Museum Debates

Declaring Emergency: Museums and the Climate Crisis

The climate emergency has become a global issue, and museums are starting to take up the debate. Several cultural institutions around the United Kingdom have taken it upon themselves to respond to the increasingly dire climate crisis, but the actual obligations that come along with such a decision are vague. A difference in mission, procedures, and levels of public engagement have made battling the climate issue an individual process, with very little precedent to pave the way. However, other participants in the museum sphere, such as environmentally-inclined artists and organizations, have begun to weigh in by using their art and resources to critique the current path of cultural institutions and turn museums into spaces of activism. This discussion, hosted by the MA Curating the Art Museum course at the Courtauld Institute of Art, will focus on the courses of action available to institutions and artists concerned with the climate crisis, and what influence these stakeholders can actually have on a local and global level.

Organised by the MA Curating the Art Museum group 


Dr Theo Gordon

Sackler Postdoctoral Fellow 2019-20


Ackroyd and Harvey are British visual artists who have been working together since the 1990s. Their multidisciplinary practice intersects activism, ecology, culture and climate change and they are internationally renowned for their award winning photographic works. Created by growing grass in light controlled environments the resulting organic living images explore growth, transformation and decay. Ackroyd & Harvey are equally renowned for their architectural interventions which intercept perceptions of place and landscape. In April last year, the artists were instrumental in the launch of Culture Declares Emergency, and have been working closely with numerous artists and organisations, including Tate Modern, to lead conversations about climate change and the cultural sector.

Suzanne Dhaliwal is an artist, activist and campaigner, working on climate justice, indigenous rights and mining issues, listed as one of the most popular voices on the Environment in 2018 by the Evening Standard. She is founder of the UK Tar Sands Network, which has worked for over a decade to campaign against corporations and financial institutions invested in the highly polluting Alberta Tar Sands. Suzanne has led high impact creative divestment campaigns to shift the insurance sector from underwriting coal and tar sands projects & artistic interventions to highlight environmental injustice of corporations including Shell & BP in the Niger Delta, Gulf Coast and the Arctic. She has been working to amplify the voices of indigenous delegations at the international climate negotiations and centre the voices of Indigenous, Black and POC voices in the climate movement internationally. She currently works as an artist, producer-writer, lecturer, anti-oppression trainer and research fellow at the University of Brighton examining race, media, art and climate justice.

Samia Dumbuya is an environmental activist and a part of Diaspora Dialogues, a forum with the purpose of creating our climate justice future through dialogue and acting in solidarity with global climate justice issues. Samia is also a co-founder of Seize the Vote, a community organisation that encourages underrepresented youth to engage in political debate and forums. She currently works at Friends of the Earth Europe as a Climate Justice campaigner. She is an advocate for London residents to live in non-polluted areas and is interested in sustainable cities and global environmental justice. Samia wishes for museums to collaborate more with climate justice activists and local communities to exhibit the urgency to transform into a greener world.

Lucia Pietroiusti is Curator of General Ecology at Serpentine Galleries, London; as well as the curator of Sun & Sea (Marina) – Lithuanian Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale (and its 2020-2021 international tour). She will be a curator of the 2020 Shanghai Biennale (Chief Curator: Andrés Jaque). Current projects include The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish, with Filipa Ramos, Holly Shuttleworth and Kostas Stasinopoulos; as well as the forthcoming publication More-than-Human ( with Andrés Jaque and Marina Otero Verzier) and Back to Earth – the Serpentine’s 50th anniversary programme, dedicated to the environment (2020).

Melanie Vandenbrouck is an art historian, writer and curator. Until recently, she was Curator of Art at the Royal Museums Greenwich, where she was responsible for the post-1800 art collection. Her wider interests include the dialogue(s) between science and the arts, and artistic responses to the climate emergency. In 2019, she curated The Moon at Royal Museums Greenwich, and Moonlight at the Hasselblad Foundation, Sweden, both of which evoked the role of photography during the Apollo space programme in raising awareness about Earth’s environment. Though she is now Curator of Sculpture at the V&A, in a freelance capacity she is co-curating Space Works at the Tampere Art Museum, Finland, which will open later this year and approach themes of biodiversity and human rights through the lens of space exploration.

This event has passed.

20 May 2020

Booking essential