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About this issue:

The theme for issue 42 of the Engage Journal was decided in July 2018, in the febrile atmosphere created by — amongst other events — Trump’s presidency, the Brexit vote, and mass movement of refugees. Since then international tensions have risen further and the role of ethics and activism in gallery and museum education has become more pressing and relevant.

Two recent developments highlight the need for our cultural institutions to interrogate their internal ethics, to discuss whether activism is appropriate to their role. This includes looking at how they might support artists and audiences in their concerns and actions.

The first is the initiative taken by the young Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg. The worries that many young people have about climate change has coalesced around her individual stand, leading to strikes by school pupils globally. The majority of galleries and museums work specifically with young people, but to what extent do they recognise this level of passionate engagement with political issues and seek to channel it through their work?

In March it was revealed that three London galleries – the Tate, the National Portrait Gallery and the South London Gallery – have severed their ties to the Sackler family. There is currently a lawsuit accusing the family of helping to create drug addiction, having made its fortune from the opioid painkiller crisis. This is the latest in a series of dilemmas associated with sponsorship, which have included tobacco and oil companies.

This Journal proposes practical ways for galleries and museums to consider these issues, along with discussions about particular artist projects and exhibitions.