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The Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Contemporary Art
The Museum of Classical Art
The Royal Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Digital Art
The Museum of Old and New Art
The Museum of Industry
The Museum of Science
The Museum of Science and Industry
The Museum of Science and Technology
The Museum of Obsolete Technology
The Museum of Jurassic Technology
The National Museum of Australia
The National Museum of Iceland
The National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina
The National Taiwan Museum
The National Museum of Tanzania
The Museum of London
The Museum of the City of New York
The Museum of Moscow
The Helsinki City Museum
The Amsterdam Museum
The Museum of Childhood
The Museum of Love
The Museum of Sex
The Museum of Motherhood
The Museum of Broken Relationships
The Museum of Death
The Museum of Innocence
The Museum of Homelessness
The Museum of Tomorrow
The Museum of Curiosity
The Museum of Neoliberalism
The Museum of Everything
The Museum of You
The Museum of Me
About as many people work in the Dutch cultural and creative sectors as worked on the Apollo program that put humans on the moon. The UK has at least five times as many, the US 12 times. By my rough estimate, globally, collectively, arts and culture and design and heritage employ enough people for 200 moonshot projects.
Then there's the stuff. The Library of Congress holds 170 million items in its collections. The Smithsonian, also in DC, has a collection of 155 million things. These are exceptional organizations, and I have no way of tabulating the global pool of books, documents, and artifacts. It must be enormous. Every single item is an idea, a part of a story, an expression of natural and cultural ingenuity and wisdom.
As humans, we're in the process of discovering that we may have had infinite expectations of a finite world. Our soils are exhausted, the atmosphere full of greenhouse gasses, and the oceans packed with plastics. All our expectations have so far failed to create equal societies, let alone a fair and just world, too.
Living within the limits of our planet alone is likely not enough of a 'man on the moon' project for humankind. A year of Covid-inspired lockdowns makes it clear we do not want to survive; we want to live! Even when we learn to prosper without growth, we want something more. We want to live long and fulfilling lives. We want our children and grandchildren to live such lives.
Instead of adoring techno-utopians and smooth-talking politicians, I suggest we put faith in our collective creative imagination and ability to overcome this conundrum. I propose that we reevaluate the natural and cultural heritage our ancestors left behind for us. And I encourage us to embrace the artistic and creative potential of current and future generations.
While our world is finite, by all intents and purposes, our cultures are infinite.
Within the planet's boundaries, culture may be the only thing we have in abundance. Firstly, our collective cultural capital offers an abundance of ideas and practices to overcome the most significant challenges of our time. Ancient Arab techniques for water management help us cope with increasingly heavy rainfall. Black agriculturists look back generations to modernize regenerative farming. In the early days of the Covid pandemic, an old respirator in a museum collection inspired engineers to build a cheap and safe modern one.
Secondly, creative and artistic practices offer endless new ways of living and working together. When we say goodbye to the Thatcherian idea of the calculating individual as the only possible operating system for the world, indigenous communities, heritage practices, and artists offer promising alternatives.
Thirdly, culture offers an abundance of ways to address our insatiable need for the new. New ideas, new connections, new experiences. Don't they say that reading is like traveling from your easy chair? With millions of new books published each year, that's far more travel than even the most frequent flyer can handle. Committed readers also know that books give something much more valuable than platinum status.
Lastly, but probably most importantly, this abundance comes with an infrastructure. This abundance is supported by enough people for 200 moonshot projects. It has headquarters in virtually every city in the world. There are outposts in millions of communities. This abundance has a place in school curriculums, in people's spare time, in government considerations. Countries use it as a soft and often last resort alternative for diplomacy. NGOs apply it as a peacebuilding tool. Businesses use it to woo their most treasured partners. It sometimes seems the only people who do not appreciate culture's potential are the cultural professionals themselves.
This week's post is something new. Some of you may know that I've been challenged to write a book about the future of cultural organizations. In between my work on the SDGs and with cultural orgs, my family, and other projects, I've found it hard to find the time. Yet, I write these newsletters every week.
Starting with this week, I'll use some of these updates to draft parts of the book. A bit like Dickens wrote Great Expectations and Hamilton The Federalist Papers — a serial. Above, my attempt at the introduction. The first two or three pages. I have an outline, but I’m flexible. You are invited to partake by challenging ideas or adding perspectives. I will credit all contributions.
Also, I've instituted a paid version of this newsletter. Every update will stay freely accessible for everyone forever. I only believe the archive has limited accessibility, but I’ll try to keep it as open as possible. All proceeds from the paid version will support art and culture projects that contribute to overcoming our time's significant challenges. Projects like the ones we highlight on What Art Can Do. I'll donate the first 100 subscriptions myself so that hopefully, we can make a meaningful donation to a first project by summer.
Just as a heads up: there will be random updates as well. Next week, for instance. Taken together, nonetheless, I hope they build to something bigger.
Thanks for joining me on this journey, your attention, support, forwards to friends, and all the other ways you've helped me make this exercise worthwhile. Without you, I wouldn't have felt secure to take this next step. See you soon!