ICOMOS Joins the Smithsonian Institution to Address Climate Change and Cultural Heritage
Climate change has become one of the most significant threats to people and their cultural heritage around the globe. Cultural heritage is both impacted by climate change and an important part of strategies for driving climate action. So where does the cultural heritage community stand now in terms of engaging on climate change, where do we want to go and how do we get there? The USA’s Smithsonian Institution is putting the focus squarely on these urgent questions at a two-day long symposium entitled ‘Stemming the Tide: Global Strategies for Sustaining Cultural Heritage Through Climate Change.’
The event will be held 5-6 March in Washington, DC. ICOMOS is proud to be joining with the International Institute for Conservation (IIC) and the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) as co-sponsors of the Symposium, which is being hosted by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Smithsonian’s National Collections Program.
Lonnie Bunch, the Secretary (i.e. CEO) of the Smithsonian will provide the opening address with keynote speeches from Kenneth Kimmell, President of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Alison Tickell, founder of Julie’s Bicycle, the London-based charity that supports the creative community to act on climate change and environmental sustainability. Closing remarks will be provided by Andrew Potts, who coordinates the ICOMOS Climate Change and Heritage Working Group and the Climate Heritage Network (CHN). ICOMOS serves as the CHN secretariat.
As part of the ICOMOS-Smithsonian collaboration, the organisation of the conference is being drawn in part from the 2019 ICOMOS report “The Future of Our Pasts: Engaging Cultural Heritage in Climate Action.” As in the ICOMOS report, the conference will explore the intersection of climate change and each of six different categories of cultural heritage. This format will culminate in six breakout sessions, each held at a different Smithsonian museum or research centers in Washington:
- Intangible Cultural Heritage and Climate Change (Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage);
- Archaeological Sites and Climate Change (National Museum of Asian Art);
- Built Heritage and Climate Change (National Museum of American History);
- Cultural Communities and Climate Change (National Museum of the American Indian);
- Cultural and Historic Urban Landscapes and Climate Change (National Museum of Natural History) and
- Museums and Collections and Climate Change (Smithsonian American Art Museum).
The week’s activities will conclude with a public program on the evening of 6 March as part of the IIC’s “Point of the Matter Dialogue” in partnership with AIC, ICOMOS and the Smithsonian. The dialogue, entitled “Heritage at Risk: A Dialogue on the Effects of Climate Change,” will be moderated by IIC President Julian Bickersteth of Australia. The entire programme can be found here.
In The Future of Our Pasts report, ICOMOS President Toshiyuki Kono wrote that “It would be foolish to imagine the practice of heritage remaining static while the world goes through the rapid and far-reaching transitions discussed in the IPCC’s recent Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. Responding requires adjustments in the aims and methodologies of heritage practice.” With its focus on the responsibilities of cultural heritage stewards to leverage cultural heritage for climate action and to address urgent questions of equity and inclusion, the Smithsonian collaboration was a perfect fit with ICOMOS’s approach Potts said, adding “this is how we mobilise arts, culture and heritage for climate action – together.”
Image credits: Alexis Rockman, Manifest Destiny, 2004, oil and acrylic on wood.