Words From Our Sponsors: the Genealogy of Patronage in Museums

With Dr. Alice Bell, Kert Davies and Stephen Duncombe

What happens when BP, Shell Oil, and the Koch Brothers fund museums of science and natural history? Or when market pressures influence operational and curatorial decisions?

Corporate sponsorship of museums and science education can compromise the basic idea of museums as reliable sources of common knowledge. By considering historical as well as contemporary examples of museum funding, we look at the ways in which power structures and marketing logic are embedded in practices of collecting and display.

With Dr. Alice Bell, Kert Davies and Stephen Duncombe, and a recorded video address on museums and climate change by Robert R. Janes, editor in chief of Museums Management & Curation, and author of “Museums and the Paradox of Change” and “Museums in a Troubled World: Renewal, Irrelevance or Collapse?”

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Dr. Alice Bell is a freelance journalist, specializing in the politics of science and technology. She writes about innovation for How We Get to Next and climate change for the Road to Paris. She’s a science policy blogger for the Guardian and columnist for Popular Science UK, and is working on a short history of the radical science movement for the Wellcome Trust’s Mosaic magazine. She previously worked as an academic, lecturing in science communication at Imperial College, where she also set up an interdisciplinary course on climate change, and acting as Head of Public Engagement at the Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex. Before that, she worked extensively in science education, including at the London Science Museum, and completed a PhD on children’s science media.

Robert R. Janes is Editor in Chief of Museum Management and Curatorship. He has worked in and around museums for the past 35 years as a director, consultant, author, editor, archaeologist, board member, teacher and volunteer. He is the past President and CEO of the Glenbow Museum, Art Gallery, Library and Archives in Calgary, Alberta, and was the founding Director of the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre and founding Executive Director of the Science Institute of the Northwest Territories. Robert is the author of “Museums and the Paradox of Change”, and “Museums in a Troubled World: Renewal, Irrelevance or Collapse?”. He has a PhD in Archaeology and he teaches at the University of Calgary.

Kert Davies is the Founder and Executive Director of the Climate Investigations Center. He is a well-known researcher, media spokesperson and climate activist who has been conducting corporate accountability research and campaigns for more than 20 years. Davies was the chief architect of the Greenpeace web project ExxonSecrets, launched in 2004, which helped expose the oil giant ExxonMobil’s funding of organizations and individuals who work to discredit the validity of climate science and delay climate policy action. More recently, Davies established the PolluterWatch program at Greenpeace, which launched the report Koch Industries: Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine

Stephen Duncombe is an Associate Professor at the Gallatin School and the Department of Media, Culture and Communications of New York University where he teaches the history and politics of media. He is the author or editor of six books, including Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy. He is the creator of the Open Utopia, an open-access, open-source, web-based edition of Thomas More’s Utopia, and writes on the intersection of culture and politics for a range of scholarly and popular publications. Duncombe is a life-long political activist, co-founding a community based advocacy group in the Lower East Side of Manhattan and working as an organizer for the NYC chapter of the international direct action group, Reclaim the Streets. In 2009 he was a Research Associate at the Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology in New York City where he helped organize The College of Tactical Culture. He co-created the School for Creative Activism in 2011, and is presently co-director of the Center for Artistic Activism. Duncombe is currently working on a book on the art of propaganda during the New Deal.