America's First Climate Change Museum Is Starting To Come To Life

mbg Senior Sustainability Editor By Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care."
America's First Climate Change Museum Is Starting To Come To Life

Photo by Zaria Forman

Take a walk down Fifth Avenue in NYC this time of year and you'll likely be greeted by storefront upon storefront of holiday displays showing off the latest fashions. Yesterday, the street welcomed its latest window arrangement—a giant image of an Antarctic ice sheet melting into the water that stands in stark contrast to its neighbors. Bold and brilliant, it's the first pop-up exhibition from The Climate Museum—a project that seeks to bring art, science, and climate advocacy to the masses.

"We have an installation!" exclaimed Miranda Massie, the lawyer-turned-environmentalist leading the charge to bring the museum to life. As passers-by took a second's pause to look up at the display outside Parson's School of Design, Massie smiled. To her, this window is the physical manifestation of a dream years in the making.

Why New York needs a climate museum.

For the next month, the Antarctic portrait will stand tall alongside a video showing its artist, Zaria Forman, drawing it by hand. Massie and her team hope to pique people's interest by showing them that such a realistic image is, in fact, a painting, not a photograph.

"It's so realistic but so human," Amanda Nesci, who handles communications for the museum, explains of the image choice. "It connects our human experience with nature in a palpable way."

Come January 15, the indoor portion of the exhibit will open, revealing the work of another environmental artist, Peggy Weil. Her digital installation will travel through time by way of a Greenland ice sheet, going back 110,000 years to show how humans have affected the earth's polar regions.

"It helps get at the scale issue, which can be difficult for us to grasp," Massie explains of Weil's work. "Both of these works are about polar ice and how quickly it's vanishing, and they also answer questions of time and scale and require us as human beings to grapple with our own decisions. Both artists are building awareness and promoting the conversation."

While a permanent home for the museum is still years away, Massie hopes to continue to promote a more public dialogue around climate change with upcoming events, panels, and celebrations around the city. Once it does come to fruition, the space will be the first museum devoted to climate change in America and only the second in the world (the other being a small, regional museum outside Hong Kong).

Working without much precedent, Massie is pulling inspiration from other niche museums that use art to spark social and emotional learning, like the Holocaust Memorial Museum downtown and Newseum in Washington, D.C.

"I'm amazed that there's not a climate museum in every city," Massie says, explaining that museums hold huge potential to drive awareness to climate change and humanity's role within it. With 850 million people visiting American museums a year—a higher reach than all major league sports arenas and the top 20 amusement parks combined—their scope is unparalleled. Plus, their multisensory exhibits can help people grapple with issues like global warming, that can easily feel far away.

For these reasons, Massie predicts that the Climate Museum won't be the only player in the space for long. "It's starting to be recognized that museums have a real role to play here. Museums are a public trust, and this is the crisis of our age. We have to be in there."

Learn more about the motivation for the climate museum and the woman behind it here.

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