Culture meets climate change – A herogram to producers



A capacity crowd of artists and writers at ArtsAdmin for our climate scenarios workshop

This is a herogram to the producers who make new creative work possible, and particularly those people and institutions who have gone out of their way to stimulate cultural responses to climate change. This ‘thank you’ feels a little overdue to be honest: the work myself, Robert Butler and Renata Tyszczuk have been doing together under the heading of Culture and Climate Change has depended on collaboration with the arts producers Vicky Long and Hannah Bird, and a further network spreading out beyond them. Vicky drove the delivery of our events and publication for Culture and Climate Change: Recordings, and Hannah has done likewise for ‘Narratives‘ and now ‘Scenarios‘.

Last night I enjoyed a really interesting and enjoyable few hours talking climate scenarios, and  the role that the arts might play in thinking about (past and) future climates. This was part of the Culture and Climate Change group’s Scenarios initiative, which includes three pilot artist residencies. The deadline for applications is 15th February.

Some great ideas and diverse provocations from academics: Kate Fletcher and Dilys Williams from the London College of Fashion Centre for Sustainable Fashion; Mark Maslin from UCL Geography and Renata Tyszczuk from University of Sheffield School of Architecture (Renata is the lead on our group’s Scenarios work). Clore Leadership Fellow and freelance arts producer Hannah Bird took everyone through the goals and process around the residencies (many aspects of which she designed) with great clarity.

We are experimenting with the notion of ‘network residencies’, and don’t think this has been tried before. Our goal is to support three selected artists as they follow climate scenario knowledge around networks rather than lodging them at one node. It is a pilot – lets see how it goes.

But partly prompted by a piece I read recently about the relatively invisible infrastructure of talent and hard work that makes good movies possible I want to pause and acknowledge the role of the producer. In our immediate work Hannah brings a sympathetic, though critical, understanding of both the arts and research worlds, and the capacity to give structure to ideas. I’ve learnt that it’s about much more than ‘making sure stuff gets done’. It is a subtle, creative and vital practice that is generally only noticed by the rest of the world by its absence.

We benefit from further producer experience via our advisory group. Our network residency project has been devised in collaboration with Rose Fenton who runs the Free Word Centre (home of a number of our meetings, and also generous host of a couple of our Culture and Climate Change: Narratives events) and Judith Knight who co-directs ArtsAdmin (our venue last night). The writer Tony White is another member of that group, bringing his experience of his own residencies and of supporting others (as well as his own interest in the question ‘where are the war artists of climate change?’).

My experience of all of these individuals and their organisations is that they are dogged, creative and generous. Above all generous because the work of the producer in this territory is as an enabler who rarely enjoys the spotlight shone on the successful creative people they commission or support. So I just want to list some of the bodies that I know have peddled very hard indeed to make space for creative people to respond to climate change. In alphabetical order, here is some of the work based in the UK that has supported what is now a very wide range of cultural work on climate change, and hence played a positive role in helping society make sense of this ‘difficult new knowledge’. Email me if I’ve missed something or someone that really deserves a mention – apologies in advance… (

Arts Admin have put on a string of their biannual ‘two degrees’ festivals but also many other events and support work. The festivals have included interventions spread across London but also make space to encounter work and debate the themes at their atmospheric Toynbee Hall home in Whitechapel.

Ashden Directory, which focused on material relating to performance and climate change from 2000 to 2014. Some of the writing that generated has been pulled together in Landing Stages (eds: Wallace Heim and Eleanor Margolies who have both supported varied activities in this field). Robert Butler is the writer and now also academic researcher who started the Ashden Directory, and with me and Renata Tyszczuk drives the Culture and Climate Change activity.

Cape Farewell, led by artist David Buckland, has produced expeditions and exhibitions that have drawn some leading cultural figures to the topic across 15 years, but also shared news of much wider work, e.g. through their recent partnership work with Projet Coal in creating the inclusive (online networked) festival ArtCOP21. The team currently includes Lucy Wood and Liv Gray.

