As life began to return to normal in the UK in 2021, research by Bath University was a stark reminder that it is not only COVID-19 that is having a major impact on young people’s mental health and wellbeing. The survey showed the depth of anxiety about the climate and ecological emergency experienced by young people around the world and how it affects their daily lives. Nearly 60% of those surveyed said they felt very or extremely worried about the impact of climate change, and 56% said they think humanity is doomed as a result of the way we treat planet earth.
Kids in Museums believes museums have a duty to speak out and respond to the climate and ecological emergency. In particular they should support families, children and young people to make positive change. This could be through programming to inspire personal action, involving them in organisational change or directly supporting their activism. It’s also worth noting that by empowering children and young people to talk to their families about the climate emergency, museums are helping to create effective messengers about the need for climate action. Research published in Nature Climate Change in 2019 shows the impact young people can have on their parents’ views.
Research into visitor trends at DCMS-sponsored museums in 2020 shows that only 12% of 16-24 year olds felt museum displays were relevant to them and wanted to see them address more social justice stories. We also know that taking action to care for the environment supports a greater sense of wellbeing and helps to address climate anxiety.
Kids in Museums declared a climate emergency in 2019. Ever since, we have worked to develop the support we provide for museums, families children and young to engage with climate change. Our Youth Panel created and runs Objects Declare Emergency: an online gallery of museum objects showing how they can bring new perspectives to the climate crisis and provide ideas for action and change. Our online resource about how museums can support children and young people to understand and respond to the climate emergency is one of our most popular online resources and has been viewed several thousand times. This year, for the first time, our flagship Takeover Day programme has a climate theme.
Takeover Day is an annual day when children and young people go into museums, galleries, archives, heritage sites and other cultural organisations for the day and take on meaningful adult roles. Since 2010, nearly 40,000 children and young people aged 0-25 have taken part, taking on jobs including security guards, curators, marketing managers and tour guides. Many of them have gone on to get more involved with the life of the museum as a result.
On 12 November 2021, the last day of COP26, we hope that museums, galleries and heritage sites all over the UK will enable children and young people to take over their organisations and promote positive action in response to the climate and ecological emergency. Among the events planned to date:
- At Perth Museum and Gallery, young people will be making and curating a display of climate protest posters.
- At Jorvik Viking Centre, young people will be creating content about how Viking artefacts can inspire us to be more environmentally sustainable.
- Local high school students will curate a sustainable communities themed cabinet at the Whitaker Art Gallery.
We would love to see more climate themed Takeover Days so children and young people in museums can make a positive, visible statement about the need for everyone to act in response to the climate emergency.
Alison Bowyer is Executive Director of Kids in Museums. Alison has worked in the cultural sector for over 10 years with previous roles at LAMDA, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Southbank Centre and the Academy of Ancient Music.