In March 2023, I had the opportunity to talk to Miranda Massie, founder and Director of The Climate Museum. I had never really looked at non-profit funding before, so this was a great chance to find out what’s going on behind-the-scenes.
How do climate and culture intersect on a day-to-day basis for an organisation focused on the climate crisis? The following is a summary of that interview.
Limited funding for all
When she began, Miranda expected that if you work for something in the middle of the Venn diagram of both climate and culture, this would mean that you’d be able to access funding streams from both sectors. She was wrong. She thought fundraising would be easier. It was the opposite.
It turns out that funding is very siloed. There are institutional funders for both climate funding streams and arts streams. You’d think they’d be perfect for an organisation doing both, but most of the time, you end up getting sent back and forth between the two programs.
Oh, you have a museum? You should go ask for the arts funding, we are doing climate change policy support.
Oh, but you’re doing climate change stuff. Yeah, no, we are focused on the arts. You should go check out the climate change funds.
Climate funding has been a challenge because, in global philanthropy, all forms of climate work are being funded at a level of 2%, which does not reflect the urgency of the matter. This means that only 2% of funds are allocated to any and all work on climate.
The other 98% goes to other causes, many of them religious and educational (such as alumni solicitations). For cultural work on climate, you’d expect an important amount to be available, but this isn’t really the case. Miranda believes that’s starting to change, although we’re not there yet.
Where does the 2% go?
The lion’s share goes to climate policy research and advocacy. You see smaller sums going to frontline activist organisations and various climate justice leadership projects such as environmental justice groups, youth climate movements for intergenerational justice and other questions at the center of the climate crisis. Until recently, almost nothing had been identified as a philanthropic fund for the intersection of climate and culture/arts.
The politics of funding for climate and culture
There seems to be some resistance by traditional art funders to see art being mobilised for climate action because it can be interpreted as an instrumentalisation of the arts and a diminishing of artistic intrinsic values as humanistic expressions.
Although art has been often used by many artists and movements to make political statements, some art funders appear to feel that using art to drive policy and mobilise people for climate protagonism is vulgar or inappropriate.
This does not mean that things are not changing. The Climate Museum recently got a generous donation from a foundation that recognises the critical role that arts play to create the cultural shifts necessary for climate change policies to affect realities.
Forget the money for a bit. What about the public? Do people really care?
Yes, they do! Funding or not, Miranda experienced a positive reception to The Climate Museum from the general public from the very beginning. Attitudes today are so extraordinarily positive, that they have exceeded expectations. They have had young children insisting on having their birthday parties there and the Google visit reviews are amazing: 4.9 stars with 104 reviews.
Recent excited Google reviews on how we need more spaces like The Climate Museum.
Another of The Climate Museum's many 5-start Google reviews applauding the work being the done and the staff.
This overwhelming support makes the gap between the public response and philanthropy action even more glaring, although this is not surprising as philanthropy is traditionally conservative to change. While Miranda senses a more stable and normative funding stream in the near future, she feels lucky to have had individual supporters at the beginning. Certainly, relying on your friends and personal network is not a workable business model, so it’s great when bigger institutions and complete strangers start showing up on your doorstep.
The journey to sustainability
Miranda left her job 9 years ago to found The Climate Museum and exhibits started 5 years ago. In spite of promising signs of change, the biggest surprise was how many problems there are in philanthropy. Although there are exceptions, it is normal for major foundations to spend their amounts by statute in a business-as-usual way which does not necessarily reflect global realities or needs.
This means that there may be little you can do, as an organisation, when asking for funds. It’s not up to you. It’s up to what the philanthropy wants to fund.
It’s hard to communicate that making exhibitions and cultural programming is neither free nor cheap.
While there are some funding streams, like the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, with a 10 million grant for the intersection of climate and culture - specifically carbon neutrality in museums - there is no established funding line for cultural programming.
In this context, Miranda has some advice if you work in nonprofits and heritage. Don’t give up.
Whenever you have a chance to reach philanthropic streams, take it. Talk about the topic with everyone. You never know who might know about something or someone who might be able to help you. Many things never happen because no one talks about them. Many processes are hampered unnecessarily because no one knows enough about the issues.
So let’s talk about things. Leave me a comment and share the article if you enjoyed it.
I would like to thank Miranda Massie for her time and her honest insights into the world of cultural and climate philanthropy for nonprofits. I write this article in the hopes that Miranda’s shared experience will help us in some way or another. Are you interested in collaborating with her? Let me know!
This article is part of the Founders in Heritage series. Read about the experiences of other founders and entrepreneurs in the heritage world through the links in the main blog.
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