This interview was conducted by Selva Ozelli
Royal Ontario Museum www.rom.on.ca is a museum of art, world culture and natural history in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It is one of the largest museums in North America and the largest in Canada with the largest field-research and conservation activities around the world. You are the first climate change curator of ROM. What was the trigger/vision to ROM hiring you? When did ROM get involved in climate change related issues?
ROM has previously examined climate change through its programs, research, and exhibitions, such as “Carbon 14: Climate is Culture” in 2013 and the current Great Whales exhibition (to name two). Given this pre-existing focus, and the incredible transdisciplinary nature of ROM’s collections and research, Allan and Helaine Shiff reached out to ROM with their vision, recognizing that it was a great opportunity for funding this unique curatorship.
ROM has more than 6,000,000 items and 40 galleries, the museum's diverse collections of world culture, fine art and natural history contribute to its international reputation. How do you intend to shape ROM’s climate change exhibitions and programming?
This transdisciplinary nature of ROM’s collections makes it uniquely situated to focus on the overlapping artistic, cultural, and natural facets of climate change. I intend to use the existing collections to provide a greater context and understanding of historical climatic shifts – for instance, discussing the role of climate change on the evolution of prehistoric life on Earth, or the effects of changing weather patterns on the rise and fall of societies. At the same time, I’m hoping to build upon and amplify the museum’s community engagement, for instance using ROM as a platform for showcasing actions already being undertaken by local civic institutions to adapt to the local effects of climate change.
This year The International Committee for Museums and Collections of Science and Technology (CIMUSET) which is a scientific committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) during its 48th #CIMUSET Annual Conference: “Museums & Environmental Concerns, New Insights” -7-11 November 2021, discussed how Science and Technology museums can address the climate emergency issue via education and exhibitions. What programs/initiatives will your Museum institute addressing climate change and sustainability?
I am working closely with ROM’s Learning Department to explore as many ways as possible to effectively communicate climate change, whether through in-ROM exhibitions or developing educational materials for K-12 schools across Canada. I am also working with ROMKids, perhaps the longest-running museum youth program in the country, to find exciting ways to directly engage youth in climate change topics. To this end, I’m especially interested in focusing the content of our programs on what we are doing as a society to address climate change, rather than focusing solely on how it may negatively affect us. However, I believe that ROM’s role in addressing and combatting climate change is capable of going much further than educational programs alone. For one, I am looking into ways that we can create opportunities for the voices of museum visitors to be heard, so that they can share their own personal climate change experiences with us and other visitors. Ultimately, I am interested in developing programs and exhibitions that link disparate communities, academics, and governmental and non-governmental agencies, using ROM’s physical space and clout as a world-class research institution, to advance both climate mitigation and adaptation strategies at local, provincial, national, and international scales.
What partnerships has ROM developed and will develop --such as with the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice-- to help mitigate and adapt to Climate Change?
In my first two months as the Allan and Helaine Shiff Curator of Climate Change I have been focusing much of my time on laying the groundwork for our climate program’s network both within (across all curatorial units) and outside of ROM. Our external network includes museum coalitions (such as the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice), governmental agencies (such as Conservation Ontario and Conservation Authorities across the region), climate change researchers around the world, artists focused on climate change and sustainability, and public volunteers and climate change organizations. We have not yet formalized any of these into official partnerships, but our underlying guiding principle through these relationships will be to advance both climate adaptation and mitigation activities.
Will your museum have digital climate change related programming accessible from around the world?
Yes, ROM learning and outreach programs have a strong and effective digital presence, which we are planning to fully utilize in our climate change programming.
How can people reach ROM?
The museum is currently open to in-person visitors from Wednesdays through Sundays. Online ROM resources can be accessed through our website, https://www.rom.on.ca/en.