Yearly Archives: 2019

Adaptations Residencies at A Studio in the Woods

A Studio in the Woods is now accepting applications for Adaptations: Living with Change Residencies. Residencies are 6 weeks, will take place between September 2019 and May 2020, and include a $2500 stipend and $2000 materials budget. The call is open to artists of all disciplines who have demonstrated an established dialogue with environmental and culturally related issues and a commitment to seeking and plumbing new depths. We ask artists to describe in detail how the region will affect their work, to propose a public component to their residency and to suggest ways in which they will engage with the local community.

New Orleans and the region are frequently invoked as one of the areas most vulnerable to the effects of environmental change. Our highly manipulated landscape can be seen as a microcosm of the global environment, manifesting both the challenges and possibilities inherent in the ways humans interact with urban and natural ecosystems. With nearly half of the world’s population living within 40 miles of a coastline with rising seas, the concerns of Southern Louisiana resonate globally. Adaptations Residencies invite artists to examine how climate driven adaptations – large and small, historic and contemporary, cultural and scientific – shape our future. Adaptations Residencies will provide artists with time, space, scholarship and staff support to foster critical thinking and creation of new works.

Proposals are due by April 22nd and residencies will be awarded by June 14th, 2019. Direct questions to Cammie Hill-Prewitt at info@astudiointhewoods.org.

To apply please visit http://www.astudiointhewoods.org/apply-for-adaptations-living-with-change/

Creativity to help Glasgow City Region respond to Climate Crisis

The Embedded Artist to work with Climate Ready Clyde and Creative Carbon Scotland as part of the Cultural Adaptations project has been announced!

A writer and theatre producer has been tasked with adding creativity into how the Glasgow City Region adapts to the impacts of climate change. Lesley Anne Rose will help ensure that transformative cultural shifts as well as dramatic technological and infrastructural changes enable the region to deal with the present and future impacts of our climate crisis.

This Embedded Artist commission has been announced as part of Cultural Adaptations, a project co-funded by the European Union’s Creative Europe programme and the Scottish Government, The project will see embedded artists working in the Glasgow, Gothenburg, Ghent and Dublin city regions to bring creative solutions as they deal with the intense rainfall and other impacts increasingly being brought about by climate change.

Not commonplace in the climate change adaptation world

Lesley Anne will be working within the Climate Ready Clyde initiative – a coalition of thirteen organisations including six local councils, transport agencies, universities and government agencies – with support from Creative Carbon Scotland who are leading the Cultural Adaptations project. Climate Ready Clyde is excited to be bringing in Lesley Anne’s skills as a theatre producer, playwright and experience in senior roles with Aberdeen Performing Arts. Such skills and experience are not commonplace in the climate change adaptation world, which is expected to benefit from the creativity, curiosity and methods for building collaboration which an embedded artist can bring.

Lesley Anne joins the project in the same week as the first meeting of Glasgow City Council’s new “Climate Emergency Working Group”, further highlighting the multiple approaches needed both to avert a growing climate crisis, and create societies able to live with the consequences caused by present and past emissions.

Thinking differently and raising ambitions

James Curran, Independent Chair of Climate Ready Clyde, whose report released in October 2018 showed that vital roads, bridges, rail lines and hospitals in the region are at significant risk of being damaged or closed by climate change, said:

“Building resilience to the impacts of climate change requires us to think very differently about the way we approach the development of the City Region, to ensure we adapt in a way which supports the City Region to prosper and ensure that impacts do not disproportionately affect the most vulnerable. We’re looking forward to working with Lesley Anne to help us think differently and raise our ambitions as we prepare Glasgow City Region’s first adaptation strategy and action plan”.

Lesley Anne Rose, who was chosen from a strong field of creative practitioners, commented:

“I look forward to playing a meaningful role in this project and the region. For the past few years I’ve sought ways that the cultural sector can contribute to the process of adaptation and challenges and opportunities this will bring. Bringing my skills and experience into the work of Climate Ready Clyde will I hope help realise the transformational changes that the climate crisis demands.”

Ben Twist, Director of Scotland’s arts and climate change charity Creative Carbon Scotlandwho are leading the project, said:

“This is an exciting step in this ambitious project. We’re proud to be leading this project which brings together some of the most forward thinking cultural and adaptation organisations in Europe and we see it having the potential to significantly change perceptions of how the arts can, and do, help people to think differently.”

