Ben Twist is Creative Carbon Scotland‘s Director and he has a brilliant blog. This article is copied from from Ben’s strategy blog which is well worth following!
Over the summer Creative Carbon Scotland focused more than we have in the past on talking to people and organisations working on climate change and sustainability about the role of the arts in their field (as opposed talking to people in the arts about climate change).
We’ve been doing a lot of thinking (and I’ve covered some of this in one of my other blogs) about the particular role of the arts in working on carbon reduction and adaptation to a new society. My part of this has been to do a number of talks to various groups, from an event at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation during the Edinburgh Festivals to a TEDx talk at Heriot Watt University.
I’ve refined my talk over the summer and the structure now goes something like this:
- We’re facing a major social change: either we achieve the carbon reduction targets implicit within the Paris Agreement – in which case our relationship with energy and fossil fuels will have to change radically – or we don’t achieve them – in which case issues such as migration, changing food supplies, resource related conflicts and so on will bring about major social change (as they are already).
- The Mexico City Declaration by UNESCO provides a useful definition of culture in a broad sense as effectively the way we live in the world.
- Using that definition, climate change is as much a cultural issue as a scientific or technical one: it is a function of our culture, our way of living in the world, which is a culture of consumption. We dig up resources, use them and throw them away, and this latter stage is a major cause of climate change. In order to avert more climate change, we need to shift to a culture of stewardship.
- This would have useful implications not only for environmental sustainability and climate change but also social sustainability (climate justice but also equalities more broadly) and economic sustainability (perhaps abandoning the search for endless economic growth and following up some of the principles of Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth, for example).
- So how do we achieve this cultural shift?
- Culture in a narrower sense – what we generally call the arts, but this includes design, film and media, museums and heritage etc – is the expression of culture in the wider sense used above. Art has often been said to ‘hold a mirror up to society’. But it is also therefore a way of understanding, interrogating and changing the wider culture.
- The German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote, ‘Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it’!
- Working with the arts is therefore a useful way to work on achieving the cultural shift.
- There is often an assumption that the role of the arts in areas such as these is to communicate complex ideas more effectively and particularly to engage the wider public emotionally rather than factually. This is indeed a useful role of the arts, but they can do much more. I have a slide which provides a (non-exhaustive) list of ways in which the arts work.
I think there are interesting ways in which artists can contribute to addressing climate change through making artistic work – CCS is involved for instance in a project led by the RSPB on developing awareness of the importance of the peat bogs in the Flow country as carbon sinks.
And there are also ways in which artists can use their skills, knowledge and ways of thinking in non-artistic projects and settings. After one talk, someone who has been attending the meetings of the Local Advisory Committee of the European Climate Change Adaptation Conference in 2017 came up to me. ‘I realise that’s what you’ve been doing at the meetings,’ she said. ‘You’ve used your role as an artist to make us think about and discuss things we wouldn’t have discussed otherwise.’
This was encouraging, as that’s what I do, although I hadn’t really thought of it as such in that particular situation. And in a way, that’s the point: I was being a member of a group and using the skills I have as a (former) theatre director, just as others in the group use their skills as academics, project managers etc.
This is all part of a strand of our work at CCS called Culture/SHIFT: the artistic and conceptual work that we do alongside, and inextricably linked to, our more practical and technical work supporting cultural organisations to reduce their carbon emissions. There’s more information about this here.
We’re always interested in more people working on climate change and sustainability attending our Green Teases and other events – following our most recent Arts & Sustainability Residency we’re thinking about reserving places for non-artists next year.
Our message must be getting through: we’ve been asked to run a session on this subject at the SSN Conference on 1 November. We’ll run through some of the ways in which we think the arts can support climate change and sustainability work and help participants to think about how this could be useful in their work. Sign up now!
Creative Carbon Scotland are delighted to announce the details of our annual Arts & Sustainability Artists’ Residency (30th September – 3rd October). This year they’re offering up to eight Scotland-based artists from any discipline with the paid opportunity to participate in a weekend of discussion and activities at Cove Park, exploring the relationship between their practices and environmental sustainability.
Co-facilitated by Jan Bebbington (Professor of Accounting and Sustainable Development, Director, St Andrews Sustainability Institute) and Lex ter Braak (Director, Van Eyck Institute, Maastricht, Netherlands), Creative Carbon Scotland’s third annual residency will use the spectrum of stories surrounding the Anthropocene as an entry point for discussing the relationship between cultural practices and environmental sustainability.
The residency will be hosted in partnership with Cove Park over a long weekend. Selected artists will be paid a fee of £450 for their attendance and travel expenses from within Scotland, accommodation and catering will be covered.
This residency is funded by Creative Scotland and kindly supported by The Dr David Summers Charitable Trust.
Image: Contains British Geological Survey materials © NERC (1990)
Yesterday I spent a fascinating afternoon with Creative Carbon Scotland and Land Art Generator Initiative at their Beautiful Renewables event in Edinburgh. The event brought together engineers, planners, community energy groups, artists and architects to develop an understanding of what is involved in the development of an energy generation project and what each of the events participants might need or be able to offer in the project’s successful delivery.
Without exception there was a recognition that artists offered something of value to community energy projects but that to get the most out of the collaboration, artists need to be involved EARLY! Perhaps even before a project’s specifics are dreamt up at all.
