How cultural institutions can tackle sustainability

Is there a responsibility for cultural institutions to not just reflect the past, but contemplate the future as well? National Gallery Victoria curator Ewan McEoin talks to CR about the museum’s latest show on sustainability and why they want to invest in designers

When talking about broad yet critical topics such as sustainability and climate change, it’s easy to assume that the brands and companies tasked with making a difference are those who create products or supply services. While the creative industries can have an impact in these areas, some believe it’s also the responsibility of our cultural institutions, galleries and museums to step up and help educate, inspire and shape the future. 

“I think over time, there’s been this idea that institutions should look backwards, and record what has happened,” says Ewan McEoin, senior curator of contemporary design at National Gallery Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. “I just really don’t agree with that. We’re extremely engaged in participating and shaping what can happen. We’re a fairly major gallery in Australia in terms of scale, size and audience numbers. So we have to step up and lead by example.” 

All gallery images (unless stated): Installation views of Sampling the Future at The Ian Potter Centre, NGV Australia, Melbourne. Photos: Tom Ross

One way the NGV is doing this is through its current show Sampling the Future, which opened last Friday, after another national lockdown postponed its original August launch. “Sampling the Future is an exhibition mainly about designers fundamentally grappling with their role in shaping aspects of the future,” explains McEoin. 

On display are new works by leading experimental and speculative designers whose practices bridge the worlds of design, technology, science and philosophy to reimagine how and why objects, materials and structures are designed and made. The NGV has commissioned and invested in these works and they form part of the institution’s ongoing commitment to helping designers and artists critically investigate the status quo in design. “We’re at this pivotal moment where I think a lot of designers are questioning the material ecology, the labour ecology, and the environmental consequences of design as it stands, and then searching for ways that they can be more experimental and engaging with solutions,” says McEoin.

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes