Many of us are concerned or confused about our climate crisis, and yet, conversation around this critical issue often stalls or divides our society. As Voltaire wrote more than two centuries ago: “Men argue. Nature acts.” With global heating now part of our everyday lived experience, one family decided to act. Allan and Helaine Shiff, long-time ROM members, have made a visionary donation to establish the ROM’s inaugural Allan and Helaine Shiff Curatorship of Climate Change.
“We were inspired by the advocacy of young people around the world, including our own grandkids,” says Allan, speaking also on behalf of his late wife, Helaine. “After I attended the UN Conference of the Parties on Climate Change in Copenhagen, we both felt committed to fostering truthful dialogue, critical research, and urgent action. We wanted youth, especially, to have tools to understand the full implications and combat the climate challenges they have inherited.” Their generous gift was matched by the Museum’s Louise Hawley Stone Charitable Trust, and will launch an interdisciplinary climate change initiative focused on public programming and citizen engagement.
A global search is underway to hire the first Shiff Curator, who will research and infuse the urgency of our climate emergency across the ROM’s lifelong learning activities and community outreach. “At the heart of our strategic plan is the ROM’s commitment to engaging with the pressing ideas and topics that define our times. The climate emergency is at the very top of that list,” says Josh Basseches, ROM Director & CEO. “I’m tremendously grateful to the Shiff family for supporting our ability to bring critical new insight to our audiences on how human activity is causing global heating—and equally importantly, to inspire people to help protect life on Earth.”
Supported by donors, the ROM welcomed 1.34 million visitors last year, representing an incredible platform to engage diverse publics in learning about our climate breakdown—at the unique intersection of art, culture, and nature. Past exhibitions such as Wildlife Photographer of the Year and Carbon 14: Climate Is Culture have highlighted our world’s most immediate challenge through the eyes of scientists, artists, and cultural informers. Enabled by Allan and Helaine, adult programs such as ROM Speaks will further convey and amplify the urgency of our climate crisis via lectures, films, and research symposiums.
“We are confident the ROM is the only institution in Canada with its unique mandate and reach to create an inclusive platform for people to learn, exchange ideas, and tackle one of the greatest issues of our day,” says Allan. As Canada’s largest cocurricular educator, the Museum engages 300,000 children and youth annually; it is vital they have a sense of agency and a role in finding real-life solutions to the reality of a hotter planet.
It is this platform that excites Allan, who hopes more donors, partners, and people will become involved. “Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world,” he says. “We can’t sit idly by when we have the opportunity to shape our collective future. I believe in the power of bringing together a new movement of engaged citizens and researchers who will be a catalyst for change.”