The Embedded Artists will come together for the first time in March as the project partners gather in Glasgow. as part of the project’s first transnational workshop. The gathering in Glasgow will also see the beginning of the project’s parallel strand, with the first in a series of workshops for managers from arts & cultural organisations on Tuesday 19th March to develop tools to help the sector when planning for climate change impacts. Artists, sustainability professionals and those interested in building links between these two areas can attend an evening ‘Green Tease’ on Monday 18 March to hear from local and international partners and discuss this developing project.

Find out about opportunities for participation, and the project’s international conference in Glasgow in 2020, by registering on the Cultural Adaptations website.


Cultural Adaptations seeks to find creative, innovative and place-based responses to climate change impacts, equipping cultural organisations and cities with the knowledge and skills they need to create a positive future. The project, running from October 2018 – March 2021, is co-funded by the European Union’s Creative Europe programme with match-funding from Scottish Government.

Cultural Adaptations
Creativity to help Glasgow City Region respond to Climate Crisis

The post Creativity to help Glasgow City Region respond to Climate Crisis appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.

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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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Imagining Water #17: Dancing for Fresh Water Everywhere

by Susan Hoffman Fishman 

During the first three decades of the 20thcentury, Rudolf von Laban, an Austro-Hungarian dance artist and theorist who is regarded as one of the founders of modern dance in Europe, developed what he called “movement choirs.” Just as vocal choirs are groups of people singing as one, movement choirs, as Laban defined them, involve large numbers of people moving together according to directed choreography and some elements of individual expression. His theory of dance included the notion that there is a natural connection between dance and nature. He said that:

Existence is movement. Action is movement. Existence is defined by the rhythm of forces in natural balance (…) It is our appreciation for dance that allows us to see clearly the rhythms of nature and to take natural rhythm to a plane of well-organised (sic) art and culture.

In 2008, almost one hundred years after Laban created movement choirs, an international group of 11 individuals, certified by the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies in New York City, met at a conference on Movement and the Environment at Schumacher College in South Devon, England.

Inspired by the conference, the setting and each other, the original group of 11, all with extensive experience producing movement choirs, decided to develop a global dance project related to the environment using this format. After discarding other elements such as air, wind and soil, the group chose water as the focus of the project, which they named Global Water Dances: Dancing for Fresh Water Everywhere. Their mission was to “connect and support a global community of choreographers and dancers to inspire action and international collaboration for water issues through the universal language of dance.” Global Water Dances is now part of the Arts and Culture programming of the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies, the organization that originally sponsored the conference in 2008, where the project was born.

The original planning team chose Marylee Hardenbergh from among their group to serve as the Artistic/Executive Director of Global Water Dances. Hardenbergh is a choreographer and former dance therapist with decades of experience creating large-scale, outdoor, site-specific performances all over the world. Hardenbergh and I spoke by phone recently about Global Water Dances and about her own inspiring work. As she relates on her website, titled Global Site Performance, her dances have taken place at a wide variety of locations, including:

an Aerial Lift Bridge; on skyscrapers; on a bombed-out Parliament Building in Sarajevo, Bosnia; on a clock tower on the Volga in Russia; on a Mediterranean beach in Israel with a Palestinian community, and; on oyster harvesting boats on the Housatonic River. (She’s) worked with community and trained dancers all over the globe and has turned Bobcat loaders, fire trucks and Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps boats into dancers.

When I asked Hardenbergh which of her numerous projects outside of Global Water Dances was the most memorable for her, she described The Plant Dance, which took place at a sewage treatment plant in 1995 near her hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Hardenbergh’s concept was to show through dance the process that converted waste water into clean water. In addition to watching the dance itself, audience members were invited on a tour of the plant – an eye-opening experience that showed them firsthand what happened after they flushed the toilet. Ultimately, the film that was created about the project won an award from the National Water Environment Federation.

The Plant Dance choregraphed by Marylee Hardenbergh, 1995

Hardenbergh explained in our conversation that the first biennial Global Water Dances took place on June 25, 2011, with 57 sites participating, including Florence, Beijing, Berlin, Cairo, Lagos, Mexico City, Paris, Tel Aviv, The Hague, Vienna and numerous other global and U.S. cities. Local choreographers who signed up were asked to choose outdoor sites that involved water. They were given a template consisting of a component to be choreographed locally with music of their own choice and a global section in which all sites performed movements using the same music. Local planners were encouraged to include community action events related to local water issues. 

