CMA Stories

“Even though kids are so young, they can make a huge difference.” — 5 Minutes with the Climate Museum

This summer, CMA teamed up with the Climate Museum for Climate With a Limit, a short documentary film written, directed, and produced by the young artists in CMA’s Documentary Filmmaking Summer Art Colony camp on Governors Island. 

The Climate Museum is the first museum in the U.S. dedicated to the climate crisis. Acting as a catalyst for cultural transformation around climate, the museum invites people from all walks of life into the conversation and builds community around solutions. 

In light of CMA’s 30th anniversary CIVICKIDS campaign, which fosters civic engagement and shared community pride through art-making, we endeavored to find out more about our neighbors on Governors Island and understand their varied approaches to working with civically engaged children. Below, CMA meets with Maggie O’Donnell and Mohammed Ahnaf, Exhibition Hosts at the Climate Museum. 

CMA: Tell us about the current exhibition at the Climate Museum.

Maggie O’Donnell: The Climate Museum sits at the intersection of arts and environmentalism. This exhibition, Taking Action, brings in a science and natural history angle. We also present public programming to raise awareness of the climate crisis and to bring people into the movement in whatever sort of capacity they feel comfortable. My work as a curatorial intern over the summer focused on programming to bring more people into the exhibition here [on Governors Island]. We also worked with 30 high school interns, making sure the information was digestible for them so that they could, in turn, translate that to other people. 

CMA: Can you tell us about your programming for kids and families?

MO: With this exhibition specifically, we have done a lot of field trips, and different children’s groups will be led through the exhibition by a teen docent. We have also done a couple of events that are more hands-on. We try to balance our science-based and art-based programming.

For City of Water Day, we had a tile painting activity where people came and painted tiles to add to our collection of archived materials. That was great — seeing the participation of people, somewhat unprompted, drawing imagery related to climate change, storms, and their own experiences.

We also had Ask a Scientist Day where we Skyped with a scientist who was working on a ship in the middle of the ocean. She talked about her experience and people were able to ask her their own personal questions about climate change.

Another public programming initiative we did was with a climate change communication expert talking about one of the main driving statistics behind the current exhibition, which is that 69% of people say that they are actively worried about climate change but only 8% talk about it regularly.

CMA: That’s awesome! Do you have any memorable teaching moments that come to mind?

MO: One of the first tours I gave was a tour group from CMA. One of the girls was looking at the graphs, and she got choked up and anxious and said “I’m scared. I’m worried about this.” That was a very striking teachable moment. It was interesting to figure out how to recognize her feelings, hear what she was saying, and yet also say that there’s still hope… wanting to her feel like she’s not alone in feeling worried. It’s totally fair to be worried!

CMA: That is a great segue into my last question. At CMA, we think a lot about how to facilitate conversations with children that are geared towards issues of civic engagement. Do you have any advice on talking to children about difficult subjects such as climate change?

MO: One of the things we are working on here at the Climate Museum is meeting people where they’re at, and maybe giving them a little bit more — really getting an idea of what people, especially children, already know by asking them questions. A lot of times we find that kids know a lot already! Using the information that we get by asking, “What do you know about why this hamburger or other carbon-weighted foods is so much heavier than an apple? Why do you think that’s the case?” It gives you parameters to work with.

CMA: Do you have any memorable teaching moments from this exhibition?

Mohammed Ahna: It would be teaching young kids what climate change really is. I remember giving a tour to CMA visitors. Usually, the way we prepare is that we need to teach the younger kids what climate change is, but the kids from CMA already knew everything. They were so aware of greenhouse gases and climate change.

CMA: That is something we think about a lot at CMA —  how to have these difficult conversations with children about big issues. Do you have any advice on handling difficult conversations with kids?

MA: Making children feel like they can do something about it. Even though kids are so young, they can make a huge difference. This entire exhibition was inspired by the youth movement. For the younger generation, even though they can’t vote, they can still make their voices heard by engaging in conversations with their family members and their friends. It’s a really difficult conversation to have, but we try to inspire them and help them engage in that conversation.

Learn more at www.climatemuseum.org

This program is supported, in part, by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts with support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. CIVICKIDS is sponsored by Google.

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