By Brent Fafeita, Curator History

Winter is coming…no wait, it’s here…no, it’s gone. Hmm, what season are we in again?

This is our new norm. Climate change is now so prevalent in our world that instead of devising solutions to stop it, we’re devising means to live with it. The irony of facing such a crisis of our own making is not lost here. We are at the beginning of Earth’s new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – where human activity is the dominant influence on the planet’s climate and environment. Humanity is changing the world, but this change is reciprocally changing humanity.

1 Climatestate
What are the true cost of living in the Anthropocene?

Throughout history, museums have strived to be ahead of, or at least be on par with change. But like any living thing, the museum is intrinsically linked to its ecosystem and thus susceptible to any direct and indirect influence on that ecosystem. Ignoring environmental factors is detrimental. Change, whether natural, social, technological, economic or political, is increasingly enacting consequential change on the museum.

2 California Academy of Sciences
The eco-friendly California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco. Wikipedia – California_Academy_of_Sciences_pano.jpg 

Prior to the present ‘climate’, the museum’s primary climatic concern focused on a common challenge – the planet’s rotating seasons, or more specifically what the environmental differences between summer and winter meant for museum operation. Naturally, peak operation aligned with peak visitation, and visitation tended to peak in summer months. Subsequently the winter ‘downturn’ had wide-ranging implications for museum activities and this is still so for many museums today.

In response, many museums have adapted to overcome such downturn. Those that have thrived have targeted other audiences such as schools to fill the void, or focused more on venue hire, extensive public programming and/or outreach. Others concentrate on project-work or temporarily cease operation. Some have even amalgamated with other organisations or have taken on new roles. And with increased avenues online, some have abandoned a physical construct all together. New-age ‘museum-like’ entities online are enviously free of seasonal influence.

3 Japanese Art Msuem
IJC Museum, Japanese Art Museum in the Cloud.

The challenge still remains however for many on what to do during winter. Onsite, offsite, outreach, online – which is the way forward? Thanks to Climate Change the more stable and planning-friendly climatic conditions and weather systems of yesteryear appear long gone. Strategic planning must now factor in visitation impact from fluctuating and unpredictable weather systems, extreme weather events and increasing temperatures. There is no longer a guarantee of sunny days in summer, in fact quite the opposite – an anticipation of summer storms. Further, extreme summer temperatures can actually detract visitation. Planning for these fluctuations is the modern challenge.

It’s central to human evolution to alter ourselves and our environment (both knowingly and inadvertently) in the fight for species survival. We can’t then gripe when the manufactured environmental change we’ve created comes back to challenge us. Likewise, we can’t blame visitors for the erratic fluctuations in visitation, engagement or revenue. Neither can we blame Climate Change for the challenges ahead. We can only blame humanity in general. Better yet, let’s forgo blame and just get on with what humanity is biologically primed to do – change.

4 Gizmodo