Climate Change and the Arts

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Creative Climate Leadership Programme, Wales, March 2017

I have worked in arts and culture for 15 years wearing a range of hats from producing projects to developing audiences in different countries. More recently, reading for an MSc in Gender and International Relations and working with organisations focused on social justice, activism, human security, women’s empowerment, conflict resolution, the environment and social enterprise, my appreciation has galvanized for cultural diplomacy and the importance of addressing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Culture is a powerful tool for change to educate, influence and empower individuals. Interconnections between culture and the change required to achieve the SDGs are my preoccupation, as a writer and cultural activist. Creativity, campaigning and climate change are connected. I explored this relationship in March 2017 as the recipient of a scholarship to participate in Creative Climate Leadership, the first international leadership programme for creatives passionate about climate change, by Julie’s Bicycle.

My interest in climate change arose whilst reading about Human Security. I presented at COP21 in Paris about its relationship with spirituality and creativity from a Sikh perspective. In 2016 I participated in Pioneers into Practice with Climate KIC, an EU project to explore sustainability and a low carbon economy. As a Cultural Leader it is important that I am aware of the range of lenses and identities I have when understanding and interpreting the world. I am a British, cisgender, heterosexual woman of colour, with working class roots, Indian heritage and a transnational perspective. I predominantly carry an intersectional lens when researching and writing about culture and change. I endeavour to challenge dominant narratives and create space for new ones, to highlight voices of climate activists currently under-represented or hidden from the mainstream.

The arts have a critical role to play in the climate story. Creative products and practice can make difficult scientific facts and complicated jargon more accessible, whilst stimulating emotions, empathy and widening perception. Human beings have collected data and evidence about the state of the world, but need to explore a range of responses to it. We are still not relating and reacting enough. Safe creative spaces can be used to explore emotions such as sadness and anger in relation to the problem. There are many arts projects and events encouraging debate and awareness of the challenges.

Arts admin have designed a biennial festival in London’s East End ‘2 Degrees’, giving people an urgent reminder that what we do individually and collectively today, will have a global impact on tomorrow. The programme includes events that explore why race, gender and colonial histories must be at the centre of the climate justice movement. ONCA gallery in Brighton is a space for meeting, thinking and learning. ONCA encourages artists, both local and global, to ask big questions to support the wellbeing of people and places, by increasing awareness of, and engagement with, environmental and social difficulties.

Acknowledging climate change, sustainability and the environment are key when shaping and discussing culture; how we consume and create it, what we value and why, when shaping our world. How should we run our organisations and buildings in the 21st century? Since 2007 Arts Council England have been working in partnership with Julie’s Bicycle on their environmental sustainability programme. Arts Council England are the first cultural funding body in the world asking their funded organisations to act on their environmental impact. Manchester Arts Sustainability Team was established in 2010 by a group of Manchester-based arts and culture organisations. The group now has over 30 members and meets regularly to share best practice and develop new joint initiatives. A local, national and international effort is required to meet the creative climate challenge.

Creativity is at the heart of problem solving alongside harnessing a universal consciousness that will unite us. The interconnectedness required for a more equal, peaceful and prosperous world includes our bond with nature and our understanding that human beings are not separate from it. We need the land, seas and forests to survive. Looking forward, design, innovation and collaboration are key to creating solutions for a low carbon world that artists should be a part of.

Future strategies should include building more carbon literacy, expertise and skills within the creative workforce. Moving towards a 100% renewable powered arts world is key, to act as a beacon of best practice. Funding support is required to support a growing conscious and creative movement, where there is continuous space created to share within and outside of the arts sector, and cross culturally, to exchange knowledge on climate change issues and solutions. Hopefully we can continue to collaborate across Europe and beyond. Creative professionals need mutual support and empowerment to speak up and out, and there must be equal platforms for all groups, owned and lead by a range of representatives, to ensure our diversity of voices are heard. The creative climate challenge is a part of and not separate from our other global challenges, and should be positioned and perceived in this way.

Watch out for The Season 2018 when the UKs creative community will host a season of work and activities celebrating the environment and inspiring action from 1 June to 1 December 2018. It will coincide with the COP24 global climate talks and celebrate the widest range of creative responses to climate change and the environment across arts, design, broadcast, film, fashion, and music in museums, galleries, theatres, venues, cinemas, festivals, parks, and on the streets. Applications for the next Creative Climate Leadership course by Julie’s Bicycle in October 2017 are now open. Join the growing creative climate movement and enhance your cultural experience of the world.

The Creative Climate Leadership course is funded by Creative Europe.

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