Yearly Archives: 2019

Guest Blog: Picking a battle – How to find the right subject matter

The first step for any artist is working out what to write about. In this guest blog London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) Soundhub Composer Lillie Harris leads us through what the process was like for her writing her new piece ‘Consumption’ .

Before I had even properly started my LSO Soundhub piece, I knew that the crucial ingredient in the piece would be an emotional core, addressing a social and political issue.

Pieces don’t have to be ‘about something’ of course. Earlier this year, I wrote a piece without a clear narrative or emotional idea. ‘This will be a fun challenge,’ I had thought naively, like someone about to discover a crippling fear of heights at the top of a bungee-jump. ‘What a great learning opportunity!’

Reaching the end of that particular work was unusually difficult, and I learned, (much like the bungee jumper might) that an important part of my composer-self requires a clear emotional or narrative purpose. No ifs, no buts.

So my initial plan for this second year of Soundhub was to write a piece about social and economic inequality, and the frustration of waiting for unequal systems to change. It was inspired by the incredibly moving BBC Panorama episode about health inequality. I had scribbled down my feelings straight away like a diary, outlining the ‘characters’ I wanted to embody in the differing musical ideas, then refining them, excitedly describing how the opposing musical ideas would influence (or rather, not influence) one other.

But as days started to trickle by, I found myself oddly reluctant to get going, despite my initial passion about the piece. I realised that I was nervous about telling a story that’s so very personal for many people. My own experience has been relatively fortunate: ‘The System’ wasn’t an antagonist for me when I was growing up. Student loans notwithstanding, I didn’t really feel equipped with enough first-hand experience to do this topic justice.

Telling the story of humans and the natural world

After some deliberation, I found a story that I feel informed enough to tell: the story of humans and the natural world – and more specifically, our relentless battering of it.

My initial plans had centred around two opposing voices; with the shift in focus, they made even more sense: a domineering voice ploughing relentlessly on doing whatever it wanted, and the other, desperately trying to get its attention. As the recent flood of articles about the environment came through, reinforcing in ever more pessimistic language the reality of the situation we are in, I felt emboldened by my choice.

So the title became Consumption, a play on the literal consumption of natural resources, but also the historic term for tuberculosis: a nasty, infectious disease that consumes the life and vitality of sufferers. The opposing material in the piece became a) the natural world – full of variety, space, tiny flitting fragments, a natural chaos but also moments of unison; and b) the human capitalist economy: relentless, unending, rhythmic, and increasingly toxic.

Art can inspire people in ways facts cannot, as Ben Twist, Director of Creative Carbon Scotland, describes in his excellent TED talk, Why the arts are essential in addressing climate change.

I’m not a climate scientist, but I am a composer. And if I can write a piece that strikes the emotional core of the unprecedented losses we are facing as a result of our rampant consumerism, then I might be able to make a difference.

Hear the world premiere of Consumption at the London Symphony Orchestra Soundhub Phase II Showcase on Saturday 9 February at LSO St Luke’s. Click here to find out more and book tickets.

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This story was posted by  London Symphony Orchestra Soundhub Composer Lillie Harris. Creative Carbon Scotland is committed to being a resource for the arts & sustainability community and we invite you to submit news, blogs, opportunities and your upcoming events.

The post Guest Blog: Picking a battle – How to find the right subject matter appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.


Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

Go to Creative Carbon Scotland

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Joya: arte + ecología / AiR is now accepting applications for residencies between 1st May and 14th July 2019.

Joya: arte + ecología / AiR is an “off-grid” interdisciplinary residency rooted in the crossroads of art, ecology and sustainable living practice. It is located in the heart of the Parque Natural Sierra María – Los Vélez, in the north of the province of Almería, Andalucía. Joya: AiR offers abundant time and space for residents to make, think, explore and learn from their surroundings.

Joya: AiR supports a range of disciplines including, but not limited to, visual art, writing, music, dance, curatorial and film. Founded by Simon and Donna Beckmann in 2009, the Joya: arte + ecología / AiR programme is grounded in the foundation that dynamic and sustainable creative activity is the backbone to regenerating the land that has been slowly abandoned over the last fifty years. 

Since 2009, Joya: AiR has welcomed over 650 artists and creatives to realise their projects within one of the most unique and beautiful regions of the country. This is one of the sunniest regions of Europe receiving over 3000 hours of sunlight a year. Residents have access to studio space and 20 hectares of land. Accommodation (private room with attached bathroom) and meals are included, as is collection and return to the nearest public transport system.

Joya’s working languages are English and Spanish.

Further details and the submission form are available here:

The deadline for applications is March 17 2019

We happily cater for vegans, vegetarians and occasional carnivores (we have a reduced meat consumption with an emphasis on all our food being local)

Accommodation is bright, warm and clean with wood heated radiant floors. More images…

Celebrating Women-Powered Climate Solutions

by Julia Levine

Juxtaposing the International Day for Women & Girls in Science with Drawdown solutions, Persistent Acts considers the vitality of women and girls in the climate conversation, and how the arts can play a role in gender parity.

