Successful first day at the NEMO European Museum Conference: ‘and… ACTION! Museums in the climate crisis’

© Image: Panu Salonen

© Image: Panu Salonen

After a lovely opening reception yesterday 19 November, the conference kicked off today with bold statements, food for thought as well as new impressions and connections. Participants got to hear about ways for museums to join forces for a sustainable future and avoid extinction, and how museums can be part of the solution, while also recognising that they are part of the problem.

NEMO Chair David Vuillaume opened the conference and was followed by welcome speaches by Sari Multala, Finnish Minister of Science and Culture, and Pekka Sauri, President of the Finnish Museums Association. NEMO is honoured that Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament, also joined via video to show her support for museums’ sustainable transition.

Our keynote speaker Kirsten Dunlop cut to the chase and spoke frankly about the climate emergency and the need to push for systemic change now. Our world is doing worse than predicted and global warming will make most of the world inhabitable. Culture can help us create the change that is needed to save the world from the climate crisis. If we join forces to push collaborative action, we can unlearn damaging habits to relearn and gain new mindsets to be part of nature and create a better system.

Panel: Part of the solution

The first panel of the conference explored how museums can be part of the solution. Julie Decker , Anchorage Museum Alaska, finds that museums most impactful role is to partner and co-create with communities to imagine possible futures and responses. She also suggests that by addressing topics that people care about, such as fishing, they are more likely to attend exhibitions and have conversations, in which the climate crisis can be addressed. Heidi Rosenström explained how the Heureka Science Center uses emotions, shared experiences and empathy as a tool for communicating complex issues with the aim of moving their audience forward from awareness to action. The panel was completed with a presentation by Ciprian Stefan, National Network of Romanian Museums and ASTRA Museum. The ASTRA Museum has developed cultural programmes for the urban and rural communities on how to learn from the past, adapt current solutions to climate change, use resources efficiently and how to exemplify these to the SDGs. In the discussion following the three presentations,  Birgitte Kehler Holst, Danish Museums Association, brought up the challenge of climate change fatigue and how to keep people motivated to act although they might have become desensitized to the climate crisis.

Panel: Part of the problem

Karen Jagodin, Vabamu Museum of Occupations and Freedom, regrouped the participants after lunch to have a critical look at museum operations and identify measures to make museums futureproof and ensure they lead by good example. Stefan Simon, Rathgen Research Laboratory, criticized the overuse of climate control and the trend to build more and more when we should use less resources. As he pointed out, the most climate friendly museums we can build, are the ones we don’t build at all. Solutions to the climate crisis will not be found in models that have contributed to climate change. He also asked what’s worse for art objects, climate activists or climate change?

Łukasz Bratasz, Jerzy Haber Institute of Catalysis and Surface Chemistry and Polish Academy of Sciences, joined online to deliver a presentation about responsible use of energy in museums. Objects are much less vulnerable to environmental variations than previously assumed. Additionally, the cost of keeping these, possibly, unnecessary climate control conditions are usually very high. HE brought up one example where the costs exceeded the salary of the whole conservation team. Teemu Kirjonen, Åbo Akademi University Foundation – Sibelius Museum, Ett Hem & Casa Haartman, delivered some input in terms of organisational transformation with example of the Lahti's Symphony Orchestra goal to become carbon-neutral.


After a day of speeches and panels and before the evening reception at the Museum of Visual Arts Malva, it was time for some hands-on work in one of five workshops:

The evening was closed with visits to Malva's exhibitions, which were kept open for conference participants, followed by a dinner. 

The conference is hosted by the Finnish Museums Association with support by the Finnish Heritage Agency, the Finnish National Gallery, the city of Lahti and thanks to co-funding by the European Union.

Selected presentations are documented and made available online in the weeks after the conference.