Tipping Point commissions

12 07 2009

A few weeks ago I went to the awards of four new TippingPoint Commissions, aiming to develop a critical mass of performance-based work conceived in the context of climate change. I’m sharing info about it because it could be of inspiration to the cultural heritage sector.  This post is extracted from the Tipping Point press release:

Launched in February TippingPoint received 178 proposals proving the hunger of UK artists wishing to introduce audiences to the radical and imaginative thinking necessary to contemplate and inhabit a world dominated by climate change.

The Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change, Ed Miliband, announced 4 awards:

Manchester International Festival (MIF) (£30,000)

This new co-commission will enable a chosen artist to draw from scientific expertise and the reach of TippingPoint and, working in dialogue with Manchester communities, evolve a new work which would hopefully premiere at the Manchester International Festival in 2011.

The LightSwitch Project by the LightSwitch Collective (£15,000)

“What happens when you switch on a light”.  This simple question provokes a myriad of answers and sparks a million more questions. It generates excitement. The LightSwitch project will seize this microscopic moment and create a performance that connects the individual to the implications of their actions and their place in the world. The LightSwitch Collective includes award winning film, TV and stage actor Toby Jones.

Trashcatchers’ Carnival by Project Phakama UK (£20,000)
Working ‘from the ground up’ the Trashcatcher’s Carnival will unite 60 artists and over 500 Tooting residents in a year long process looking at transition from a high energy to a low energy community. Working in partnership with Emergency Exit Arts and using art, carnival, celebration and the collective ingenuity of Transition Town Tooting, Trashcatchers’ Carnival will provide a large scale promenade on the 2010 summer solstice and a model of engagement and celebration for the Transition Town Network.

Third Ring Out by Metis Arts (£15,000)

At once a performance, a game, a simulation and a radical artistic event THIRD RING OUT uses the disaster movie genre to scenario plan our future. Shipping containers become emergency planning centres where audiences are invited to immerse themselves in a multi sensory, simulated climate changed world rooted in scientific fact. Coming to an urban space, a village green or a festival near you…in summer 2010

Philip Pullman, Patron of the TippingPoint Commissions says:

“Artists of every kind have one overriding moral duty, which is to do their work as well as possible. But since that work partly consists of responding to what the world itself is up to, it would be strange if the best work being produced didn’t take some account, in some way, of what’s happening to our climate. Art is not only about beauty: sometimes it has to warn.”

The awards are made possible through a generous award from Major Road. The company was an influential force in British theatre for 20 years and created national productions up until the mid 1990’s.

Organised by TippingPoint, a company dedicated to bringing the creativity of artists to bear on the challenges of climate change, the TippingPoint Commissions will offer profound reflections on a world that is rapidly changing and on humanity’s role and responsibilities within it.

Cultural innovation vs climate change

8 07 2009

At a conference called Reboot Britain, I went along to a session called Creativity versus Climate Change. It was presented by Naresh Ramchandani and others from Do the Green Thing. This is a public service that inspires people to lead a greener life inspired by videos and artworks by creative people. I really like this concept and the quirky humour. I think they promote themselves very well, helped by being from advertising & PR backgrounds, so hopefully it does have some reach and impact. I get what Naresh meant when he said ‘we need marketing to fight the marketing’ i.e. green marketing to counterbalance the mainstream non-green marketing. However, the session raised a few questions for me.

One of the speakers Luke Wilkinson began to talk encouragingly about the contribution of the Creative & Cultural Industries. He stated that there is not enough investment in cultural innovation compared to technological innovation to fight climate change. He then cited a few examples that were to do with marketing & advertising to change lifestyles, suggesting that it is good work but that there was only a handful of people doing it and that it is underfunded. I was thinking the discussion needed to go much further. Is marketing all we can mean by cultural innovation? And is marketing to change lifestyles really all that effective anyway?

There are many other contexts where environmentally-aware cultural innovation is taking place and also many other contexts which are ripe for its introduction. If we can describe cultural innovation in much broader and more serious terms it may get more credence. Funders and taxpayers are probably a little reluctant to pay marketing & advertising companies to innovate, whereas they might be willing to support the work of research institutes, museums, heritage societies, galleries, community projects, charities, conservation bodies and so on.

