The Roles of Culture in Response to the Earth Crisis

The Roles of Culture in Response to the Earth Crisis

I’ve written a think-piece that aims to reframe and state the case for the roles of Culture in response to the Earth crisis, to generate new areas for investment and evidence-gathering. It is a short, unfunded and quickly-written paper that:

  • reframes and defines some key terms,
  • sets out how the Earth crisis is a culture crisis,
  • identifies the barriers to an effective Cultural response,
  • suggests some new thematic areas of Cultural practice so that it can: be an agent for a shift to a Regenerative culture; expand the framing of the Earth crisis and the role of Culture; apply Regenerative Design principles to Cultural practice; and respond to the emergency in ways that aim for Transformative Adaptation and Resilience.

There are three main reasons why I’ve written this:

One: A Rethink for Culture Declares

On the fifth anniversary of Culture Declares Emergency, we have refreshed our strategy. As part of this, I have developed the Culture Takes Action toolkit, which includes a Blueprint for Change setting out how Cultural practitioners declaring an emergency can take action around three values:

  • Truth-telling: facing up to the uncertainties and injustices of the Earth crisis, understanding and educating about the systemic causes, impacts on lives, and the potential for change.
  • Care-taking: developing empathy and compassion in inclusive ways and enabling collaboration towards resilient communities and ecosystems.
  • Change-making: being an agent for the radical transformation of systems on a larger scale.

In reflecting on our impact as a movement, I have considered how we might collect evidence to demonstrate the impacts of Culture in response to the Earth crisis. In the UK, there is increasing precarity for Cultural practitioners and a lack of funds available at the intersection of Culture, Environmental Action and Social Well-being.

Two: Developing Capacities for Regenerative Culture

Climate Museum UK is a collective of creatives and communicators developing their capacities through activation projects to engage the public with environmental issues. As its founding director, my particular interest is in the professional development of Cultural practitioners, so that our sector can help to change the dominant culture to be more regenerative. For this change to come about, Cultural practitioners need to be resourced and encouraged to:

  • Learn about environmental issues in depth and with the seriousness they demand,
  • Collaborate with others in their networks and communities to prepare for disruption and help people imagine alternative futures,
  • Find their purpose and share skills to leverage change in harmful systems.

I have written a book and training course ‘We Need to Talk About Our Planet’, to be released in the Autumn, providing many tools for public engagement and activation. Associates of Climate Museum UK and participants in the training are invited to add to the commons of tools and approaches.

Three: Rising Interest in Environment and Culture

More broadly, the unfolding and worsening impacts of the Earth crisis are leading to a proliferation of initiatives, networks, policy papers, courses and statements about the roles of public engagement, social design, the imagination, psychology and individuals in mitigating and adapting to the crisis. For example, see ‘The System Within: addressing the inner dimensions of sustainability and system transformation’.

Many of these do not squarely or thoroughly address the role of Cultural practice, and they tend not to invite Cultural practitioners as authors. This exclusion contributes to a vague understanding of the potential of the Cultural sector, and a lack of resourcing for Culture in a range of specific roles. This, in turn, leads to a lack of evidence for its effectiveness and limits the opportunities for its practitioners to develop skills through practice.

I have been having some conversations recently with people such as Lucimara Letelier (Regenera Museu, Brazil), Ola Jach (Culture for Climate, and others in Poland), Victoria Burns, Pippa Bailey & Gaby Solly (Culture Declares), Neil Davidson & Anne Billen (And Now What, Belgium) and Nick Brooks (Garama, UK), and many others, about how to step up the Cultural response in the context of environmental and social collapse. I’ve also been reflecting deeply on the ethics and methods in our evaluation of Cultural impact, with my colleagues in Flow Associates.

This piece can’t possibly represent all I have learned. It is not presented academically with references for every claim or suggestion, as it is intended as an accessible summary and a provocation. I hope this will trigger support for more rigorous desk research, and that it will also open up ideas and support for many others keen to extend action research into this area.

This moment is what Roman Krznaric calls a Disruption Nexus, a point of systemic disruption that makes new ideas more meaningful to people, which in turn helps build movements for beneficial action. I believe Culture (and culture) are at the heart of that nexus, creating disruption, generating and interpreting new ideas, and attracting people into movements for change.

Please have a read and share your feedback.

And here’s a link you can use to share it.

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