The Culture and Climate Change group has been very lucky to work with Hannah Bird but also Vicky Long who were the team that put in the hard miles that made some of Cape Farewell’s most influential expeditions happen. Bullet Creative (who have helped us on a number of projects now including, currently, Stories of Change) are the design team that have made sure that work in this field is presented as engagingly as possible online and in print.

The Free Word Centre have invited writers of all forms, but particularly creative writers, to climate change themes, above all through their Weather Stations international collaboration and Weatherfronts workshop. That workshop was produced in collaboration with Tipping Point and our Culture and Climate Change group on account of the correspondence with our Narratives book and events.  Their climate related commissions and support work has ranged from enabling established international writers to creating opportunities for young Londoners. NB: Tipping Point and Free Word are putting on another workshop this summer.

The Happy Museums Network deserves mention. Wider than climate change, they want to push forward the idea that museums can play a much bigger role in promoting more sustainable societies. The network has been driven by Tony Butler, now head of Derby Museums Trust, Lucy Neal, Hilary Jennings and more. Lucy drew together a treasure house of a book showing how artists can make a positive difference in the world: Playing for Time.

Invisible Dust has been commissioning work linked to environmental change since 2009. It was founded by Alice Sharp, and has managed to pull together over £1m for commissions since starting out. In their own words: ‘Invisible Dust brings together artists, technologists and scientists to help illuminate these consequences and bring a sense of something human and fantastical to very invisible problems’.

Platform play a different role to the others mentioned here in that they have always had a clear and strong campaigning line (above all against the negative impacts of the fossil fuel industry). They are probably the longest established body working in this field in the UK, and their work includes research, commissions, campaigns and ‘interventions’ including most recently unofficial climate change teach-ins in major galleries that enjoy oil sponsorship.

Regen SW Arts and Energy Programme, led by Chloe Uden, demonstrates what can be done at both a regional and sectoral level to connect the arts to climate change. A particular focus has been to find engaging – often fun – ways of encouraging more positive visions of a renewably powered future.

TippingPoint have convened many thousands of conversations between researchers and arts/culture people via their open-space based events, and also commissioned work – often supporting development phases that later blossom into major works. Peter Gingold who devised and runs TippingPoint has always put huge effort into ensuring a healthy mix of established and emerging talent at their events, and this is also reflected in the commissions. They are planning a big gathering this summer Doing Nothing is Not An Option, including the chance of commissions, at Warwick Arts Centre, focused on the performing arts.

Finally – here is a hat tip to a (growing) band of communications rather than arts focused initiatives that are working more directly, but also creatively, to develop communications and policy that can help society walk more lightly on the Earth. These spring to mind: Climate OutreachCreative Carbon Scotland; Do the Green Thing;  consultancy Futerra; and Julie’s Bicycle . Although they are diverse in terms of audience and approach these bodies are pretty consistent in arguing that addressing climate change is also generally going to make the world a better place. This was a strong signal coming out of the work Renata Tyszczuk and myself did with Andrew Simms and the new economics foundation around the Interdependence Day project and our book Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth? (spoiler alert: our answer is no…). So a last credit to the ‘producers’ (though they didn’t carry that title) then based at the new economics foundation who made that book and the related reports and events happen: Corrina Corden and Ruth Potts.

News-based climate comms are another whole topic, but for now I would point to the brilliant Carbon Brief, Energy and Climate Information Unit and Climate News Network. All serve distinct needs and audiences. Academics and policy people can learn an awful lot from their combination of pace, clarity, and a sense of a good story.

Now if you want a break from thinking on climate change then do sign up for the Free Word Centre’s free words, or get the twitter feed. A simple reminder of human diversity and ingenuity. It brings cheer and stimulus any day of the week. Those are the qualities that might just get us all through the next hundred years in reasonably good shape. So long as we have some good producers.

Today’s word is, fittingly, tausendsassa:

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 15.44.00

Free Word Centre’s ‘Free word of the day’ 28-1-16

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