Science Centre chief warns global audience of post-Brexit divide and importance of engagment with migrants

Linda Conlon

Linda Conlon, chief executive of the International Centre for Life, Newcastle, has issued a rallying call to science centres across the world, warning them to engage with refugees and migrants – or risk rendering themselves obsolete.

Linda, who is chair of the Association of Science and Technology Centres (ASTC), the international body that represents science centres globally, delivered the controversial address at the opening of their annual conference in Tampa, Florida on Saturday 24 September.

Over 1900 delegates from science centres around the world attended the four day conference. All are members of ASTC, which gives a collective voice to over 650 world science centres from over 50 countries. Conlon is the first European woman to be appointed Chair of ASTC (based in Washington, D.C.) in its 50 year history.

In her speech, she talked about a new political divide post-Brexit (which sees a shift away from traditional ‘right versus left’ politics) and why science centres have to rethink their business models if they are to survive and meet the needs of future audiences.

The full speech is supplied here as a separate PDF attachment. Key themes included:

The ‘new divide’: Brexit has highlighted a growing trend – the new divide between those who see an open world (with globalisation and technological change as broadly beneficial) and those who see these forces as destructive. New politics of our age will not be ‘left versus right’ but ‘open versus closed.’

The ‘tipping point’ principle: major shifts in demographics and the increasing diversity of audiences is creating a ‘tipping point’ - where current ‘core’ audiences for science centres will become the minority. Science Centres have to prepare now to be fit for purpose.

Linda Conlon said “Over 65 million people in the world today have been displaced by conflict and persecution. Immigration is causing large societal changes that play out in specific, tangible ways in our communities. Science centres have a duty to integrate people. This isn’t an option or something that can be shelved for a few years, or solved by creating a few add-on programmes for minorities. This requires a step change in our thinking – and a fundamental re-examination of business models. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee - wherever the beans come from!”

The conference, hosted by the Museum of Science and Industry in Florida, will be followed by the first ever International Science Centre and Science Museum Day on Thursday 10 November - organised by ASTC with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and ICOM (International Council of Museums). Events to mark this world first will take place in science centres all over the world from China to the USA – and Newcastle upon Tyne (home to Life Science Centre, part of the International Centre for Life).

Linda Conlon has been involved with the International Centre for Life since its inception in 1999 and was appointed Chief Executive in 2007. Under her leadership, ICFL has won international recognition for its work. In 2015 Linda Conlon was appointed Chair of ASTC. In 2016, she was awarded an MBE for her services to Science and Science Education. In May 2016, the International Centre for Life was awarded the Not for Profit Organisation of the Year 2016 at the Chamber of Commerce Business Awards.

For more information on the International Centre for Life, go here

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  • ASTC
  • migrants
  • UK
  • brexit

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International Centre for Life

Science in the 21st century is proving to be fast moving, potentially life-enhancing and certainly controversial. Life has grown out of a desire to deliver a science centre for the North East that is forward looking and seeks to offer these leading edge ideas in a form that is easily accessible to everyone.