So, I am suggesting that every community energy group invites an artist (or creative practitioner to use a term that more actively includes, dancers, musicians, theatre makers, writers etc) to join its board.
I can see why this may not seem like an obvious thing to do, but I’m going to outline here why I think it’s a good idea and then, because I am really quite serious about it, I’m going to outline a little ‘role specification’ to help you in actioning this challenge!
Every community I have ever encountered seems to have a creative practitioner in it somewhere, and whilst artists are just ordinary members of a community, they can also often be characterised by some interesting qualities:
- A relationship with an audience of some sort – a network of people who are not the ‘usual suspects’ for a community energy group
- The repeated experience of developing a new idea from early conception to completion
- Thriftiness and entrepreneurial spirit
- An inquiring mind – Ability to think laterally – non-linear thinking
- Experience applying for grant funding
- An appreciation or understanding of aesthetic values – we care about the look and feel of things
- Experience of doing something that many people don’t understand!
- Perhaps some experience in developing participatory arts practice that will engage communities in the development of projects early on!
- Perhaps some experience of running events and workshops
- Perhaps some experience of marketing and comms
- And sometimes even an interest in making the world a more resilient and better place.
Obviously this list is not exhaustive, but I think it’s a start. (please feel free to add other interesting qualities in the comments below!)
What you probably shouldn’t ‘expect’ from an artist joining your community energy group board, (though you may be surprised!) is:
- A deep technical knowledge of the various renewable energy technologies, electrical engineering or climate science – but this is a good thing – groups need to be able to communicate to a broad audience
- A deep understanding of energy policy, legislation, the planning process and building control – some artists developing public artworks might know about this, but no-one can be an expert at everything!
So why isn’t there an artist on every community energy group board already?
Well, there are some, and I think they’ve made a difference – in particular I think of Lizzy-Jane Grose at Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network (WREN) and Chris Amey at Transition Newton Abbot (I mention these people because I know them, but I am always keen to share details of others here, so get in touch if you know of other examples I could/should share!)
But, over the last 4 years running Regen SW’s arts and energy programme, it seems to me that:
- The vast proportion of artists don’t know what a community energy group is and why they might be interested in getting involved and
- Community energy groups don’t understand the benefits and/or they are worried that working with artists might be somehow expensive, distracting, irrelevant, challenging, you get the gist.
Yes! working with artists will be challenging in a GOOD WAY! and Yes!, it IS likely to change the way a community energy group works / thinks/ does. and Yes! it may help community energy groups to overcome a number of the hurdles that a barriers to the development of community energy projects at the moment, namely – who may be prepared to spend time on this stuff? how can we get broad community engagement, support and buy in for new projects? how can we make the energy debate engaging and interesting? how can we have more fun and how do we ensure we consider the aesthetic impact of our activities?
So, a person specification for community energy group boards:
Board member advert – Creative Practitioner
AWESOME Community Energy’s board are seeking to appoint one new member to ensure we have the capacity and skills to develop sustainable energy projects in our AWESOME village/town/locale. This individual will be an experienced creative practitioner with a strong connection to AWESOME. The is an unpaid voluntary position. Reasonable expenses are paid. Board members are expected to attend four board meetings per year, but also to participate in the life of the organisation between board meetings, advising the staff team and acting in an ambassadorial role for Awesome Community Energy. Board meetings are currently held weekday afternoons in AWESOME. Positions are advertised for a period of 3 years (term may be renewed).
About AWESOME Community Energy
AWESOME Community Energy was launched in xxxx, and has a staff team of xxx (fte). We have a track record of AWESOME Projects. We also have a growing network of supporters and affiliated groups. AWESOME Community Energy aims to: (INSERT aims here saying something like ‘develop community energy projects for local community benefit and resilience’
About the role
We are seeking to recruit a creative practitioner to our board, and expect that different candidates will bring a range of skills and experience to AWESOME Community Energy:
- Commitment to the objectives of AWESOME Community Energy
- Willingness to act as an ambassador forAWESOME Community Energy
- Willingness to fulfil the duties and standards of conduct required of a board member of an organisation that is currently seeking charitable status
- Interest in community energy issues
- Fundraising (e.g. from individuals, partnerships with business and/or civil society organisations, EU funding and/or sales of goods and services).
- Partnership working
- Strong and diverse networks
- Events, media and communications or PR, including social media.
- Developing significant arts projects from concept to culmination.
- Board level experience, ideally at a charity or company of a similar size to the Equality Trust.
Expertise & knowledge:
- Creative practice in any art-form
- Understanding of participatory arts practice
- Energy and/or environmental issues or environmental campaigning.
- Lateral and creative thinking
- Aesthetic understanding
- Ability to understand and interrogate financial reports
- Strategic planning skills
- Risk management skills
- Analytical skills
- Management / project management
- Ability to operate as part of a team
How to apply:
Please submit a CV and a covering letter by XXX, stating why you wish to be considered for the role, to this AWESOME Person by email: AWESOME @ AWESOME.
Your covering letter should show how you meet each of the relevant requirements in the person specification
Prospective board members who best meet our requirements will be invited to speak to some of our existing board members on XXX.
Picture credit: ‘Boardroom Table/8 Person See Saw(Modern Steel sculptures)’ by Jane Clarke – Nine foot long interactive sculpture. A polished boardroom table pivots on four, empty oil barrels. 4 office chairs face another 4 across the table top. they are in various states, some smart others not.