Monday, June 6, 2016

Dream Big: Because Museums Can Change the World

Last week the MacArthur Foundation (“committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world”) announced the 100&Change Challenge. This competition will award $100M to a single proposal designed to help solve a critical problem affecting people, places or the planet. MacArthur invites organizations in any field of endeavor to identify a problem and offer a solution that creates meaningful & durable change. Competitive proposals will be “meaningful, verifiable, durable and feasible” and applicants will be judged on their “track record, creativity & imagination.”  

Over the years this Blog has profiled museums tackling all sorts of critical problems:  climate change, childhood obesity, food deserts, meeting the needs of people with dementia, the need for better STEM education and support for homeless families to name but a few.   

As Michael Edson has pointed out, “dreams come in different size…different scales,” and to meet the needs of the 21st century museums (including small museums) need to imagine how they can have a bigger impact. When I push this idea to museum staff, I often get the response “yes, but—we don’t have the resources.”   

$100M? That’s enough to take a grand idea to scale.

So here’s my Monday thought for you: use this challenge to push your thinking and expand your ambitions. Work with your colleagues to outline how your museum could meet the challenge. Whether or not you submit a proposal, push your thinking about what your organization can accomplish in the world—this may well reset the scale of your ambitions. As the MacArthur staff member managing the competition points out “setting audacious goals is inspiring.”

Submitting a proposal—whether or not you win—can have tangible rewards as well. Feedback from the judges may help you refine, rescale and repurpose the idea for other funders. And by publicizing proposals, museums individually, and our field collectively, can reshape the attitudes of the public, press and supporters about the potential impact of our work.  

First step—register on the competition website by September 2. You’ll be required to complete a substantive application describing the problem you’ve chosen to tackle, your solution and budget (as well as a video pitch) by October 3. In December MacArthur will announce the semi-finalists, which will then be paired with a team of experts to hone their proposal. Finalists will present their proposals a a live event in fall, 2017. 

I can already hear some dismissive snorts echoing through the social media sphere: "oh right, like a museum is going to win this competition." To which I say (in my sternest voice) don't you dare sell yourselves short, museum people. Collectively, we have a whole lot of awesome to offer the world, and I think the vast majority of our potential is as yet untapped. So, me? I fully expect to see a museum up there on the stage in 2017, making their pitch in the challenge finals. 

88 days to register. Get started folks! Let’s (collectively) show the world how museums can build a better future, and what we could do with support  on this scale.

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