A review of The Sustainable Museum: How Museums Contribute to the Great Transformation by Christopher Garthe, 2022, Routledge.
As a keen museum visitor, I’m intrigued by the vision Christopher Garthe sets out in his new book, The Sustainable Museum, contextualising museums within the global drive towards sustainability, and how this also provides a way out of the problem of inbuilt cultural bias: the impossibility for a museum to have an unbiased viewpoint on its own collection. The collection itself and the simplest of labelling are already loaded with an implicit world view and systemic value-judgements. An institution which maintains that it is objective is all the more dubious, since its vested interests lie hidden even from itself. Perhaps the honest thing for a museum to do would be to clarify what it believes in, and to advocate that in a clear and transparent way. However, no intelligent person likes being told how to think, and it would be both tedious and socially divisive for museums to entrench themselves in a particular interpretive position and then glare out at the others across ideological divides.
So, is there any common ground for all to stand on; a base-line we can all agree on?
Yes, there is, says Dr Garthe, and that is the urgent task of achieving sustainability in all areas of life. His vision is for museums to see themselves as pivotal agents in our efforts towards social justice, ecological care and against climate change. In short, museums are, potentially, engines for a sustainable future.
This means museums taking on a clear societal mission; a politically active standpoint, stimulating reflection and debate, recognising their potential as multiplicators, bringing together different spheres of life and positively influencing both visitors and stakeholders towards sustainability. Their work and collections are employed to provide new perspectives on where we were, where we are, and where we want to be. Museums not just as places of the past, but as workshops for the future.
In order to take up this task, museums must be sustainable in themselves, throughout their management and administration, research, collecting, curation, participation and education: the sustainable museum, from the procurement of stationery through to the interpretation of artifacts. Just how to achieve that, is what this book is all about.
Christopher Garthe has worked for years on museums and science centres and has a doctorate in education and tourism in national parks. The book is available in German language and in English, as an e-book as well as a real book.
Angus Forbes is IE’s Architects Coordinator. He lives and works as a landscape architect in Berlin, Germany. He can be contacted at: [email protected].
To cite this article: Forbes, Angus (2022) ‘The Sustainable Museum’ in Interpret Europe Newsletter 4-2022, pg.22