Of Drawdown’s 80 published solutions for reversing global warming, three are explicitly about women and girls. As Drawdown Vice President of Communication and Engagement, Katherine Wilkinson, states in her TedTalk How empowering women and girls can help stop global warming: “Climate and gender are inextricably linked.” Gender parity is connected to numerous climate solutions, but Drawdown solution #6, Educating Girls, drives a case for equity. Enabling opportunities for safe, quality education for girls “is the most powerful lever available for breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, while mitigating emissions by curbing population growth.” Moreover, “educated women can marshal multiple ways of knowing to observe, understand, reevaluate, and take action to sustain themselves and those who depend on them.”

In honor of this day, I chatted with ecologist and environmental lawyer Kyla Bennett. Kyla has taught classes and workshops for elementary school students, and noticed that the girls were less engaged than their male counterparts. In a talk with fifth graders about what they can do to help the earth, boys dominated the conversation. We discussed the need for girls’ voices to be valued in our society, so they can more actively participate in the classroom and beyond.

Kyla also brought up the inclination of girls towards the arts (reading books, watching movies), and how our society urges them toward creative pursuits at young ages – more so than boys. This suggests that we (artists) can support girls in feeling more comfortable with science, and in engaging with scientific topics at vital young ages (8-18 years old) through means that they already love. As Kyla explained, “everything is already stacked against girls in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) area…we need to get it into their lingo.”

This is in part why Kyla wrote No Worse Sin, a young adult novel featuring a teenage girl in the face of global disaster. There is a love interest, but the story breaks the mold of a series like Twilight, to uplift the female character’s agency. Young people need stories that highlight leaders and heroes other than cis white men, and the stories for girls can and should be of substance in order to foster scientific curiosity.

No Worse Sin by Kyla Bennett.

Another example is a verbatim theatre project, A Chip on Her Shoulder, by director and playwright Kristin Rose Kelly. With Honest Accomplice Theatre, Kristin is creating a docu-play with music, investigating the experiences of women, trans people, and other minorities in the field of engineering. I talked with her about her impetus for this project, which started when she was a graduate student at Virginia Tech. As she came into leadership roles as a theatre director, she realized the extent of the gender bias against women in any leadership position, including in the engineering field, where only 15% of engineers are women. She connected with organizations like WINGS (Women Inspiring the Next Generation’s Success) to interview engineering students and professionals from around the country.

A Chip on Her Shoulder. Photo by Dylan Bomgardner.

There was a certain caution and reservation amongst female interviewees, especially those associated with institutions: “I can’t talk about this. I don’t want to use my name.” Women who do talk candidly are often labeled as having a “chip on her shoulder.” Yet there is no question that we need to break the stigmas and encourage more women and girls to embrace STEM. So many solutions to our global issues are being generated and developed in STEM; with more diversity and inclusion, such solutions can have greater impact for more people – not just those who look and think like the engineers. Kristin talked about the ethics of engineering, and the ideal that the tools engineers create should be for everyone. Empowering and uplifting women in STEM helps break the homogeneity, unlocking the unbounded applications of what engineers can do.

A Chip on Her Shoulder. Photo by Mary Rathell.

Through theatre, Kristin is spotlighting stories on the margins, stories of women in workplace situations not dissimilar to her audience’s. She is creating a piece of theatre that people across industries can relate to and helping them feel more resilient in their own workplaces and communities.

Kyla and I agree: Women are going to save the world. Whether it’s through art or science, women are drawing upon our particular ways of moving through the world and sharing modes of empathy with others to address climate. Drawdown has the research compiled on women-centric solutions; people like Kyla and Kristin are playing out the possibilities. This is notable today on the UN’s International Day for Women & Girls in Science, but it is also notable everyday that women comprise half of the world’s population.

There’s More…

Related posts:
My previous post When Women Lead
Chantal Bilodeau’s Exorcising Harveys, about tackling gender equity onstage in the Arctic
Chantal Bilodeau’s Why do Women Climate More Than Men?

Podcast recommendation: 
Mothers of Invention, hosted by former Irish President Mary Robinson and comedian Maeve Higgins, celebrating amazing women doing remarkable things in pursuit of climate justice.

Performance in New York City:
Honest Accomplice’s Engineer Not Found, created by Honest Accomplice Theatre featuring verbatim interviews from A Chip On Her Shoulder. Directed by Maggie Keenan-Bolger Rachel Sullivan and Kristin Rose Kelly with original songs by Teresa Lotz (music) and Naomi Matlow (lyrics), coming to The Tank this Spring.

(Top Image by Mariadel Alamort.)

This article is part of the Persistent Acts series which looks at the intersection of performance, climate, and politics. How does hope come to fruition, even in the most dire circumstances? What are tangible alternatives to the oppressive status quo? The series considers questions of this nature to motivate conversations and actions on climate issues that reverberate through politics and theatre.


Julia Levine is a creative collaborator and vegetarian. Originally from St. Louis, Julia is now planted in the New York City downtown theatre realm. As a director, Julia has worked on various projects with companies that consider political and cultural topics, including Theater In Asylum, Honest Accomplice Theatre, and Superhero Clubhouse. She is the Marketing Manager at HERE and is Artistic Producer of The Arctic Cycle. Julia writes and devises with her performance-based initiative, The UPROOT Series, to bring questions of food, climate, and justice into everyday life.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Artists sustainability survey

Alex Brown (Artsadmin) and Tilly Hogrebe (Bow Arts) have created thisartists’ survey as part of a research programme called Accelerator, led by Julie’s Bicycle, on advanced sustainability in the arts and cultural sector. Focussing on sustainable arts practices and the circular economy, the survey aims to map existing art practices and group them around sites of potential exchange; materials, knowledge and skills, time, money, which feed into environmental and socio-economic sustainable goals.

If you have an interest in sustainability and would like to be involved in a series of workshops, based on alternative art economies and circularity, then please fill out the survey here

In October 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a special report on climate change, outlining that we have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe. As a result, now more than ever, environmental sustainability is something each and every one of us should think about, both individually and as part of our networks, in our private as well as our professional lives. This thinking needs to become second nature and inform all our actions.

In a collaboration between Bow Arts and Artsadmin, and under the Julie’s Bicycle and Arts Council England Accelerator programme, we are looking at environmental sustainability within artist studios and in connection to artist practices. What materials are being used, and are environmental or other ethical aspects taken into account when these are bought? Are there ways to reduce and re-use materials, rather than recycle and dispose of? And do socio-economic factors such as time and money have an impact on how green an artist is in their practice? We are looking for answers to those questions and will aim to establish ways in which we as arts organisations can inspire as well as assist artists to take sustainability in their practices to a new level.

One of the models we are looking at in order to achieve this is Circular Economy. 

Traditional behaviour patterns often follow the model of take-make-dispose. For this it has to be assumed that there are infinite resources, which of course we know not to be the case. In addition, simple disposal at the end of a product’s life has a huge detrimental impact on the environment and should therefore no longer be an option, and in fact should never have been.

A circular economy model on the other hand is a closed loop system, designed to keep in any resources for as long as possible, get the most value out of them while in use, and eventually ensure sustainable ways of disposal. This way waste and pollution will be designed out of the system.

Ways to achieve this include maintenance & repair (of tools and equipment), reuse & sharing, upcycling, and only eventually, recycling. If you are interested in exploring the concept of Circular Economy further, have a look at Julie’s Bicycle’s resource on the topic and follow our progress on this project!

So, how will we get there?

The beginning of the process is to gain a greater understanding of current systems of sustainability and exchange within creative practice. Whether you currently consider your practice to be engaged with sustainability or not, we would like to hear from all artists so that we can effectively map material and resource use in the sector and measure how practitioners consider sustainability. There are no wrong answers to this survey, think of it as a process in order to collectively discover best practice. What matters most is the appetite for progress.

We are thinking about the circular economy through different prisms, primarily environmental sustainability, how our relationship to materials might impact artistic decision-making. If an embedded economy is the systemic whole, the actors within can only consume the amount of energy that has been inputted to keep sustainable equilibrium. We are considering our relationship with materials first but in doing so, we also examine the sites of exchange that are forged together to make an economy. This is not only in a financial sense of an economy but an artistic one, by dissecting exchanges and how the management of resources functions in a social system, we can re-examine how we create and work within a living ecosystem.

We hope in the first instance that you are interested in some of these themes of how practices centred around the boldness of art-making which allows us to navigate a collective future of environmental justice. We want to foster debate, innovative practice and cooperation that working sustainably encourages. How can this our relationship to materials and suggestions of alternative economies prefigure a regenerative future? How can we foster a community of sustainable studio users?

By asking these questions, we’re hoping to bring together groups of artists who are challenged and inspired by these ideas, and open to new ways of thinking in the way they approach their art process and production. It would be fantastic if we could get as many artists completing the survey as possible, this will be incredibly helpful in finding out about current practices. The workshops will be a chance to exchange knowledge with others on topics centred around artistic process and practice and will tackle advanced sustainability issues. The project will focus on collective action and collaboration and work like a peer exchange group facilitated by the 2 lead organisations.

To get involved in the workshops, please complete the survey and express your interest through the Google form. You should be interested in knowledge exchange that contributes to some research for Julie’s Bicycle Accelerator programme. The initial sessions will be centred around- 1) alternative economic models and the circular economy 2) sustainable material use. The subsequent sessions will be decided by the group but are likely to explore themes of collaboration, commons, time and money.

We’re really excited to be at the beginning of this journey and as we delve deeper into the idea of a creative economy that works for artists, more questions come up. We expect the next year of the Accelerator programme and path to circularity and sustainability to be challenging and enlightening in equal measure and it would be great if you joined us.

Photo by James Allen

Wild Authors: Peter Heller

by Mary Woodbury

Denver resident Peter Heller is a contributor to NPR, Outside Magazine, Men’s Journal,and National Geographic Adventure. He has written literary nonfiction and fiction – and he loves the outdoors, so his writing reflects his adventures, including in Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River, The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet’s Largest Mammals, and his newest, Kook: What Surfing Taught Me about Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect WaveThe Dog Stars was his debut novel, published in August 2012. Since then, he has also written the novels The Painter and Celine.

When I asked Heller if there was anything he would like to tell me about writing The Dog Stars, he said:

I believe climate change and the Sixth Great Mass Extinction – which we are in the middle of, and which has been caused by us – are the stories of our time. I think about them all the time. So, when I sat down to write my first novel, they had to inform the writing and the story.

Writers artistically document our times. They inform, create, entertain, and imagine. They warn and give hope. Sometimes they frighten us. They create new myths and expand on old ones. They have always reflected the changing world around us. In our Sixth Great Mass Extinction, like Heller said, come stories, and I believe that authors writing about this extinction are going through a period of unprecedented loss and reflection.

To learn more about the Sixth Great Mass Extinction, see National Geographic.

On Earth Day this year I took part in a panel called Climate Change and Storytelling, at the West Vancouver Public Library. Some of the main questions people asked were: How do you write about climate change in fiction, and what impacts readers the most? Is doom and gloom or cheer more effective? Authors are diverse in tackling global warming in fiction; they have their own way of storytelling – from didactic to the other end of the spectrum, not even really mentioning climate change at all. Readers are just as diverse. Some prefer science fiction. Some literary. Some like dystopia. Some can’t stomach it. Some stories, however, may hit home with almost everyone, and when I read The Dog Stars, I felt that it was one of these types of stories. However, it is a stark novel, brutal and honest to the bone.

Why Heller’s novel works so well is that it simply touches your heart, which was also our panel’s conclusions when it comes to why readers like any story, not just stories about climate change. Climate change may be a big focus in novels listed at this site, but when readers can relate to characters in the story, that’s when we get inspired. As I’ve pointed out often, impact is greater than intent.

The Dog Stars weaves an interesting story of a guy named Hig and his dog who live in an abandoned airstrip, Hig’s memories of his wife and unborn child, and his relationship with a neighbor named Bangley. Other characters enter the story: a group of Mennonites nearby and a father and daughter living “at the point of no return.” This apocalyptic novel has a conversational style, making the reader feel right at home. Hig is likeable, and the reader probably will root for Hig’s continued survival – and potential romance – in his climate-changed world where many species seem to be gone and an epidemic (“The Blood”) has wiped most people off the face of the Earth. Zoom in to Hig and his world, and you get a glimpse of Heller’s concerns for our own planet.

Heller has a deft writing style that captures loss well, but he is also all about cheering on the remaining wilderness:

There are patches of green wood, and I am their biggest fan. Go Go Go Grow Grow Grow! That’s our fight song.

He yells it out the window as he flies along in an old Cessna trying to see what’s remaining in his newly isolated existence. What’s not to immediately adore about Hig? He loves the wilderness, which is a diminishing aspect of planet Earth, but there are still signs of it. As a person who also spends a great deal of time outside, I see the woods and meadows continuing to disappear and so I revel in places that are still green, like Hig does, and I revel likewise in his prose about those places. Heller’s descriptions of woods and meadows and willows and creeks are partially why this novel hits the heart. When all these things are taken for granted, and then they are endangered, an author can bring them back with words, with warning, and with whispers of what once was – what may be in the future if we take care. John Seabrook in The New Yorker said about The Dog Stars:

The prose bears an obvious debt to manly sentence-smiths like McCarthy, Hemingway, and Jack London, but it also has lyrical descriptions of landscape and nature reminiscent of James Dickey’s poetry.

The reader can also relate because this is a down-to-earth novel, despite its nods to stars and constellations – and its main character flying around in the sky. Hig’s narration is similar to how any one of us readers might be thinking in a similar situation. We understand the eclipse of his life, from the modern era to the apocalyptic afterworld where lamentation, nostalgia, and yet hope are big. We are already starting to view similar situations found in the novel as climate change grips us in its talons and flies us toward uncertainty.

Climate change does not have to change humanity; relationships with pets, friends, lovers, and the natural world around us will live on. Nostalgia peaks because of loss, and survival may be frightening, but all the more reason to grasp onto others who help us cope with loss – similar to what’s happening in The Dog Stars. There is an uptick to the harsh environment and world that Hig finds himself in. There are plenty of frightening individuals, but we like Hig. NPR stated:

Hig, though, is Nice. He can’t quite give up his dreams of a better world, of brotherhood, of natural beauty, of grace. A failed poet, on his forays into the wilderness to hunt for deer, his voice becomes lyrical: “The moss I wonder how old. It is dry and light to the touch, almost crumbly, but in the trees it moves like sad pennants.”

I won’t spoil the story by telling everything that happens, but one particular event is a sad one that made me cry. And it made Hig fall into an existential lamentation. We are warned at the start of the novel that the future world is at the stage of lamentations:

Did you ever read the Bible? Check out Lamentations. That’s where we’re at, pretty much. Pretty much Lamenting. Pretty much pouring our hearts out like water.

Despite such a downfall, Hig goes on, and we are left with a heartfelt, jarring read that makes this one of my favorite stories wherein climate change is a strong force. Perhaps it is Heller’s beautiful prose writing. Maybe it’s that I identify with Hig’s love of nature and his excitement when he finds it. But, mostly, The Dog Stars is about us, in all our quirks and loves and nostalgia – and our vulnerability and found-strength when it comes to how we survive disaster.

(Top image: Photo by Photo by Hyoung Chang, downloaded from The Denver Post.

This article is part of our Wild Authors series. It was originally published on on May 12, 2017.


Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs and, sites that explore ecology in literature, including works about climate change. She writes fiction under pen name Clara Hume. Her novel Back to the Garden has been discussed in Dissent MagazineEthnobiology for the Future: Linking Cultural and Ecological Diversity (University of Arizona Press), and Uncertainty and the Philosophy of Climate Change (Routledge). Mary lives in the lower mainland of British Columbia and enjoys hiking, writing, and reading.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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It’s All Connected

by Brenda Cummings

I am a professional actor, singer, writer and teacher from New York City and New Jersey. I have performed, written for, and worked with children for several decades. I created shows with New York’s Paper Bag Players, toured extensively with the company, created props/costumes, and led workshops in New York and on the road. In addition, I did television and theater in New York as well as regional theatre productions with numerous companies in the 80s, 90s and 2000s.

My late husband inherited his family home in suburban New Jersey, so we moved into the house in the early 2000s. His parents had been environmentalists and educators in the area during the 50s thru the 90s. They had grown all their own vegetables, volunteered at the local nature center and helped to educate locals about environmental issues. I always had great respect and admiration for their work, so I tried to pick up where they left off.

We adopted a beautiful 10-month-old girl through the foster care system and when she started kindergarten I realized that the kids in our upper-middle class area were not learning how to prepare for climate change or think sustainably. How could they possibly deal with the environmental problems they’d be inheriting? There was practically no public transportation in our area, bottled water use was wide-spread, parents idled their SUVs in front of schools, the food and plastic waste at school was appalling, and environmental education had become practically nonexistent. When our town banned beekeeping, I’d had enough.

I started working on Granny Green’s Green Machine, writing songs, and picture books. I created set pieces, props and costumes from recycled materials. I offered shows as well as arts and crafts programs to help kids learn how to make art or useful things out of their trash.

The idea I wanted to impress upon them was that everything we do affects other things. All the parts of the natural world are connected like the parts of a machine. I hoped that the children would take information home through a song, a story or a treasure. I began presenting the programs wherever possible – in schools, at Earth Fairs, and the youth development organization 4H and scouting events.

Available on Amazon.

I talked to teachers, administrators, and parents about changing things in our schools but I failed to light any fires. I joined a local sustainability group to talk about the issues with like-minded people. There were not many of us at the time, and sometimes it felt like what we were doing was subversive. There were times when I was dismissed or treated like a screwball in my town, but eventually I was asked to join our town’s environmental commission and head our Green Team. We began doing annual town clean-ups, showing educational films, and bringing in lecturers. Soon after, I was invited to write a sustainability column for the local newspaper. We worked with neighboring towns to broaden our scope, but very few of the area’s residents actually came to our events, and we were, from time to time, met with outright hostility.

I have sometimes gotten arguments from parents and educators who say that talking to children about climate change is too scary. I think it’s scarier to keep children in the dark about their future. One of the songs I wrote for the show is The Polar Bear Blues and along with it I describe how the greenhouse effect works. It’s not scary. It’s science with a song.

The Polar Bear Blues by Brenda Cummings

I try to promote the idea that kids can make changes at home and in school. The theme song of the show is In My Backyard — I can make the whole world greener in my own backyard.

I did an Indiegogo campaign in 2016 to raise funds to publish I Am the Hugger! – a picture book about trees and the many wonderful things they do for us. I will be eternally grateful to my friends and family members who contributed to the publication of the book.

Our taxes got higher and higher, my husband lost his editorial job, and the 2016 campaign and election had a negative effect on the way children were treating our African American daughter. The bullying got so bad that at one point a group of boys chased her down the street with sticks, hurling racial epithets at her. We left New Jersey a year and a half ago and moved to progressive Tacoma, WA where my family lives. I’m slowly getting into the performance and art worlds here and I’m in the process of publishing some new picture books and recording a new album.

Starting over at 60 is challenging, but I don’t plan to stop any time soon. Children need to know the truth if they’re going to help solve the many problems they will face. These days, more and more young people are speaking out about climate change and the environment. Their courage and understanding of the issues gives me hope for a better future.


Brenda Cummings recently moved from the New York City area to Tacoma, Washington. She performed in New York and regional theater, including Mrs. Pierce, My Fair Lady; Mrs. Lynch, Grease (The Papermill Playhouse); Georgette, School For Wives (The Yale Repertory Theater); Adelaide Churchill, Lizzie Borden (Goodspeed Opera House), and Teresa, Don Quixote(Denver Repertory Theatre). Brenda worked with Obie award-winning playwright/actor Jeff Weiss in Hot KeysCome Clean and That’s How the Rent Gets Paid. Brenda was with the Obie award-winning children’s theatre company The Paper Bag Players, and has presented Granny Green’s Green Machine since 2009.


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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An Interview With Interdisciplinary Artist Catherine Sarah Young

by Amy Brady

Today I have for you an interview with Catherine Sarah Young, a Chinese-Filipina interdisciplinary artist, designer, and writer who creates works that investigate nature, our role in nature, and the tensions between nature and technology. We discussed her latest projects and why she’s drawn to the subject of climate change.

Your work combines art and science. What are you hoping to communicate through your interdisciplinary work that art or science alone can’t?

I am hoping to communicate the beauty and fragility of nature and how our actions create impact on the planet. More importantly, I hope to inspire people to redefine our relationship with nature, with each other, and with the self – and to get them to act. With this broad aim and lots of things to be inspired by, I am usually driven to create many different things. I was trained in molecular biology, fine art, and interaction design, and all these have brought me a myriad of lenses with which to see the world. Science helps me to see the world for what it is in its many dimensions, while art creates emotional connections that are important to see nature as part of our identity. Design is incredibly useful, too, since it’s about empathy, and we need that when we want to effectively communicate or facilitate something to another person, especially when this might be a complex topic that is not easy to swallow.

Tell us about your most recent project, Wild Science.

This is a project I started in Vienna in April 2018 during an art residency with KulturKontakt Austria and the Austrian Federal Chancellery. I did this after five years of working on The Apocalypse Project. I had observed a shift in conversation since 2013 when I began work on climate change, where we went from asking what climate change was, to what were the systemic issues that were causing it, such as wealth inequality, lack of access to science, lack of collaborations between disciplines, etc.

It was great to start this in Vienna, which has a rich history of both art and science, so I was able to go through a lot of museums. I also had the fantastic opportunities of working with Dr. Gerhard Heindl, the historian of the Schönbrunn Tiergarten which is the oldest zoo in the world, for the project, Der Tiergarten: Human Forces on the Animal Kingdom, and to have conversations with people from the Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, such as Dr. Silke Schweiger, curator of the Department of Herpetology, and Ms. Melina Franz and Ms. Mirjana Pavlovic from the taxidermy team for the project, Scientific Method.

One of my favorite projects in this body of work so far is Letters for Science, where I ask people to write letters to science denialists. I was able to go to Eferding thanks to KulturKontakt Austria’s Artist in Residence Go to School program, and a group of thirteen year olds chose to write letters to climate change deniers. (The project is still ongoing and everyone is welcome to contribute.)

I like being prolific and there are always all these questions in my head that I need to answer by doing projects, so I’ll likely keep working on both The Apocalypse Project and Wild Science for a while, and perhaps others.

Der Tiergarten board game and cards by Catherine Sarah Young.

You told me something during our very first chat that I haven’t been able to get out of my head: that an artwork you created using a breathing mask actually became a part of your wardrobe while you lived in China. This is an extreme example of just how relevant your work truly is. It’s also an example of how a piece with humorous connotations evolved to be a lot less funny as the world we live in has grown increasingly more polluted. Have you noticed other works of art changing in meaning as the world changes?

Futurists often quote William Gibson, “The future is here; it’s not just evenly distributed.” I remember including masks in the Climate Change Couture series almost as a joke, and I brought one of them to Beijing with me for a potential exhibition or just to show people. Instead I ended up wearing it because the smog was just too much for me. I think visions of the future catch up to us more quickly because we are changing the planet so fast. I keep revisiting the works of people such as Buckminster Fuller, Agnes Denes, Cai Guo-Qiang and others as I feel that their work keeps being relevant in different contexts.

In your artist statement, you write that your work is “critiquing broken real-world systems and proposing alternative realities.” Are you hopeful that humans will create a future reality that is actually sustainable?

We are all part of these broken systems, and this can make one feel helpless. But for me, to make art is to be hopeful. It may feel easier to be willfully blind or uncaring about these realities, or make them even worse by manipulating our consumerist tendencies, but creating art is a way where I can face each day with purpose and have a stake in the future. So I am hopeful that we will make a reality that is sustainable – we have to, if we wish to survive. Right now I’m thinking of my experience with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s (Un-)Learning Place, which ended for me just a few hours ago, because I was surrounded by academics, artists, and other cultural practitioners whose work and lives were so different than mine. One prevailing emotion I felt in myself and in others was a disquiet with institutions that have failed us. So I hope that we will dismantle these or find ways to fix them and keep engaging with people who are different than us and who may even disagree with us. I grow so much with these art residencies and fellowships – they are not only ways for me to connect with people and to challenge myself and my assumptions, but to also remind myself that among the greatest of freedoms is the ability to think for oneself and to question everything without fear.

What’s next for you?

After a short stint in Berlin, I’ll be taking a much-needed rest in Manila, then I’ll be back in Beijing in March to continue my residency with China Residencies and Red Gate Residency. I’ll be in Kampong Thom, Cambodia in May and in Bangkok, Thailand in June for parts 2 and 3 of my fellowship with the SEAΔ program of Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council. I’ll also keep making more art, writing more stories and articles, and training more in taekwondo.

Read more about Catherine Sarah Young and her work at her website.

For previous articles about Catherine Sarah Young’s work, check out:

Scientific Method: Documenting the Invisible Processes of Research
Wild Science: Experiments in Nature and the Vanishing Amazon
Turning Sewage into Soaps: The Sewer Soaperie by The Apocalypse Project
Climate Change Couture

This article is part of the Climate Art Interviews series. It was originally published in Amy Brady’s “Burning Worlds” newsletter. Subscribe to get Amy’s newsletter delivered straight to your inbox.


Amy Brady is the Deputy Publisher of Guernica magazine and Senior Editor of the Chicago Review of Books. Her writing about art, culture, and climate has appeared in the Village Voice, the Los Angeles TimesPacific Standard, the New Republic, and other places. She is also the editor of the monthly newsletter “Burning Worlds,” which explores how artists and writers are thinking about climate change. She holds a PHD in English and is the recipient of a CLIR/Mellon Library of Congress Fellowship. Read more of her work at and follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x. 


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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Singer/Songwriter Ashley Mazanec and Her Album Let’s Talk About the Weather

Ashley Mazanec, a singer/songwriter from Encinitas, California, joins us in the Art House. She tells us about some of the songs on her album Let’s Talk About the Weather, and fills the segment with powerful pop tunes. In addition to making music, Ashley holds regular monthly events that bring together other eco-artists.

Coming up next month, sculptor Emily Puthoff uses her art to build solitary bee habitats.

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunesStitcher Radio, Spotify, SoundCloudPodbeanNorthern Spirit RadioGoogle PlayPlayerFM, and TuneIn Radio. Also, feel free to connect with other listeners, suggest program ideas, and respond to programs in the Citizens’ Climate Radio Facebook group or on Twitter at @CitizensCRadio.

This article is part of The Art House series. 


As host of Citizens’ Climate Radio, Peterson Toscano regularly features artists who address climate change in their work. The Art House section of his program includes singer/songwriters, visual artists, comics, creative writers, and playwrights. Through a collaboration with Artists and Climate Change and Citizens’ Climate Education, each month Peterson reissues The Art House for this blog. If you have an idea for The Art House, contact Peterson: radio @


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Opportunity: Environmental Sustainability Officer at Festivals Edinburgh

Festivals Edinburgh is looking for an Environmental Sustainability Officer to join the team on a part-time basis.

Festivals Edinburgh is the high-level organisation, created and driven by the directors of Edinburgh’s 11 major festivals, to take the lead on their joint strategic development and to look at over-arching areas of mutual interest.

The Environmental Sustainability Officer role serves to drive and support the Festivals in their ambitions to be the world’s leading green festival city, by:

  • Acting as a specialised knowledge base for the Festivals, providing co-ordination and expertise on key sustainability issues
  • Sourcing, designing and supporting collaborative opportunities for the Festivals around environmental sustainability

This role supports the collaborative environmental sustainability work of the Edinburgh Festivals, facilitated by Festivals Edinburgh to both reduce the environmental impact of the Festivals and their activities, but also to explore their contribution to positive environmental change through their way of working with partners, artists, audiences and their wider stakeholders.

Key areas of activity:

  • Innovation and Knowledge Development
  • Skills and Capacity Development
  • Knowledge Dissemination and Advocacy

We are looking for a knowledgeable and driven individual, with strong attention to detail, and an ability to support and propel the environmental sustainability ambitions of Festivals Edinburgh and its member Festivals.


The job is part-time (2.5 days per week) within standard office hours of 9.30 am – 5.30 pm, Monday – Friday. At times, it will be necessary to work flexible working hours e.g. to represent the organisation at external events, forums and conferences. Payment of overtime is not applicable to this post, but Time Off in Lieu will be given at the discretion of the Line Manager. Occasional travel within the UK will be required.


Please email a CV and covering letter demonstrating your relevant abilities and outlining how your skills and experience meet the person specification to Niall Heseltine, Festivals Edinburgh Administrator, at 

For further information on this role, please download the full job specification.

Deadline: Monday 18 March, 5pm
Interviews: Monday 25 March in Edinburgh

The post Opportunity: Environmental Sustainability Officer at Festivals Edinburgh appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.


Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

Go to Creative Carbon Scotland

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Adriana Ford #art4wetlands on WetlandLIFE at RamsarCOP13

Flamingoes on the Ras Al Khor wetlands with Dubai’s skyline in the background. Photo: Adriana Ford

For World Wetlands Day, Adriana Ford reports on the WetlandLIFEproject’s side event at the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in Dubai and how it was received. Highlighting the various contributions (on the Community Voice Method and by two of the artists Victoria Leslie and Kerry Morrison), Adriana goes on to report on the responses from the audience (who ‘got’ what the arts and cultural value focused approaches had to offer).

If you were to ask any wetland expert what is the conference to attend for connecting to global wetlands networks, it will most likely be the Ramsar Convention COP (Conference of Parties). It’s like the wetlands version of the UN Climate Change Conference which happens each year (typically making the news), as delegates from governments and other organisations from across the world gather to discuss and make decisions on the issues facing wetlands. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands may not be quite as well-known, but it is the oldest of all the modern global intergovernmental environmental agreements, adopted in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar (coming into force in 1975), with an impressive 170 Contracting Parties.

The Ramsar Convention states its mission as,

“the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world.”

It provides a framework for wetland management and protection at a global to local scale, including the designation of protected “Ramsar sites”. Every three years, the COP – the decision-making body made up of the governments that are the Contracting Parties to the Convention – meets in a different country, to assess progress and to make decisions about how to improve the processes and implementation of the Convention. The most recent COP (COP13) met in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, from 21st-29th October 2018.

It’s the first time I’ve been to a COP, but for a long while I’ve been curious about how they work and what’s involved. What I did know was that the Ramsar COP13 offered a unique and significant opportunity for WetlandLIFE to internationalise our impact and to make important new connections.  WetlandLIFE is a three year multi-institutional research project funded by the Valuing Nature Programme, exploring narratives and values around wetlands, particularly from a health and wellbeing perspective, and also the role of mosquitoes within this. Our research is focused in England, but our interdisciplinary approaches and findings have far broader applicability. So, I applied for a competitive place to host a “side event” at the conference. Held at lunchtimes and in the evenings of the COP, in between the plenary discussions, these side events provide an opportunity for organisations to present and discuss ideas and projects to the most relevant and global audience of wetland practitioners and experts that you could ask for.

We had been allocated a 75 minute slot on the penultimate day of COP13, for our session titled, ‘Sense of Place & Wellbeing in Wetlands: Using Film and the Arts to achieve SDG3’.  After arriving a few days early to navigate the COP and attend other side events (and of course, to promote our own!), I was joined by a small team, comprised of two of our WetlandLIFE artists, Victoria Leslie and Kerry Morrison; Chris Fremantle – a researcher, artist and cultural historian and advisor to WetlandLIFE; and Dave Pritchard – a freelance environmental consultant with extensive experience of the Ramsar Convention, who is also Coordinator of the Ramsar Culture Network.

Together, our aim was to exemplify and discuss ways that the arts, humanities and social sciences can be used either individually or alongside other disciplines to work towards Sustainable Development Goal 3 – Good Health and Wellbeing – for wetlands, particularly through sharing our experiences from WetlandLIFE.  I introduced our audience to Community Voice Method, a social sciences approach which uses filmed interviews as a way of bringing together different experiences and perspectives in an engaging way. When we screen our short films in the spring, they will act as a catalyst for further discourse and deliberation on wetland values and management. Our artists also introduced their work, from poetry and creative writing, to mosquito caravans and bird hides as creative hubs, as ways to both understand and create value and connectivity around wetlands and nature.

Our session was well attended, with representation from at least 12 countries in our audience, from the Middle East, Africa, The Americas, Europe and Asia, and we were fortunate to count two members of the Ramsar Secretariat amongst them. I think it would be fair to say we were prepared to justify our approaches of using the arts, imagining our audience to be potentially sceptical about its value for practical wetland management.  The response, however, was much to the contrary.

The enthusiasm for our approaches was clear and came from all sides. Paraphrasing a few comments from the discussion,

“for many years Ramsar has tried to convince people to save wetlands based on wildlife; then they tried economic values. But this [arts and culture] works. Getting people to think about how they value wetlands is what’s needed,”

and, “Until we can translate cultural values into resolutions we are going to struggle, and this is at the core,”

and quite enthusiastically, “We need to multiply this project [WetlandLIFE] everywhere!”

What became apparent from the discussions was that far from cultural values (and approaches of tapping into those) being considered a luxury afforded only to university projects such as ours, they are recognised as having a crucial role to play in Ramsar, because despite the many successes, wetlands across the globe continue to be degraded and destroyed, and new approaches are required. The idea of tapping into the hearts of people – communities, and indeed decision-makers – through creative and visual approaches may be part of what’s needed to help protect these hugely important, but often overlooked, ecosystems.

The experiences we gained from hosting our session at the Ramsar COP has been reassuring and motivating. We are keen now to build upon this momentum, with plans to take forward the discussions this year with key organisations and networks including Defra and the Ramsar Culture Network. We will be thinking about how cultural values and approaches can be better embedded into the Convention, and from our perspective, how WetlandLIFE can contribute to this, with the hope that somehow we can make a difference on the international stage.

Flamingoes feeding on the Ras Al Khor wetlands in Dubai, UAE. Photo: Adriana Ford

Dr Adriana Ford is a Research Fellow in Environmental Social Sciences at the University of Greenwich, and Coordinator of the Greenwich Maritime Centre.

Please email for more information, and download the presentation Presentation Ramsar COP13 WetlandLIFE

Adriana works on various aspects of the human dimensions of  environmental management and conservation, including human-nature relationships, cultural values, wellbeing, and sustainable development.  She is currently working on WetlandLIFE, an interdisciplinary Valuing Nature project exploring the values of wetlands from a health and wellbeing perspective. She has also worked on projects exploring linkages between small-scale fisheries and responsible tourism, and has a broad interest in marine and coastal environments through her role in the Greenwich Maritime Centre.

Prior to Greenwich, Adriana worked as a teaching and research fellow at University of York, where she was also awarded her PhD on invasive species management in Australia. Adriana has also worked in Tanzania for a sustainable forestry initiative, and has an MSc from Imperial College London, and a BA(Hons) from the University of Cambridge.

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.

Go to EcoArtScotland

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