Global Water Dances 2015, Tamale, Ghana
Global Water Dances 2015, Delhi, India

Three additional Global Water Dances occurred in 2013, 2015 and 2017 using the same format, with the number of sites growing incrementally from 63 in 2013 to 106 in 2017. Four months before the June 15, 2019 event, 125 sites have already registered. Hardenbergh described the project as an homage to water, an opportunity for audiences and dancers to pause from their busy schedules to actually look at a river or other body of water for an extended length of time, and a vehicle for community building. The video below is a compilation of the dances from Global Water Dances 2017 and shows the remarkable diversity of the sites and participants.

Although Global Water Dances celebrates and brings recognition to the beauty, power and universality of water as well as to current problems affecting the viability of water, its leadership realizes that environmental action is equally important in solving water issues. They’ve documented some examples of how the local dances have brought awareness and change to local water problems, including the two described below:

In Takoradi, Ghana (Ankobra River, 2017), environmental engineer Emmanuel Brace described how

the dance performance was choreographed to raise awareness about the adverse impacts of unsustainable mining practices, called galamsey. The ideologies reflected in the choreography and overall performances advocate a “bottom-up” approach and effective stakeholder engagement practices. The chief of Funko region and the regent of Akatenke spoke about the importance of the event and their efforts to stop galamsey practices.

In Buffalo, New York (Buffalo River, 2017), choreographer Cynthia Pegado related how

we raised awareness of the need for increased research on effects of ingested toxins and continued advocacy for clean water because research shows certain environmental exposures for people with genetic disposition increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. PCBs have been found in relatively high concentrations in the brains of people who had Parkinson’s disease. Our message is especially strong because our Global Water Dances performers are people with Parkinson’s disease.

As I have learned repeatedly from writing this series, there are hundreds of visual artists, playwrights, poets, musicians, spoken word artists, etc. all over the world who are tackling the topic of water as it relates to climate change and environmental crises. The Global Water Dances project shows that the universal language of dance is a compelling vehicle for communicating ideas about climate change and the environment in an effective and engaging way.

(Top image: Global Water Dances 2013: Sunshine Coast, British Columbia)

This article is part of Imagining Water, a series on artists of all genres who are making the topic of water a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances, projects and publications that are popping up in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme.

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Susan Hoffman Fishman is a painter, public artist, writer, and educator whose work has been exhibited in numerous museums and galleries throughout the U.S. Her latest bodies of work focus on the threat of rising tides, the trillions of pieces of plastic in our oceans and the wars that are predicted to occur in the future over access to clean water. She is also the co-creator of two interactive public art projects: The Wave, which addresses our mutual need for and interdependence on water and Home, which calls attention to homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in our cities and towns.

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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: Theatres Trust launches new grant scheme to improve environmental sustainability of theatres

Up to £20k available for projects that improve the environmental sustainability of theatre buildings

The latest round of the Theatre Improvement Scheme, in association with the Wolfson Foundation, will offer theatres grants of up to £20,000 for projects focusing on Improving Environmental Sustainability.

Protecting the environment is one of the biggest social issues right now and the theatre sector is keen to be more environmentally sustainable. While operational changes can make a difference in reducing energy wastage and carbon footprint, major energy consumption comes from heating, ventilation, stage machinery and lighting.

Sadly, many of the UK’s stock of more than 1,000 active theatres, particularly the older ones, do not meet today’s environmental standards. Theatre buildings and the plant that services them are in desperate need of investment to make them more efficient. In a recent Theatres Trust survey of theatres planning capital works in the next 5 years, 50% cited environmental improvements as one of the key reasons for the works.

It is hoped that these grants will support a range of projects that consider different ways theatre buildings can reduce their environmental impact. From sedum roofs to new windows, building management systems to more efficient water heaters, funding will be given to projects that demonstrate how a small intervention can have a big impact.

Theatre operators can apply for grants of up to £20,000 towards their building or equipment as part of the scheme. The deadline for applications is Friday 13 September 2019.

Full details of the scheme are available on the Theatres Trust website.

The post Opportunity: Theatres Trust launches new grant scheme to improve environmental sustainability of theatres appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.

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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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Wild Authors: Jo Marshall

by Mary Woodbury

It’s hard to believe that we’re up to our tenth author spotlight in this series, but here we are, with an introduction to Jo Marshall, who spent seven years as a volunteer literacy tutor for elementary school students. In the D.C. area, from 1999 to 2006, she worked as the Legal Assistant for the General Counsels of two nonprofits – the Paralyzed Veterans of America and Oceana. Jo earned a B.A. in German Language and Literature from the University of Maryland, Europe and, from 1984-1987, she worked as a liaison between the military and international communities in West Berlin.

