Saturday, 30 October 2010

More on world-saving museums

I was at the Maritime Museum in London yesterday giving a revved up version of my 'Can Museums Save the World' presentation which I blogged about a few weeks back; after suffering a train cancellation and moderate level ticket barrier carnage at Euston, I got there a wee bit late but in time to deliver my pitch. A fascinating group of senior people from National museums had been assembled, and all had a keen eye on what the future may hold for their institutions.

Much of my pitch is about sustainability, but blended with a bit of futurology. The basic question is: What will museums be like in 20, 30 or 40 years time if they are truly sustainable? Will they be embedded in their communities, treading lightly on the planet and financially thriving?

In terms of the futurology slice of my pitch pie, I've leant heavily on some superb work being done by the Center for the Future of Museums in the United States. They've produced a superb paper on what 2034 might look like for the museums sector, and for the California Association of Museums they've pulled together a full 'futures' resource guide complete with five 25 year scenarios, suggested worksheets and some guidelines on how to hold  a futures-focused session in your own organisation or network.

The sustainability part of my pitch however, is all the product of my own chunterings over the last couple of years. I genuinely see the world I know well (sustainability) and the world I am getting to know better (culture) as natural collaborators, if not wholly intertwined players in creating a better future. These two gorgeous worlds, bastions of progressive thinking, are of course arrayed against a third universe of infamy: the world that thinks economic growth and perpetual materialism are the only things that make life worth living.

Anyway so here are the key points:
  1. Happiness and wealth fell out with each other more than half a century ago.
  2. We need to ‘reboot’ economics and find a way to achieve prosperity without growth.
  3. Non-materialist forms of social capital and experience are part of the solution.
  4. Culture and the experience economy can win us back from materialism.
  5. Reaching people, and fighting for headspace, is a core strength of the cultural sector.
  6. Culture creates the places and spaces that people want to be in, fostering a more compelling and competitive identity.
  7. Innovation must no longer be the preserve of consumerist ‘novelty’ and desire but has to become part of how we craft our collective future.
Therefore, it's clear to me, that culture can (help to) save the world. Not least because just like the sphere of creative communications (design, media, advertising, film etc) that Creative Concern operates in, culture is an antidote to the idea that it is all about selling shit to sleepwalkers. I use this quote from Raymond Williams' 1962 book, Communications:
Our commonest economic error is the assumption that production and trade are our only practical activities, and that they require no other human justification or scrutiny. 
We need to say what many of us know in experience: that the life of man, and the business of society, cannot be confined to these ends; that the struggle to learn, to describe, to understand, to educate is a central and necessary part of our humanity.
I know to many, particularly in the current climate, the notion that economic growth is a futile and unsustainable pursuit probably comes across as a piece of sideshow prattling; but it is those that still pursue this ultimately self-defeating course of 'growth at all costs' that are, to use the vernacular, 'off their rockers'.

Another quote I like is from Edward Abbey:

"Growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell."

Enough said.

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