Anaqalluataq (Good evening), there are many complications that can occur when having or managing a living collection. So many of these kinds of complications can be very directly related to collection type specific problems/challenges however, I feel that there are two major challenges that all living collections have and those are: budget/funding stability and contingency plans.
Budget and funding stability are challenges that all museums face and impacts from those challenges are very impacting on living collections because it affects spaces that have to be designed for very particular conditions for very particular life-forms to be maintained in. Most living collections do not have a margin of less than a of standard operations, so there are very strict budget needs for these institutions. In addition to the high and strict budget needs, it seems like most of these collections might rely on activities like tourism for raising funds and this can lead to challenges with funding stability.
Due to COVID-19 over the summer the Alaska SeaLife center in Seward had to have a fundraising campaign in order to remain in operation, they were seeking 2 million dollars to stay afloat and thankfully have been able to stay open. Living collections that rely on grants for funding might also find funding instability when and if funders change their minds or shift interests, this could lead to collections being left out and struggling to fill the gaps in funding. Due to these kinds of circumstances, I feel that most living collections need to have active and evolving contingency plans and that in and of itself seems to be a challenge.
Due to the nature of living collections the truth is some form of life is at stake and if funding is no longer available to fit the needs of the institution, how and what are the next steps in order to meet the needs of these living beings that are supported/tied to these institutions? Are their jobs that will be cut? Are there specimens that will be sent to places with more stable funding? Are there volunteers willing to make things work? There is a salmon hatchery in Sitka that was associated with the Sheldon Jackson College, when the college was closed in 2007 the fishery was run by a dedicated hatchery manager who volunteered for some time, at some point the hatchery became funded again and resumed with paid staff (I’m not sure of any more details then this, I was on campus when this occurred but was a youth.) This is an example of what could be necessary when a living collection meets funding instability but also makes it clear that other plans must be in place in case of times of need. Having partnering organizations or institutions and active plans with them could really make a difference when faced with uncertainty. Living collections have the ability to change lives and house some of the most amazing forms of life on this planet but without stable funding and support plans for if or when that funding is no longer available they have the capacity to lose what make them so special, I hope that living collections can find ways to be ethical and stable institutions.
Q: Are living collections ethical?