This is the first in our series to explore an author’s works aimed toward children, but rumor has it that adults also enjoy her stories! Still, it is perhaps our children and grandchildren who may more clearly understand the realities of climate change – and who will inherit the mess from our lack of responsibility toward it. So, for authors exploring global warming in fiction, a children’s audience seems most apt.

Jo’s Twig Stories series – the suggested reading age is 8-12 years-old – is a beautifully designed volume of four books thus far. The first in the series, published in November 2011, is Leaf & The Rushing Waters. Since then: Leaf & the Sky of Fire, Leaf & the Long Ice, and Leaf & Echo Peak. You can see that Leaf is the main protagonist, and has a pretty sweet name to boot (also the name of my favorite character in the Game of Thrones!). Jo lives in the Pacific Northwest near volcanoes, rainforests, and coastal wetlands. She is concerned about climate change impacting the wildlife and forests in this region, and so her timely eco-literature novels describe this transforming world by means of fantasy adventures involving Twigs.

Twigs are “impish stick creatures no taller than robins” and have leaf sprouts growing on their arms and legs, their toes curling like roots. Their hair and eyes reflect the color of their local trees. Children will learn about all kinds of trees, such as red cedars, emerald leaf maples, silver leaf poplars – but kids also love adventure, and the Twigs certainly have plenty of that as they must save themselves from various environmental crises beyond their control. In doing so, the Twigs are very crafty, learning how to make tools from their surroundings and fighting with courage while working with other forest animals.

Twigs are impish stick creatures,
amusing & adventurous.
They live in knotholes of ancient trees.
When climate change
threatens their old forest
Twigs stick together to survive!

From Jo’s Twig Stories

From Jo’s Twig Stories

I’ve known Jo for a few years now, featuring her books when the Eco-fiction.com site first began, and I enjoy her work – I ordered the first of her books for my niece a few years ago. Teaching kids about climate crises through fiction is something that just a few take on, though it is a growing trend. The Twigs are wonderful heroes to children, facing the same problems we are, but Twigs are smaller and more vulnerable and not at all the culprits. Twig problems reflect real problems, such as bark beetle swarms, firestorms, melting glaciers that flood and destroy the forests and valleys, and – in the latest addition – a daring escape from a volcano.

In this series on authors who explore climate change in their stories, I often look at writing styles and world-building – and one conclusion I’ve come to is that no matter how strongly the author desires to warn the readers, by far the best approach to all fiction, no matter the subject, is just great storytelling. Jo succeeds, not just with fun, insightful, and adventurous stories but with art that vividly illustrates what’s happening.

I recall being drawn to what I think of as “books of wonder” as a child. Fantasy, adventure, interesting illustrations – these things all appealed to me during my early reading years (and still do), and started me on the path to making our planet’s ecology my number one interest in all things. I had inherited some older storybooks from my parents, which were very focused on nature and the wilderness, though back then not all of these stories were particularly about environmental issues (whereas some books like Bambi, A Life in the Woods or The Giving Tree were). I read plenty of fairy tales, fables, and other fantasy stories where nature was eminent and ordinary characters became extraordinary through strength and determination.

In many cases the wilderness was a strong character, such as the mysterious forests in Snow White and Hansel and Gretel, and of course many characters came from the woods, sea, or mountains, such as mermaids, elves, fairies, and ice trolls. Fables usually centered around animals, rivers, the sun, the moon, and the sea. In all cases, nature was bigger than life, prompting me to investigate my own local forests and rivers to find that certain otherworldly beauty – finding it to be real and delicate and yet wild and powerful, and in some cases just very weird. And the morals of these stories showed how we should be fair, kind, and wise in our journeys. Fables taught us to not be greedy, to respect others (people and the wild), and so on.

In the Huffington Post, Sara Maitland suggests:

We have been aware for a long time that landscape, the natural world, deeply affects many individual writers and artists. Very often it is the landscape of childhood that imprints itself indelibly on the creative imagination…

As children, we begin to separate reality from fantasy – and stories help us learn how to do that. Fantasy is not just entertainment; it can teach us, at a young age, about imagery, allegory, and symbolism as well as how imagination empowers us as individual people. It taught me, for instance, how to recognize parable versus fundamental truth as well as how to find truths within metaphor. When a story exalts nature, we learn early, in a fun way, that we are a part of nature too. That nature exists out there, even if it isn’t always evident near our increasingly urban environments.

