Canada spearheads alliance of Arctic Council museums

Staff at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa are organizing an alliance of national natural history museums from the Arctic Council countries. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As government officials ready themselves for the Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Sweden this week, directors of Arctic-nation natural history museums are making preparations of their own.


Margaret Beckel, director of the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, said she is in the process of organizing an alliance of national natural history museums from the eight Arctic countries. This would allow museums to collaborate on Arctic-oriented programs and share the work being done by the Arctic Council.

The Council, an intergovernmental forum through which government ministers and indigenous groups discuss circumpolar policies and challenges, is holding its biennial ministerial meeting in Kiruna, Sweden on Wednesday.

“The issues and challenges of the Arctic cross borders,” Beckel said. “The hope is that, given we’re going to have some common themes in the stories that we tell about the Arctic, there will be opportunities to share travelling exhibits.”

And by connecting with the Arctic Council, the alliance members will be able to inform museum-goers about the scientific and cultural research being done by the organization. Beckel said this is important because the Council doesn’t have a good public outreach strategy.

“This is something we’re proposing as a role that museums can fulfil – actually reaching out to the general public so that the general public is aware of the Arctic Council and the work of the Arctic Council,” she said.

Over the last year, Beckel has met with directors from the Norwegian Natural History Museum in Oslo, the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm and the Smithsonian National Museum of National History in Washington, D.C. All have expressed interest in being part of a virtual alliance.

“I think it’s of great importance for the scientific research in the Arctic,” said Arne Bjørlykke, director of the Norwegian Natural History Museum. “By having this cooperation in the Arctic we can join expeditions, we can join experience and bring the research groups together.”

He said the time is ripe for such an alliance because many museums are starting to digitize content and archives, which will facilitate sharing of information. And interest in polar issues and research is increasing now because of the clear effects of climate change in the Arctic.

Beckel said she hopes to have a preliminary meeting with staff from confirmed museums this fall to further discuss how the alliance will work. The first formal meeting of the alliance could happen as early as next spring once she has met with directors of the national natural history museums in Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Russia.