Miranda Massie on the need for climate change museums

By Angela Heathcote | May 8, 2019

Miranda Massie is the Director of the Climate Museum in New York City and this week she visited the Australian Museum, giving her thoughts on the climate-change crisis, the role of museums and the work being done at the Museum.

Miranda Massie, the Director of the Climate Museum in New York City, is in Australia for the ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2019 festival, held in Melbourne.

On Monday, however, the lawyer-turned-climate activist made an appearance at the Australian Museum in Sydney, where she shared her ideas on the role of museums in communicating the climate-change crisis.

The Climate Museum is unlike any other museum in the world in that it has no set location– exhibitions and installations happen all over New York – and it’s the only museum totally dedicated to climate change.

The Climate Museum’s first exhibition was held early last year at the Parsons School of Design,  on the corner of 13th Street and Fifth Avenue.

Peggy Weil’s 88 Cores, the exhibition’s main attraction, is a film that runs for more than four hours and captures the scanned images of 500 ice core samples from the Greenland Ice Sheet dating back over 110,000 years. Watching the footage takes you on a deep dive into the planet’s history.

“When we first started in 2015 people didn’t see the need for it,” Miranda says. “Now, it’s not even a question that museum’s should play a part in shifting our culture towards climate awareness and action.”

Since then, Miranda says two things have changed. The first is that new research shows museums, particularly natural history museums, are influencers of the public because of the trust they hold as scientific institutions.

The second is that the idea of museums as neutral spaces of contemplation has been overcome. “It’s about staying relevant and afoot of the issues facing society today, and using the trust museums have for public good.”

The Australian Museum was an ideal place for Miranda’s talk titled ‘Curating the future’. According to Miranda, the Museum’s director Kim McKay, is leading the pack when it comes to fully realising the role museums play.

“I’m not aware of an established museum that is doing more on the climate crisis than the Australian Museum,” Miranda says. “Kim is doing an astoundingly good job.”

Pointing to the work the museum does with Indigenous people of the Pacific through the Human Nature lecture series, Miranda says it’s clear the museum has grasped the need for narratives in conversations about climate change, as well as the science.

“My big hope is that Kim’s leadership can be made into a contagious condition,” Miranda says.