Changing lifestyles is only one part of fighting climate change. We need to change the views of decision-makers at Governmental, NGO and corporate levels. We also need to educate and empower communities to contribute to decision-making (for example about Sustainable Communities policies, about Coastal Management plans or about planning decisions). We also need to help people keep hold of their cultural heritage and cope with the loss of it in the future. I’m very motivated to see artists and creative activists involved in these processes, helping to mediate knowledge between experts and others, and to envisage new solutions. For example, I’ve bee very inspired by the work of artist, Simon Read, who has immersed himself in coastal & river management issues for many years and uses his art to help mediate the knowledge of engineers, conservationists and planners.

I think we do Creativity vs Climate Change a disservice by describing it only in terms of promoting green lifestyles, although in saying that I don’t mean any disrespect to the great work of Do the Green Thing. I’m excited by this notion of Cultural Innovation and will continue to explore what it can mean. I think that we fail to acknowledge the importance of cultural innovation because culture in general is interpreted in terms of the pleasure principle. We assume that culture is only about entertainment and fun, only about access to luxury commodities or experiences, and therefore irrelevant to serious work to conserve and develop our natural and built environment. Culture is about how people can connect with one another, and connect with knowledge from the past, in order to make meaning and solve problems. The cultural sector (beyond the creative & cultural industries) has a really important role to play.

Museums in the Winds of Change, from Douglas Worts

5 07 2009

A post from Douglas Worts
Culture and Sustainability Specialist – WorldViews Consulting
LEAD Fellow (Leadership for Environment and Development), Toronto, Canada

I have been working recently on identifying museums that are actively engaged in responding to the ‘winds of change’ that continue to blow across our communities, and around the world. For more than a decade, I have been shifting my view of what opportunities are open to museums if they want to serve the cultural needs of individuals and communities. Raising the question of what is meant by ‘culture’ is a tricky proposition, however, I have come to believe that culture is far more than discipline-based collecting by institutions and the leisure time-oriented public programs that are the mainstream public offerings of museums. Culture is not simply a niche of the entertainment and tourism industries based on activities designed for consumption in leisure time. Rather, it is a complex dynamic between elements that ultimately manifest in how we live our lives.

Many museums these days are attempting to become more relevant to citizens and to construct public programs that deal with the important issues of our day. I am looking to learn about museum and/or artistic initiatives that have been created to engage citizens in such issues. And I am especially interested in how these issues were identified by museums as focal points for treatment in public programs (including exhibits).

The last element in my inquiry pertains to how these museums are measuring their successes (and failures). For example, what metrics of success are being developed? Are these targeted at the level of individual participant? …at a community level? …at an organizational level? Do these include shifts in behaviour, attitudes, or knowledge of individuals? Are there desired social outcomes; environmental impacts; economic effects? Perhaps there are other focuses not mentioned here.

The work I have been engaged in for more than a decade, specifically on the relationship between culture and sustainability, has lead me to understand culture as an adaptive function that links humanity to the many ways that the world around us is changing. This function is also essential in determining the degree to which individuals and collectives are able to adapt, so that humanity remains a species that is sustainable on the planet. As many authors have pointed out along the way (eg. Jane Jacobs’ “Dark Age Ahead”, Thomas Homer-Dixon’s “The Upside of Down”, Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”, etc) human beings have proven their ability to be maladaptive and have in fact brought about the demise of societies that once were strong.

My question to you is, to what extent, and in what ways, are museums functioning as catalysts and facilitators of the kind of human mindfulness that is required to deal with the current set of crises that are expanding around the world. This list is long, but could include such items as:

– climate change
– unemployment
– urban sprawl
– loss of biodiversity
– increased ethno-cultural diversity in cities
– desertification
– globalized economics
– use of energy (renewable and non-renewable)
– equity/inequity (economic, education, employment, social, etc)
– immigration (as an essential component of economic growth)
– an economic system based on continuous growth
– any social, environmental, cultural or economic issue that is rooted in a given community
– … and lots more.

If you know of projects or museums that are grappling with these issues, I would greatly appreciate hearing from you. I am setting up a website in which such projects will be described and which will encourage conversations about the complexity of ‘cultural indicators.

Many thanks!

email: douglas_worts@rogers.com
personal website: http://www.douglasworts.org
WorldViews website: http://www.worldviewsconsulting.org

Coasting – book about rising sea levels and heritage

1 07 2009

sculpture shed, originally uploaded by bridgetmckenz.

I’m writing a book about coastal and estuary places that are threatened by rising sea levels, thinking about the value of the cultural heritage in these places, and exploring the role of cultural and creative activists in tackling the problem and helping communities cope with change. I’m taking photos for the book too.


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