Good children’s writers build worlds in which the reader can both escape and yet become captive by how that world is similar to our own. I think of this captivation as a sense of pure wonder, almost magic-like in reality, something that, if we still have as adults, is remarkable. An article about children’s fantasy literature in The Conversation takes issue with the literary or realism approach in fiction often being touted as more important than fantasy. The evolution of fictional realism versus fantasy is interesting, so I would highly suggest reading the entire article, which touches upon it.  The article states:

One of the most obvious benefits of fantasy is that it allows readers to experiment with different ways of seeing the world. It takes a hypothetical situation and invites readers to make connections between this fictive scenario and their own social reality. Fantasy writing, says [Professor John] Stephens [of Macquarie University], operates through metaphor – so that the unfamiliar is used to stand in for, or comment upon, the familiar. Metaphors are obviously less precise than other forms of language (they are subject to more complex interpretive processes) and this is perhaps a significant advantage of fantasy over realism. Fantasy’s use of metaphor makes it more “open” to different readings and meanings. This allows fantasy to explore quite complex social issues in ways that are less confrontational than realism because it takes place in a world that is distanced from social reality (and can also be mediated with humor).

Teaching through fantastical stories, however, doesn’t have to take away from an author’s intention to warn – but a story doesn’t work when didactic either, which Jo avoids. When I asked Jo, “What, in your mind, is the importance of environmental storytelling to children, and how did you go about imagining Twig Stories?” she said:

Most stories based on fantasy and funny characters engage children, so it’s easy to blend in natural facts and climate change events into the Twig Stories adventures. What makes these eco-journeys significant is children experience the frightening impacts of a warming world – melting glaciers, endangered wildlife, floods, and wildfires through the experiences of Twigs. Some children become aware of climate change for the first time because of Twig Stories, and others feel a desire to help mitigate its effects. That’s a wonderful goal and that’s what makes environmental storytelling important.

When my daughter was in fourth grade we imagined Twigs playing in the old-growth forest in our back yard. It was just play as we created different characters living in the giant western cedar closest to us. Later, I was eager to share my experiences as a child camping at Yoho Kicking Horse Canyon in British Columbia with her, so we took a trip one summer. As we drove, our excitement changed to shock. Millions of trees were devastated by bark beetle infestation. It was heartbreaking to see dying forests. And we wondered how wildlife could survive. When we returned we imagined our favorite Twig, Leaf, as a hero battling the horrible, swarms of barkbiters, and rescuing other Twigs living in the dying forests. That became Leaf & the Sky of Fire.

Twig Stories’ royalties are shared with nonprofit groups concerned with wildlife protection, climate change research, nature conservancy, and forest preservation. Book illustrators include Ali Jo, who helped to illustrate a climate change for kids gallery, “Watch Over Wildlife,” interactive Twig Play section, and other design/illustrations on the website, as well as D.W. Murray, an award-winning Disney and Universal Pictures artist whose screen credits include Mulan, Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, Brother Bear, and Curious George. An award recipient of the prestigious New York Society of Illustrators Gallery, his talent is also recognized by the 2004 Gold Aurora Award. The Twig Stories’ illustrations are brilliant and vibrant!

Jo Marshall’s Twig Stories have been lauded by Amanda SwanDirector of Development & Communications, The Lands Council; Dr.  Edwards, Manager of Education, The British Columbia Wildlife Park; D. Simon JacksonFounder and Chairman, Spirit Bear Youth Coalition, Executive Producer, The Spirit Bear CGI Movie; Dr. Tim Foresman, Director of Development & Communications, Professor & SIBA Chair in Spatial Information, Institute for Future Environments Queensland University of Technology; Abigail Groskopf, Science Education Director, Mount St. Helens Institute; Eleanora I. Robbins, PhDScience Explorers ClubGwenn E. Flowers, Associate Professor & Canada Research Chair in Glaciology, Department of Earth Sciences, Simon Fraser University; Sarah Boon, PhD, Associate Professor, Geography Alberta Water and Environmental Science, University of Lethbridge; Clay Heilman, Environmental Educator, Nature Vision – Environmental Education Non-profit, Woodinville, Washington; Joanna Marple, Miss Marple’s Musings; Heidi Perryman, Ph.D., President and Founder, Worth A Dam – Martinez Beavers.org; Sharon T. Brown, M.A., Director and Wildlife Biologist, Beavers: Wetlands & Wildlife; ErikThis Kid Reviews Books; Wayne S. Walker, Home School Book Review; Jennifer, A Tale of Many Reviews; Dr. Diana L. Six, Professor, Department of Ecosystem & Conservation Sciences, Integrated Forest Entomology/Pathology, University of Montana, Six Lab; Rose Sudmeier, Sixth Grade Teacher, Snohomish, Washington; Paula Hawkins, Retired Social Worker, Reno, Nevada; and Dr. Richard W. Hofstetter, Forest Entomology Professor, School of Forestry, Northern Arizona University.

This article is part of our Wild Authors series. It was originally published on Dragonfly.eco.

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Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs Dragonfly.eco, a site that explores 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 Magazine, Ethnobiology 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.

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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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Agriculture and aquaculture, but no culture

Top Image: Newton Harrison, The Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland (2018). Detail: one of ten panels.

The Scottish Government recently published Climate Ready Scotland: Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme 2019-2024 A Consultation Draft – the consultation is open through 9th April 2019.

The focus of this work is on adaptation rather than mitigation.

As Ben Twist of Creative Carbon Scotland explained, mitigation is carbon reduction. Adaptation is about responding to the impacts of climate change: how do we change what we do and how we do it to deal with the changes and uncertainties of global warming? There are practical changes and behavioural changes. Some ‘adaptation’ measures ensure that infrastructure (eg energy and transport) can cope, and other actions are encouraging significant changes to farming practices. Community action is an important aspect too. Given this range it is surprising that culture only features as an aspect of heritage, and the arts don’t feature at all.

The survey is pretty specifically geared around professionals already directly involved in adaptation work engaging with technical questions of programme design. It might be more effective for people from culture and the arts to write letters outlining our role, giving specific examples of relevant work – projects and ways of working. There is an email address climatechangeadaptation@gov.scot.

ecoartscotland has regularly highlighted artists’ and organisations’ work on climate change, or as Helen Mayer Harrison (1927-2018) and Newton Harrison (b. 1932) conceptualised it, ‘The Force Majeure’.

Like an oncoming storm front, the Force Majeure is a fluid frontier; a frontier of heat moving across the planet; a frontier of water advancing on lands; a frontier of extinctions touching all lives. It is a frontier from which we retreat, yet within which we must also adapt.

Center for the Study of the Force Majeurewebsite

The consultation document opens with the following statement from Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform,

Adapting to the changing climate will both help to create a better society for everyone who lives here and unlock Scotland’s immense potential as a nation.

Climate Ready Scotland

It goes on to say,

I want the second Adaptation Programme to deliver a step change in collaboration, and emphasise the wider co-benefits of climate action.

In an essay a few years ago the Harrisons said,

We hold that every place is telling the story of its own becoming, which is another way of saying that it is continually creating its own history and we join that conversation of place.

‘Knotted ropes, rings, lattices and lace: Retrofitting biodiversity into the cultural landscape?’ in Barthlott, Wilhelm and Matthias Winiger, eds.,Biodiversity: A Challenge for Development Research and Policy.Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer-Verlag, p. 14.

Working with The Barn in Aberdeenshire, Newton Harrison and his colleagues from The Center for the Study of the Force Majeure have been developing The Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland, a vision which specifically sets out to imagine Scotland as the first industrialised nation to put back more into the web of life than it takes out. The vision focuses on farming, agriculture and aquaculture (in particular lagoons), and frames these within a ‘Commons of Mind’ – the need for recognition of the prima facie need to adapt in the face of the Force Majeure.

The Barn invited the Harrisons and the Center for the Study of the Force Majeure to Aberdeenshire because of the floods along the river Dee in 2016 caused by Storm Frank. The resulting discussions with the James Hutton Institute and Scottish Rural University Colleges, supported by SEFARI funding, highlighted holistic approaches addressing the settlement, the watershed and the nation. Connections have been drawn to work in other small nations including Sweden and Taiwan and the work has been exhibited in Scotland and in the Taipei Biennial.

The Cabinet Secretary’s ambitions for the Adaptation Programme to produce ‘a more just society’ are critical. The problem is that the Programme does not address the fundamental reimagining required for humans to give back more to the web of life than we take out.

For instance, the Consultation document says of ‘Climate Change Adaptation Behaviours’,

This is where individuals and organisations change their behaviour to help increase their resilience to, and reduce the severity of, negative consequences of climate change.

Climate Ready Scotland

What is missing is actively strengthening the web of life by choosing to, for instance, grow biodiversity, not just in fragments, but comprehensively. So in changing farming it is not enough to simply plant a few more trees and allow for spreading of waters if that doesn’t tackle the ‘agricultural extinction’ that is monocultural farming. Intelligently greening settlements needs to achieve massively greater and connected (not fragmented) biodiversity, which in turn might provide human benefits in terms of edible landscapes (see for example the work of Dundee Urban Orchard and Loughborough University’s Eat Your Campus– both of which are artist-led) and more engaged, interconnected communities while at the same time reducing the impact of heatwaves on urban environments. The Deep Wealth calls for holistic thinking that puts the web of life first.

Co-incidentally there is a piece in Arts Professional from Judith Knight, quoting Amitav Ghosh’s book The Great Derangement,

“When future generations look back upon the Great Derangement, they will certainly blame the leaders and politicians of this time for their failure to address the climate crisis. But they may well hold artists and writers to be equally culpable – for the imagining of possibilities is not, after all, the job of politicians and bureaucrats.”

(p. )

The Harrisons provide a compelling vision for a different way of living, focused by the need to adapt to The Force Majeure.

There are a number of projects across Scotland which specifically address adaptation, in addition to The Deep WealthThe Stove’s We Live With Water raises questions about how to live with regular flooding, questioning conventional flood defence approaches. Matt Baker described it as,

…an alternative approach and try to imagine a future where increased rainfall, sea-levels and river surges would be seen as an opportunity. We tried to imagine Dumfries as River Town…. a place that embraced its environment… a place that Lives With Water.

The Stove

website

Cooking Sections’ ongoing project Climavore, which was developed in collaboration with Atlas Arts on Skye specifically addresses ‘eating as climate changes’. They say,

“It sets out to envision seasons of food production and consumption that react to man-induced climatic events and landscape alterations.”

Climavorewebsite

Projects in other places such as Eve Mosher’s High Water Line in New York City, featured in Creative Carbon Scotland’s Library of Creative Sustainability, draw attention to the impact of storm surges which will become more frequent as global warming accelerates.

Community Energy focused initiatives including Land Art Generator Glasgow go beyond simple mitigation (carbon reduction) to envisage community owned energy production and local grids for urban contexts.

Arts projects which address climate change, whatever the focus, almost always involve collaboration with scientists and engineers and engage with communities – interdisciplinary and participatory. A recent paper, ‘Raising the Temperature’: The arts in a warming planet (Galafassi et al 2017 Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 31:71–79) highlights that art addressing climate change has grown nearly 20-fold over the ten years they reviewed.

Creative Carbon Scotland’s continuing programme of Green Tease events builds networks, and its new Creative Europe funded Cultural Adaptations project brings artists into working with Sustainability and Adaptation focused organisations.

Even the Scottish Government’s Scottish Energy Strategy: The future of energy in Scotland (2017) says,

We will explore, through the development of a Culture Strategy for Scotland, ways that Scotland’s culture sectors and creative industries can help communities imagine a green future, and to help us all adapt to the changes and opportunities.

(p. 13)

So why does the Adaptation Programme talk about agriculture and aquaculture, but not culture or culture change? Where are the arts? The word culture literally doesn’t appear… (The Heritage sector is significantly represented and is a key stakeholder in the Adaptation Programme.)

It’s a consultation – submit your work and experience – tell them what you do and who it connects with – email it to them at climatechangeadaptation@gov.scot. Tweet it tagging @ecoartscotlandand @CultureAdapts and also @ScotGovClimate

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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Wild Authors: John Atcheson

by Mary Woodbury 

John Atcheson, a regular contributor to Common Dreams and Think Progress, and an environmental and political fiction author, wrote one of my favorite environmental novels, A Being Darkly Wise. The novel is set in the Boreal forest of British Columbia, with strong influence from the Dunne-za (the real people). In Being, a group of K-street and environmentalist-activist types from Washington D.C. travel on a wilderness survival trek to one of the most isolated areas of northern British Columbia with a mysterious man named Jake. The novel is set in the present day. Unlike some climate change novels, where the literary characters need to adapt to climate change in the future, Atcheson’s novel gathers people to adapt to the idea of where we’re at and very closely heading now. It’s also rich with descriptions of the wilderness – the place beyond that I (we) so want to reconnect with, and often do.

On his website, John states – on whether fiction can be autobiographical in nature:

Take Pete, the protagonist in my first book, A Being Darkly Wise. We both worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency. We both backpacked many of the most remote areas in North America. And like Pete, I have taken wilderness survival and I’m a former marathon runner (knees went). But the resemblance stops there.

