Story by Catherine Cooper, Exhibition Project Coordinator, 9 Dec 2009.

Last month, the Australian Museum received a ‘highly commended’ award for its exhibition Climate change: our future, our choice. We were thrilled to receive the award from Museums and Galleries NSW, as the exhibition was on such a tricky and yet crucial topic. Elements such as the exhibition’s concept, curatorship, design, marketing and collaborative partnerships all impressed the judges.

Climate Change 2009
Documentation of Climate Change Exhibition space - May 2009 Image: Carl Bento
© Australian Museum

One of the big challenges we faced was presenting the subject of climate change in a scientifically accurate but fun and engaging way. We wanted to present what many might say is ‘the grim truth’ yet leave visitors not totally gloomy but motivated to make a difference.

We had much input and advice from our scientists, who gamely dissolved pieces of coral skeleton in acidic sea water for the displays, or helped us to recreate an accurate picture of the Great Barrier Reef changing from 2009 to 2020. We wrote the evening news for 2050 and recorded our scientists lamenting over the sulphur that had been pumped into the sky to cool the planet, or awarding Nobel Prizes to colleagues who had developed cheap solar panels. Many other museum staff volunteered to take on new roles as journalists, protestors or politicians in 2050 as we helped our visitors to imagine the future in concrete ways.

climate change exhibition
Climate change exhibition 2009. Image: Carl Bento
© Australian Museum

We also collaborated with the University of Sydney’s Institute of Integrated Sustainability Analysis to help visitors to understand how and where our carbon footprints come from. We chose some everyday objects such as a meal out or a new shirt, and traced back the emissions produced in manufacturing them. Mapping experts from the Museum’s Collections Informatics Unit then translated the vast amount of data into maps showing how the emissions spread across Australia.

The end result was an exhibition that was informative and interactive. It was also beautifully designed and made from sustainable materials. We are glad the judges shared our view that it did the job well!