Funding could support museum exhibitions, outreach programs and initiatives to educate the public about climate change impacts.
By Katrice Lee, Special to CalMatters
Katrice Lee is senior director of development and grants for the San Diego Natural History Museum and a board member of the California Association of Museums.
More than 1 million acres burned in 2021 from California’s wildfires. Repeated heat waves are setting record high temperatures in every county. Drought conditions are widespread, with 47% of the state experiencing the most severe effects.
It’s clear that climate change impacts daily life for all Californians, but how can we make sense of the stories beyond the headlines? As trusted community partners, museums and cultural institutions play a significant role in educating the public about the environment and promoting climate resiliency.
I strongly support the California Association of Museums in requesting that the California Cultural and Historical Endowment be allocated $125 million from the state of California’s $3.7 billion investment in climate resiliency. Nearly 100 museums and cultural institutions have signed a letter of support to state legislators for this allocation.
Funding from the Cultural and Historical Endowment could support museum exhibitions, outreach programs and initiatives to educate the public about the environment and climate change impacts. Museums are spaces for informal learning that can share information with Californians about reducing energy and water consumption, protecting natural resources on land and in the ocean, and valuing cultural heritage as a path to improving our climate resilience.
For example, in April 2021 the San Diego Natural History Museum opened California Blooming, an exhibition that explores wildflowers and climate change in our state. The photographic show presents California’s extraordinary wildflowers as both a cause for celebration and protection by connecting the biodiversity of our state with the actions that must be taken to protect it.
In conjunction with this exhibition, the museum also partnered with the Climate Science Alliance to offer a series of daytime lessons for youth and evening talks for adults about the impacts of climate change in Southern California. Cultural and Historical Endowment funding could bring these types of regionally significant experiences to residents throughout the state.
The funding could also support operational needs to help mitigate the direct impacts of climate change and ensure that institutions are better prepared to safeguard irreplaceable cultural assets and collections when threatened by climate-fueled disaster.
Historic buildings and the collections they house are also directly affected by the impacts of climate change. A few weeks after celebrating upgrades to their facility, completed during their COVID-19 pandemic closure, the Greenville Cy Hall Memorial Museum was destroyed by the Dixie Fire. This was sadly reminiscent of the Gold Nugget Museum that was consumed by the Camp Fire that decimated Paradise in 2018.
According to a 2020 preliminary survey, many of California’s archives, galleries, historical societies, libraries, museums and tribal nations lack disaster response plans and long-term protection strategies for their collections.
The Santa Barbara Historical Museum, the San Bernardino County Museum and the Museums of Lake County are among the many institutions with one-of-a-kind collections in storage areas that are negatively affected by increasing heat and humidity. Funding from the Cultural and Historical Endowment could mitigate the impacts of climate change and ensure institutions are better prepared to safeguard irreplaceable cultural assets.
It is imperative that California’s strategic, one-time investment addressing climate change include a $125 million allocation for museums and cultural institutions that recognizes the significant role museums play in educating the public, helps build the capacity of institutions that document and preserve California’s history, and protects cultural resources held for public benefit. California’s more than 1,000 museums and cultural institutions stand ready to positively impact the public conversation about climate change.