggregated energy use data to owners of commercial and multifamily residential buildings upon request, and requires that owners of buildings larger than 50,000 square feet report their buildings’ energy use to the California Energy Commission by June 1 each year.” – CEC
Institutions that meet ALL of the following criteria are included in the 2018 reporting:
What is the responsibility of the utilities?
What is the responsibility of the building owners that meet the three requirements listed above?
How do institutions report energy data and how is it used?
Who will be included beginning in 2019?
Additional information can be found at www.energy.ca.gov/benchmarking/.
Museums that are not currently required to participate can still opt-in by voluntarily reporting their energy data with the EPA’s Energy Star platform. This will offer those institutions the opportunity to see where their buildings rate in relation to other institutions and building types. This can help inform operational decisions that improve your energy use.
CAM’s GMI Committee will continue to monitor trends and practices that can be shared through this blog. Please stay tuned!
Michaeleen Gallagher has a B.A. in Art History and a M.S. in Evironmental Policy & Management. She has developed curriculum and programming at the Reuben H. Fleet Science and Technology Center in San Diego, The Living Desert in Palm Desert, and the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in North Carolina. She spent three years teaching in Japan, has been a symposium speaker for wildlife organizations in NC and VA; and has two published teacher guides for the IMAX™ films, The Magic of Flight and Everest, and in 2014 published the book Art & Nature: The Gardens of Sunnylands. She is now the Director of Education & Environmental Programs at Sunnylands, developing science, art programming, and sustainability policies.