In a small museum in England, a group of volunteers carefully maintains a Victorian garden. Once, the vegetables they grow would have fed the ‘guests’ of the workhouse to which the gardens belong. Now, they use these vegetables in community events where people meet to learn about and discuss social justice, law and order, and the effects of poverty on people’s lives. The museum’s staff and volunteers believe that by understanding how we treated the poor in the past, we may learn to end poverty soon.
Recently I was invited to an enjoyable tour of the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. The tour guide told her story, while we fell in awe with the museum’s unbelievable collection. When we reached the galleries of the war of 1812 (Napoleon’s famous march to Moscow and consequent defeat), an off-handed remark caught my attention. It allowed me to chat with my Russian peers about different views on our shared history and different perspectives on our shared future. The tour guide’s story allowed me to understand the ideas and values of other people better.
At the first global #MuseumsForFuture late November, Mozart went on strike. More specifically, I should say a bust of Mozart went on #ArtStrike. Unbeknownst to the great composer, who never knew of a climate emergency, his face became a local (and thanks to Instagram, global) image of one of the great struggles of our time. With this act, the Viennese Mozart House tried to raise awareness for climate change and encourage people to take action.
In the cultural sector, we tell stories that make a difference. Our stories are not a distraction from a busy job, they are not mere entertainment for the weekends, they are not shallow. Instead, our best stories are timeless, urgent, relevant for future generations.
And yet our best stories are often told in a whisper.
All organizations are a collective effort to tell an engaging and memorable story to the largest possible audience. Doing so is a creative and strategic challenge. Stories are the starting point of an organization. A story is our core, our soul, our raison d’être, as Erik Schilp and I write in our Quantum Culture workbook.
The best stories transcend the walls of your organization into the wider community and the world. This doesn’t mean we have to shout them loudly to be heard widely. Compelling and memorable storytelling suggests that we tell stories that others can identify with.
If we want to make a difference, we need to put in the creative and strategic work and claim space for our stories. Our stories are worth it, and it may just change something.