There is much to reflect upon following the Happy Museum symposium at Snape in Suffolk. In the coming weeks the Happy Museum project team and commissions will be reporting in greater depth. They’ll interrogate the Happy Museum Manifesto and asking how museums and heritage could be in the vanguard of re-imagining a society whose values are based on well-being and sustainability rather than those of materialism and inexorable growth. Ben Cowell from the National Trust has already asked whether ‘happiness’ and ‘sustainability’ one and the same concept?
The symposium also threw up some interesting challenges to cultural sector beyond the immediate issues of well-being and resource equity. This was an important by-product of this creative enquiry and I think in no small way spurred on by Paul Allen from Centre for Alternative Technology and Andrew Simms from New Economics Foundation affirmation that change is possible through determination and imagination. So for me here are a number of initial provocations, which I intend to explore over the next few months
- The link between high-well and good stewardship of our environment is obvious. Why are museums good at the former, but unsure how to address the latter with their users?
- Why has the dominant radical social history paradigm in many museums been so poor in linking social justice with resource equity and climate change? (I think M-Shed in Bristol is a notable exception). The gap between rich and poor will continue as rise as global, regional and generational disparities in access to resources widens.
- Why is it that we have to revisit examining the relationship between culture and well-being when we have years of experience and analysis? Dr Dave OBrien noted that the evidence base for museums contributing to well-being is still patchy and Shelagh Wright said that there is a real need for evaluation that is about genuine learning and not advocacy
- It is possible for a relatively small amount of targeted investment to effectively enable change. Why does larger scale funding for organisational or cultural change often miss the mark?
- Is risk taking more likely through funding of ideas and individuals rather than organisations or projects? Why is this so difficult for public funders to do and why does it only happen at the margins through Trusts and Foundations?
- Could the ancient notion of the Commons provide a framework to deliver this change, gathering virtual and real-time communities around a desire to share and steward heritage through their relationship with each other and their surroundings?
- This change only happen if embedded within highly participation organisations… right?