State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Reimagining the Future: The Climate Imaginarium Opens on Governors Island

Every weekend, over 20,000 people board ferries to escape crowded city sidewalks and visit Governors Island in New York Harbor. This year, the Climate Imaginarium will engage visitors with some of the biggest climate and sustainability questions: How do we exercise political will to help the planet? How do we encourage more sustainable decision-making? And what can we achieve when we all work together toward a common goal? 

A new convening of climate organizations with a center for the arts on Governors Island, the Climate Imaginarium serves as a community hub for climate and culture, with galleries and spaces for exhibitions, performances, film screenings and events that respond to the climate crisis with solutions and visions for hope and justice. Programming is offered by a range of institutions and organizations, coming together to reimagine a just and regenerative future.

Group of people arm in arm at an art opening with child in front
Lydia Pilcher, Josh Nodiff, Sandra Goldmark, Ben Mylius and Carly Roberts at the opening of the Imaginarium. Credit: Sandra Goldmark

The Climate Imaginarium is an initiative of the Climate Imaginations Network, part of the Earth Networks program at the Columbia Climate School. From May 18 to November 3, the Imaginarium will have a residency through Governors Island Arts’ Organizations in Residence program, which presents over 200 exhibitions and 30 arts organizations each year.

Artists and storytellers have a vital role to play in shifting our culture toward transformative ways of thinking about climate and community. Research shows that people are far more likely to remember stories than lists of facts. Right now, less than 3% of stories portrayed on stage and screen acknowledge the climate crisis.

“To grapple effectively with the climate crisis, we need a more creative imagination of the possible futures that lie ahead,” said Anand Pandian, an anthropology professor at Johns Hopkins University and curator of the Ecological Design Collective. “It’s so exciting to see the Climate Imaginarium come together as a space to nurture such possibilities.”

In addition to being a popular destination for arts and culture, Governors Island will also be the site for the New York Climate Exchange, which will research, develop and demonstrate equitable climate solutions for New York City that can be scaled globally. Alongside this effort, the Climate Imaginarium can leverage the arts to transform the way we think about climate and community.

postcards with images and text at a art opening above a gas stove
Snapshots from Grist magazine at the Imaginarium opening. Photo: Sandra Goldmark

Joshua Nodiff (Climate and Society MA ’23) founded and developed the idea for the Imaginarium in collaboration with Ben Mylius (Political Science Ph.D. ’23), Yumi Rodriguez (Climate and Society MA ’24), and the Climate Imaginations Network community. The team is supported by the efforts of a community of curators, community leaders, advisors, partners, artists, storytellers and collaborators.

“For three years, the Climate Imaginations Earth Network brought artists, storytellers, climate scientists, advocates and change-makers together on the Columbia campus to imagine a shared future,” said Sandra Goldmark, senior assistant dean for interdisciplinary engagement at the Columbia Climate School. “It’s wonderful to see this work continue to grow at the Climate Imaginarium.”

The idea was initially seeded over a series of conversations within the Climate Imaginations Network that included Pandian and Tory Stephens, the climate fiction creative manager at Grist magazine. Together, the group identified the need for a climate storytelling consortium extending beyond Columbia’s campus, to build relationships between the most influential climate arts and culture organizations.

Over the next three years, the Imaginarium and its partners are working to develop four core programs:

First, the Imaginarium has established the community center for climate artists, storytellers, scientists and advocates to convene and collaborate on Governors Island. This center forges relationships between individuals, supports the cross-pollination of interdisciplinary knowledge and offers activities for people to explore and process their climate emotions together. It is a “third place”—a space outside of work and home—for those who are climate-minded and seeking social connection.

Second, the Imaginarium has set up a series of galleries and spaces to engage the public on the climate crisis through exhibitions, film screenings and performances. Artwork is displayed on the first and second floors, with thematic exhibits rotating throughout the summer; film series, concerts, theater and dance performances are planned throughout the season.

group of people gathered around a room with an artist speaking
Imaginarium opening. Photo: Alfonso Jaramillo-Gomez.

Third, the Imaginarium plans to develop a laboratory to inform interdisciplinary education and research for translating climate stories into climate solutions. The laboratory will investigate climate emotions and how storytelling can catalyze climate action and innovation. It will engage in creative and scientific practices, from regenerative design to mindfulness-based techniques.

Fourth, the Imaginarium plans to open a production studio to incubate and develop climate stories across a range of narrative media—film, theater, immersive experiences and more. The studio will serve as a clearinghouse for stories authored by community members to reach new audiences with a social impact.

The Imaginarium celebrated its opening on Saturday, May 18, with a launch party for the consortium. The celebration featured the opening art exhibitions of “What is Environmental Art?” from Forest For Trees Collective and “Our Climate Imaginarium” from the Imaginarium community, community programming from Climate Cafe NYC, creative writing and essays from the Climate Writers Collective, “Eye of Flora,” an augmented reality exhibition by artist Chiaochi Chou of Synphysica Collective and a biodegradable glitter bar from Art Jam Collective.

Boy wearing VR headset in front of building
A visitor plays with a VR headset at the Imaginarium opening. Photo: Lydia Pilcher

Over 350 people of all ages wove through the first and second floors of the house, interacting with art installations and video projections, and donning virtual reality headsets. In the kitchen, which houses the Climate Writers Collective, attendees scanned QR codes to engage with climate fiction, poetry and essays. The afternoon featured music, readings and the palpable excitement and deep appreciation for the community effort that brought the Imaginarium to life.

“Josh, Yumi, and their partners have created a scrappy and beautiful space for people to connect from across the city and the world. I went to the opening weekend with my son; he tried a VR headset, looked into a giant nest of twigs, created a postcard of the future—and then went to enjoy an ice cream and a trip down the giant slide on the other end of Governors Island. This is a trip worth making!” Goldmark said.

Visitors can engage with the Climate Imaginarium in a number of ways in the coming months. Climate Cafe weekly meetups, Climate Writers Collective workshops, Climate Creatives Circles, and art installations by Forest For Trees Collective will be ongoing fixtures of the Imaginarium through November. With a growing calendar of arts and cultural programming, the Imaginarium will promote ecological literacy, social connection, and climate storytelling to visitors of all ages.

Upcycled nylon stockings used to create artwork
Rose Malenfant’s upcycled nylon art, titled “I Shed to Remember,” hangs at the Imaginarium. Photo: Sandra Goldmark

“I’m thrilled that Governors Island is establishing itself as a hub for climate solutions, recognizing that culture, arts and storytelling are crucial pieces of the puzzle,” said Tory Stephens, Climate Fiction Creative Manager at Grist. “The Climate Imaginarium fosters a highly organic and collaborative approach to climate storytelling, with a strong emphasis on community programming and shared ownership over the project’s direction.”

If we stretch our imaginations, even a little, we can tell stories across genres—addressing our inextricable relationship to the natural world and uplifting the voices of those most impacted by the climate crisis. Stories can sow seeds for new systems that embrace hope and justice, advance renewable and clean energy, promote resilient ecosystems, and envision a regenerative future for all.

Located in Building 406A on Colonels Row, the Climate Imaginarium is open to the public every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

Programming is offered with support, encouragement, and diverse contributions from a range of institutions, initiatives, and organizations, including the Columbia Climate School, Trust for Governors Island, Climate Film Festival NYC, Imagine 2200 at Grist, Climate Writers Collective, Ecological Design Collective, Climate Cafe NYC, Climate Stories Project, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, The Sixth Fest, Forest For Trees Collective, Little Blue Marble, Climate Mental Health Network, Climate Comedy Collective, Talking Animals, Arts & Climate Initiative and many more.