Creating spaces for community, care and justice
In the midst of continued and simultaneous global crises and tragedy, we believe that we are on the precipice of another pandemic. In the face of ecological collapse and climate catastrophe, this is a pandemic of eco-anxiety and climate grief.
This may seem implausible, but these emotional states are not unnatural or abnormal; they are a sane response to the crisis we are living through. When confronted with the bleak reality of the climate crisis, many people have had to come to terms with the fact that aspects of their current lives and future plans will be drastically altered in the years to come. It would be unnatural to continue our lives as if everything is “business as usual”, disregarding the impact this crisis has on both global ecosystems and marginalised communities. Crucially, the crisis affects most deeply those who are already oppressed, for example by racism or state violence.
When we think of mitigating the effects of the climate crisis, we often turn to politics and science for solutions. While the need for a fundamental shift in political attitudes toward the climate is undeniable, the role that the arts can play in this crisis is less often discussed. Through the arts, we can challenge the narratives of extraction, exploitation and consumerism that characterise capitalist societies, and instead envision a world that places justice, care and community at its centre.
The cultural sector, and museums in particular, can play a role in tackling these new griefs and anxieties. Museums provide spaces to reflect on the past and connect it with the present and the future. They can help to educate about the impact of climate change, and can facilitate better emotional and cultural understandings of the effects of the crisis and other intersecting global events.
Museums can become spaces of empowerment for their audiences by nurturing collective action towards global and climate justice. In order to do this, museums need to think about their own impact on the climate, and also about issues such as greenwashing, particularly sponsorship by fossil fuel companies. It is important, too, that individuals working in museums are representative of the communities that access them.
While climate anxiety and eco-grief can be deeply isolating, finding a community can help us acknowledge these complex emotions and translate them into action. In caring for each other and our planet, we recognise our interconnectedness.
Museums can bring about a cultural shift in the status quo by reminding us that true power lies in communities, and that systemic change can be achieved through consistent collective action. We believe that the role that arts and culture can play in this disruption and action will prove vital in the years to come.
Pooja Kishinani is a climate campaigner based in Manchester. She recently graduated with a degree in politics, philosophy and economics
Marion Smith is a musician, music researcher and university pastoral worker. She recently completed a masters’ degree in ethno-musicology