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Tomorrow’s News Today

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

Last week’s “Breaking Trail” post was the first in a series of profiles of museums pioneering futurist planning and actions. This post premieres another kind of entry that will be a recurring feature of the CFM blog—current news stories that illustrates potential future states.

Let me backtrack to explain this format. When the Institute for the Future ran the Alternate Reality Game Superstruct last fall, I was, at first, startled at how extreme the forecasts were. was marked by rampant epidemic disease, food shortages, energy disruptions, massively displaced populations and cybervandalism threatening the integrity of data worldwide. However, as the game progressed, I found when I opened the New York Times each morning I found some story that was an eerie echo of the Superstruct scenarios. By the conclusion of the game, I felt that the IFTF projections were not so extreme at all—sometimes they seemed to be barely exaggerated versions of our current state. Which has led to an interesting new way to read the newspaper, for me—which stories can I spot that are early tails of future trends?

My first nominee is this NPR Story on the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Philbrook is using part of its grounds, traditionally dedicated to a formal garden, to plant vegetables that will be donated to a local community food bank. This is a win-win situation. The Philbrook did not have the funds this year to maintain the whole formal garden. This illustrates a broader trend we have tracked anecdotally, of nonprofits cutting back on maintenance such as window washing, carpet cleaning, groundskeeping, to shave costs. And in these tight economic times, food banks are experiencing increased demand, while donations, overall, are down.

This is a real-time echo of a posted in Superstruct, reporting on a joint announcement (in 2019) by the AAM and the Association of Public Gardens of new national standards for botanic gardens and arboretums that encourage the use of their grounds for community garden allotments. The new standard reads “a public garden assists its community in dealing with challenges to the local food supply through education and provision of resources including, where appropriate, land for community gardens or other methods of food production.”

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I was alerted to the Philbrook story by Amelia Wong, who posted it on Museum 3.0 in response to a challenge by Elaine Gurian to explore the appropriate uses of museums during this serious economic downturn. Should they stick strictly to their missions, or do what needs to be done to meet the most urgent needs of their communities? (The topic was further explored in the first post of the CFM blog.) I think the Philbrook’ actions neatly illustrate that the answer need not be either/or, win/lose. In the future, I think it will be more common for museums to look beyond the strict boundaries of their missions to consider how to meet the acute needs of their community. Or, at least, those museums that do so are more likely to be valued and supported by their communities, and therefore to survive even in hard times.

Write in to contribute to this discussion. What museums do you know of that have stepped forward, in ways not directly tied to their missions, to meet community needs?

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  1. Wonderful post, Elizabeth. I don't have anything specific to add about the role of museums, but just wanted to agree with you about beginning to see aspects of Superstruct's reality appearing in ours.

    My wife and I have been talking a lot lately about what will be the next news item we see heralding the upcoming crises – and what will be the next positive step to rise up against them.

    I look foward to watching this discussion on the role of museums in this continue to unfold!

  2. This dovetails with a personal petpeeve of mine – which is the corporate garden plot where every few weeks a series of perfectly fine plants whose blooms have gone are ripped out and replaced with new ones, often forced to bloom to make a 'welcoming' small garden of neat rows of perfect flowers. In DC, I felt this gardens were de rigeur for most buildings.

    I secretly wished for each garden to become an organic vegetable/herb garden – free for the picking when ripe .. or picked by local food shelters for their own use. It doesn't really matter who gets the fresh produce, but it would be great if the communities often unable to afford or find fresh food could get first pick.

    Whaddya think?
    Can't cost more than the begonia brigade and is good for the soul.


  3. The Community Garden aspect is a direct mission extension for historic sites and I wish more museums could/would find community partners to help them tackle it.

    Perhaps ten years ago The Olde Manse in Concord (part of The Trustees of Reservations) recreated the house's huge front vegetable garden as a garden to provide for the needy.

    Today Strawbery Banke has a busy community garden and is using its main site to recreate a Victory Garden and encourage home vegetable gardens.

    What's next – I hope it's a museum that sets up a community canning kitchen or a meat locker like in Depression Era times…..

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