Michael Edson - Collaboration and Partnerships Are Essential to UN Live

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Mar 14, 2018
by Helena Santos
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Michael Edson - Collaboration and Partnerships Are Essential to UN Live

UN Live co-founder reflects on how the project will be built with everyone’s input and ideas Michael Edson presenting at The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology, and Making Sense of the Future. (Photo by: Herman Seidl/ Salzburg Global Seminar)

Michael Edson introduces himself as a painter who fell into technology. While working at the Smithsonian Institution’s two museums of Asian art in the 1990s, he wanted to educate himself further on the role of technology and new media programs. Being an autodidact in this field led him to becoming the director of web and new media strategy for the Smithsonian. With this experience behind him, Edson joined the founding team of the Museum for the United Nations - UN Live - a museum that goes way beyond its’ physical presence. 

“I fell in love with the project when I saw how much our stakeholders were committed to being a truly global institution. A world-class building would be critical, but the digital presence and the network of partners would be where the real global action was going to happen,” he explains.

UN Live will try to engage as many people as possible in problem-solving across the world on three platforms: UN Live Online, UN Live Network, and the UN Live Building. The latter is scheduled to be open in 2023, but public engagement on the other two platforms is expected to begin later this year.

“The network, I think, is the most powerful part of UN Live. It’s a structure that allows a lot of people in the world to understand how they can collaborate and amplify each other’s work. It also brings us very close to local communities, which is one of the most important aspects of the museum. I’m beginning to think that there’s no such thing as ‘global’. Global, to some degree, is just weaving together a lot of different people’s local realities.”

This idea of building a bridge between awareness and action, involving as many people as possible, is something Edson expressed during the panel “Designs on Tomorrow” and was reaffirmed through his conversations with other participants at Salzburg Global Seminar.

“Collaboration and partnership are essential to UN Live. We’ve recognized that there are hundreds or thousands of very effective organizations already doing great work, many of whom have told us they wish to be connected to each other, they wish to have their work amplified, they wish to be networked. We think that we can create more impact in the world, faster, if we serve as a convener — a guide and an aid with many partners — than if we try to do everything ourselves.”

According to Edson, the UN Live project will try to connect everyone in the world to the values and mission of the UN through the idea that local communities already have an abundance of unique skills and expertise that could benefit from more direct links to the United Nations — and to each other.

“A starting point for us has always been to try and unlock people’s understanding of the UN’s work and values on a personal level and try and understand what it is they have to offer as individuals, communities, as societies to the larger challenges of the world,” he states.

The UN Live will bring dialogue about intricate topics such as the Sustainable Development Goals down to the language people use in their everyday lives. Leaving jargon out of the equation, this project hopes people will understand they are already working on the same issues as the United Nations with their communities, but they simply use other words for it. “For millions of people, working on global goals is just solving problems, helping their neighbors, and making better communities,” Edson clarifies.

Having worked for a long time in the way arts and technology will define the future, Michael Edson decided attending the Salzburg Global Seminar session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future, was an opportunity he couldn’t resist. 

Edson, who proudly labels himself a Salzburg Global Fellow on his social media profiles, says, “When I saw the invitation I realized that this seminar was asking the same questions I’ve been wrestling with for the last 20 years. The chance to spend a few days here, with this global, diverse, talented bunch of people was an opportunity I could not pass up. It was unimaginable that I would not be here. Whatever I had to do to be here I would do…”


Michael Edson was a participant of the Salzburg Global program The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future, which is part of the multi-year Culture, Arts and Society series. The session is supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture.