What do creatives have to offer to the challenges of greener world? What can art do to promote sustainability? How environmental projects can include art and creativity? I have always thought that the answer is obvious… earth and art are part of the same equation, yet, it is not so easy to establish bridges between the Greens and the Creatives. The Culture Change Sustainablity event organised by Julie’s Bicycle and the Royal Opera House is trying to bridge those sectors. Thanks to a grant from the European Regional Development Fund this is a collective effort of passionate people about the unfolded potential of creativity in the world of sustainability. This was an all day seminar of exciting presentations, inspiring speakers, useful workshops and opera & ballet! What’s not to like!
In this post I will try to summarise some of the key messages of this seminar, as I think it is a great opportunity for all of us who have been thinking that arts can play a key role in a sustainable future.
The event was inaugurated by Alex Beard, CE of the ROH emphasising the role of the ROH as a creative hub for artists, crafters, creative teams, enterpreneurs, and also stressing their role in contemporary issues such as climate change and social development. Alison Tickell from Julie’s Bicycle, empahsised the importance of linking the Green with the Creative People. Julie’s Bicycle has developed a number of projects in the area of sustainability for creative people, materials, processes and educational resources, that represent a wealth of opportunities for artists and educators across the world. She talked about the need of “changing the conversation” from financial growth to the question about values: ethical, aesthetical, economical! I agree wholeheartedly with her conviction that arts have the capacity to affect how human beings perceive and experience nature, and how ultimately art can generate a cultural change. Indeed, my own series of “Our Garden of Everyday” attempts at revealing the beauty around us: the gardens and their values, flowers and their meaning, and how fortunate, but also responsible we must be in caring for and preserving such a treasure. Some inspiring experiences were shared in this quest:
The panel chaired by Andrea Stark from High House Production Park, revealed that this is a ripe moment for change. Indeed the High House Production Park is a hub of creative activity, crafters, artists and enterpreneurs. Andrea talked about the potential of a National College for Creative Arts, which will connect to the economic and employability agenda of the East of England. That makes me think that my project GoGreen in collaboration with the National Union of Students, may be an interesting platform to develop green apprentices, skills and other necessary ways of linking the business world with the creative/educational. In the GoGreen Pilot’12 we developed a model of action learning using art-based methodologies in the process of facilitating environmentally friendly activities and organisational change. For me, this is the first time that I am mentioning my life as an academic/educator and my ongoing passion with education for sustainability!
In this line of projects linking art and communities, Ali Pretty from Kinetika shared their journey in high profile community events such as the Olympics Ceremony, World Cups ceremony and many more, linking artists, creators, crafters with big entertainment and education. She talked about the power of festivals and carnivals as tools of change: appealing to our senses and opening active dialogues, she argued that art has that potential in changing perceptions, establishing dialogues and creating better communities. Indeed, after her work in these high profiles events, she felt that she had to return to small scale living, and she moved to Turrock. In order to meet the community she invited people to take part in her “Transformational Walking Projects” which basically are activities involving outdoor walking, talking and making (the road is marked by beautifully made flags!).
This is a fantastic idea and it makes me think of a recent conversation with my fellow artists Jill Taylor and Jill Goodyear regarding their work being influenced by the outdoors. Both are passionate walkers and their art is so “earthy” and primitive (Jill Taylor), I think that there is more to do in this sense and some ideas can emerge from this post and our future meeting. Also, Dawn Jordan -adviser, enabler, dream planner and consultant- who went with me to the event, mentioned about the possibility of merging her amazing skills in developing meaningful and deep conversations with the action of walking, as she is herself passionate about sustainability, ethics and personal development. And of course, the conversation we had with my dear friend Donna Ladkin, about the connections between ethics and aesthetics, and the need of reframing the question of “is this (action) the right thing to do” with “is it beautiful?“. Beautiful in the sense of empowering, life changing and affirmative, rather than in “pretty”…
This ongoing quest to develop community dialogues was furthered by Colette Baily from Metal. They organise public events, public exhibitions in their quest of closing the gap between artists and public. They have different activities, from quilting (hello Ann Rippin, super duper academic quilter) to Community dinners, and they operate in different places such as Liverpool, Peterborough and Southend in Essex. She emphasised how values guide everything in what they do, and how they inspire the new development of a recently acquired building: a hub for meaningful encounters. I was particularly interested in their Community Dinners as I have been following the inspiring work of Pinar Coskun‘s Cook with Me project and Gare Du Nord in Rotterdam. Pinar is passionate about veganism and sustainability, she is a great chef and she made me love good vegan food! We are starting to work on a project together, linking veganism, sustainability and art… (watch this space).
To top these inspiring talks, they invited Wayne Hemingway as the key speaker of the event. He was really fantastic: honest, authentic and so optimistic. Wayne and his wife are the creator of Red or Dead label, and also Hemingway Designs. He talked about the fact that we are living in a moment of transition, a change from the selfish individualism toward a new paradigm of creativity and GENEROSITY! He mentioned that the creative industries are key players in the national economy (£71 billion worth) but most importantly creativity in the sense of proposing different forms of working: cooperation, problem solving, lateral thinking, beautiful thinking!
So with all of this I think that it is time for us, artists and educators and academics to assume our role as leaders of this change. It was so interesting to see that our conversations in forums like SCOS or the Art of Management, and our talks in the Artists Network of Bedfordshire or the Art Nest about our values are starting to be more visible!
The event was a real success and I would like to thank the organisers and the team for such a beautiful event, in the sense of inspiring, encouraging, empowering and aesthetically valuable!
Now my questions for continuing this conversation are:
a. How can we access to networks, information and resources if we want to propose projects in art and sustainability?
b. How can be bring an eco-preneurship attitude to the link between creativity (creative people) and sustainability (green people).
c. How can we start playing a role in the conversations on sustainability (environmental, social and economical) in our local and regional communities, using art as the vehicle for these dialogues?