Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Sustainability, Climate Change, the Arts and Creativity

On the 28th of October Cynnal Cymru/Sustain Wales held an event in Chapter Arts Centre about sustainability and the arts. It asked how can arts practice be more sustainable and also what role the arts can play in promoting sustainability and highlighting climate change.

The arts act as a spark which can make things happen in society, bringing issues to the public attention, encouraging people to form their own opinions, changing attitudes. Examples: Punk Rock, Picasso’s Guernica, the First World War poets. So how can the arts, and the creative industries, bring climate change and the need for sustainable practice to people’s attention and provoke the fundamental change in attitudes that is needed?

Unfortunately this message is not one that people find very engaging or take very seriously. The public perception of tackling climate change seems to be all about not doing things and then feeling guilty when you do them. People need to be able to relate to climate change and sustainability as something that involves them and the things they care about. That is what makes it understandable and real.

How can the arts and the creative industries help to bring about a change in attitudes?

What stories should the arts be telling that will spark people's imaginations and help them to relate to these issues?

How can we ignite a feeling of collective purpose in our society so that people are willing to make fundamental changes in the cause of a better future?


  1. Lots of questions and no answers! I'd like to hear people's opinions though...

  2. ok bare with me here. i know it maybe possible to do something like a play like james cameron's avatar, something that is obviously about these issues. But it doesn't really get anything to change it is recognised as a comment and that's it. if you could genuinley get an arts piece to literally move people then that would be a phenomenal piece of work... I did see an interesting video on about gaming that was interesting and maybe could be a different way to look at it?

    I am rambling sorry

  3. Maybe the creative industries have to be that change, as in the people within it. Then at least whatever is passed on is holistic. What the creative minds behind all the ideas produce triggers what happens in society...maybe we should all be aiming at the same outcome so there is not seen to be an alternative?

  4. re. the creative industries - Forum for the Future and the Creative Industries KTN have a sustainability project. I have been to some of their workshops (the last one was in Bristol)

    Laura, unfortunately this negative message has always been there. When I was working with ECO-UNESCO in the 90's making education packs for school we tried to develop messages that were non-negative.

    I suppose the role the arts could play is to develop stories that resonate.

    I also think the arts needs to better understand the wider context but not become paralysed by the complexity of the problem and always trying to the big/collective social change. Social change is an evolutionary process and it is rarely driven by individual actors/sectors/themes.

  5. Yeah, I think it was John McGrath who at Emergence talked about "the paralysis of despair" and said that "the arts can be immobilised by our own dialogue"

    Another quote I really liked from the day was (from someone who thought it was too late to do anything) "we are heading towards a sustainable apocalypse"

  6. It's an easy cop-out to say it's too big to do anything. In my opinion I think it is an adult excuse. This video really sums up the idea of choice which leads us to being not able to decide. But I think it maybe just about the idea of physically building up to something. A bit like learning to walk or riding a bike. We know that we are getting there but not quite, but over time we get there. In the same way Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers discusses the idea of gaining 10,000 hours of knowledge before the age of 21 to become a master of something. So why don't the arts use their ability to tell stories etc to teach these issues in interesting ways? bring it back to common sense if their is an issue of not having knowledge about something.

    Alternatively in the last ten years we have had companies such as Google that have exploded onto the scene and are now one of the biggest companies in the world. So maybe companies out there can rise up to make a difference I think Richard Branson calls it capitalist philanthropy.

  7. Hi - "the paralysis of despair" is my phrase. It relates to the Zero Carbon Britain report that was presented at the event.
    Paul Allen, one of its authors, argues that we have the design technology to build a sustainable world but the population at large don't know this. Instead of creating dystopian visions of the future like The Road and the Day After Tomorrow, artists should be inspiring people to act through positive visions.

    I agree with aliquisdesign that artists and creative practitioners have to be the change. Many individuals are both artists and part of the green movement but the industry/sector has to embrace sustainability en masse. As we heard from Julie's Bicycle at the Emergence event, the industry is moving fast in that direction.