Fake News, Flat Planets and Hot Winters: Museums, Climate Change and Public Discourse

May. 20, 2019 - May. 20, 2019 Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans

Panel at the 2019 American Alliance of Museums annual convention

Moderator:  Beka Economopoulos – Executive Director, The Natural History Museum
Panelist:  Rose Jones – Director of Evaluation, Perot Museum of Nature and Science
Panelist:  Shiralee Hudson Hill – Lead Interpretive Planner, Art Gallery of Ontario
Panelist:  Jacqueline Genovesi – Vice President Learning, The Academy of Natural Sciences

Museums are being recognized as important catalysts for social and political engagement. Embedded in a political landscape that is increasingly being called into question by the public and fueled by an era of “fake news” and distorted facts, museums are being challenged to move away from assuming neutral positions on controversial topics toward advocacy positions to become trusted forums for communicating on public discourse. This session explores the emerging interface between public discourse and the changing roles of museums through the topic of climate change.

Rose Jones, Director of Evaluation at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, (and Mike Spiewak, VP of Exhibits and Dan Kohl, Chief Innovation Officer) will use qualitative and quantitative data collected during the summer of 2018 to discuss visitors’ trust and expectations for communicating on climate change, the complex ways visitors articulate, envision, and experience climate change, especially as it is playing out in a “culture of silence,” and visitors’ emotional response to climate change exhibition messaging.

Jacqueline Genovesei, Vice President of Learning at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, will focus on the different roles museums can assume in the emerging public discourse on climate change, including researcher, scientist, convener, collaborator, educator and advocate. She will highlight one innovative program where WINS (Women in Natural Sciences) students participated in collaborative research with scientists climate change scientists in the United States, Mongolia and Costa Rica. This will establish a foundation for exploring what it means to be an advocate, including the risks and benefits to an institution’s reputation.

Shiralee Hudson, Lead Interpretive Planner at the Art Gallery of Ontario, will use Anthropocene, an interactive exhibition that focuses on human impact on the planet to discuss visitors’ shifting perceptions and knowledge of the environment and our changing earth. As a space where art and science collide, Anthropocene provides a unique opportunity to explore questions on public discourse, climate change and museums, including those linked to personal meaning-making and the role museums play in shifting consciousness.

Beka Economopoulos, co-founder of the Natural History Museum and an environmental justice activist, will moderate the panel, framing the discussion around critical climate change questions facing museums today.

Learning Objectives:

  • 1. Upon completion, participant will be able to assess the implications public discourse on climate change poses for museums in the future.
  • 2. Upon completion, participant will be able to discuss diverse ways museums are approaching the topic of climate change.
  • 3. Upon completion, participant will be able to articulate ideas for successfully connecting diverse audiences to climate change.