Reminders of climate change are around us all the time. Sometimes it’s dramatic and heartbreaking, like news of forest fires in Greece or California, or the sea ice shrinking in the Arctic. Other times it’s smaller but closer to home, like the howling storm that keeps you awake at night. We can’t ignore it, but frequently feel helpless, especially when the most powerful man in the world is a denier.
A cultural sector consultant, whose clients include the V&A and Museum of London, Bridget McKenzie is stepping in to provide some leadership, and empowerment, around the subject.
An environmental campaigner at the weekends, McKenzie is currently in the early stages of creating Climate Museum UK – an experimental mobile museum designed to educate, start conversations and inspire action around the topic.
There’s a small but growing wave of change which McKenzie is riding in the cultural sector. She was inspired to start working on her idea earlier this year when she met Miranda Massie, who is in the process of setting up a Climate Museum as a destination attraction in New York.
“There’s a growing movement in the cultural sector to further discuss climate change,” McKenzie explains.
“Many museums are starting to integrate the environment into their work for social action. We’ve gone past the point of asking if museums can effect change. We know they can, so we need to start doing it.”
Unlike its New York counterpart, Climate Museum UK will not be developed around a single destination but will be a pop-up – part exhibition, part training process – which could be hired by a museum, school, library or business.
“I see it as a workshop/campaign/training project where people can explore the subject and talk about their feelings and views,” says McKenzie. “Props and games will enable the conversation of how we can engage communities with climate change. Each pop-up will be targeted to the location: for example if it’s a low lying area there might be a history of flooding which can be brought into it.”
With the help of fellow climate campaigners and organisations such as Julie’s Bicycle and Artsadmin, McKenzie has been honing her ideas over the last few months, as well as making props and games for the pop-up. These include things such as collapse kerplunk; climate change dominoes and earth top trumps.
There will be some core infographics, and a conversation machine, where the visitor puts in a thought, turns a handle and gets someone else’s thought in return. The cabinet of curiosities will present objects, like coal and plastic, in jewellery boxes as talking points.
“Although I want there to be playful activities, I’m deliberately not making anything silly,” she says. “This isn’t a place to come and have fun, it’s a serious subject. I’m not trying to determine the visitors’ emotional response, but give them space to create and explore.”
McKenzie also acknowledges that some content might be disturbing and the museum will need to be flexible enough to be modified according to the audience. Some might require a more hard-hitting message, while children will likely need a softer, more gentle approach.
“We might consider trigger warnings or signpost people to external services or resources,” she says.
In order to reach the broadest audience possible, McKenzie is working on two further strands beyond the pop-up concept. The first is to develop a tour script around a current exhibition or site, which can bring a climate change theme into an existing museum.
“For example, The Sheringham Museum, on the coastline of Norfolk, has an observation tower,” says McKenzie.
“It overlooks the Sheringham Shoal Offshore Wind Farm, but it’s not used to its best effect. There’s definitely the potential to start a conversation about wind farms, as well as the history of energy and its effects on the local environment.”
The next part will be its digital museum and McKenzie is currently curating various collections of music, art and resources connected to climate change.
There will be a charge to host the exhibition, but the cost is yet to be decided. The model will be flexible, so that funded institutions and businesses will pay the full rate, but those without funding could pay less for the service.
The main challenge to date has been time. “There’s been a lot of interest shown in the project. Without funding, I can’t progress as fast as I would like to, but in order to get funding I need to be more progressed than I am,” explains McKenzie.
With this in mind, she is about to launch a Crowdfunding campaign. The money raised will be used to develop a website without advertising and finish the business plan and prototype, with a view to getting some pop-ups going in the summer. The first venue to host a one-day workshop will be St Margaret’s House chapel in east London, which aims to promote social change by creating opportunities for people in their community.
Climate change is a big issue to tackle, but McKenzie says the first step is to start a conversation: “I want people to come away thinking about ways they can talk about it more and make a change,” she says.