I talked with John about his novel Being over three years ago. I was drawn to it because it was set in the wilderness of British Columbia, a place I have hiked, rafted, ran, studied, and written about – not to mention the story was a page-turner and had me suspended nonstop. I recently talked with John again, remembering that Being is part one of a trilogy. He let me know that part two (Black Fire Burning) is finished and in the editorial stage, and he’s working on part three (In the Language of Lemmings).

I read Being in the course of less than a week, deeply hooked on what it was saying and where it was leading. I was further intrigued by John’s answers to a few questions I had about the novel. Of all the climate change novels I’ve read, this one strikes me as the most effective at conveying a sense of urgency while imparting ancient wisdom and inspiring us about what we need to do as a human race, not just next but forever more – and, most importantly, now.

At the Free Word Centre, I featured the novel among my then (September 2014) twelve favorites novels about climate change, by saying:

“John has a background in the EPA, so he knows about the red tape involved in getting real work done to protect our environment. The story is very well written: a modern suspense and adventure tale about a group of people traveling with a very interesting guide to an isolated mountainous area in British Columbia. The book is about a journey back to one’s most essential self as one relates to nature rather than culture.”

As I noted to John recently, so much has changed in the world since 2014, when we first chatted about his book. The EPA red tape was terrible then; now the EPA has been completely undermined. A portion of our earlier interview follows.

* * *

Mary: I love the title of your book, which comes from Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Man.” Your novel manages to remain focused on a modern-day story that fits into a long narrative of humankind’s lineage on earth. We get the feeling from reading A Being Darkly Wise that we’re on the cusp of something big, something terrible, due to climate change, resource grabs, and the human race moving away from nature. Do you agree with this assessment, and how do you think novels such as yours can make an impact on readers?

John: Starting with your first question, I do think we are on the cusp of something big: an epochal shift caused by humanity’s post-evolutionary relationship with the Earth. This is a temporary situation – nature will have her way, ultimately – but it is having profound consequences.

To understand this, we must start some 3.8 billion years ago, when the first life forms emerged on Earth, and a magnificent experiment began. We humans exist – tenuously – because at this precise moment, the carefully wrought balances of energy, material, chance and time produced the one physical world and climate that allows us to survive and the ecosystems we rely on to prosper.

All the magnificent life forms we take for granted; all the exquisite natural systems that make our oxygen, provide our food, and feed our souls are a product of that 3.8 billion year journey.

So here we are, gifted with that most miraculous – and fragile – gift, a world conducive to our existence. Yet in what amounts to micro-seconds in geologic time, we are now wiping these precious gifts out like a flashflood roaring through time. Some life forms will survive this massive destruction; we might even be among them. But it will be a poorer, meaner and less prosperous world for the creatures who do manage to survive it.

With regard to the second question, I believe novels can be a powerful way of motivating cultural change. As I wrote in a review of climate fiction back in February of 2010, sometimes, fiction is the best way to influence people – H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine and George Orwell’s classic 1984 come to mind. Each provoked a visceral reaction that galvanized the culture around it, changing forever the way issues such as class and totalitarianism were perceived. Neville Shute’s On the Beach made the consequences of nuclear war real, and therefore, unthinkable.

In a scientifically illiterate culture such as ours, these kinds of myth-based meta-narratives may be the best way to communicate complex scientific issues like climate change. Myths, as Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell revealed, are not necessarily false, nor are they automatically at odds with science. At their best, they provide another way of viscerally experiencing a truth.

Finally, I think climate change is unique in terms of the kinds of challenges humanity has faced.  For the first time, we must tackle an existential threat, before the worst consequences are felt. But we may be hardwired to deal with the present proximate, not the future probable. Fiction is one way to make that future more real, more palpable.

Of course, it has to be done in a way that resonates on an emotional level – sort of the opposite of the writing I’m doing here.

Mary: I know from talking with you that you’ve spent time around the place that you’ve written about – that British Columbia is quite the wilderness area, though it is increasingly threatened by logging, mining, oil sands pipes, and supertankers on the coastal ecosystems. I’d like to pretend that we’re sitting around a campfire and you have some stories to tell. Do you have a good bear story? A good wolf story? Tell us more about your personal experiences in this wild isolated section of Canada.

John: I have hiked and backpacked across some of the wildest areas left in North America, including parts of the Boreal forests, the setting where A Being Darkly Wise takes place. Much of this was done solo, in my younger years.

As for a bear story, I do have one. Readers of my novel will recognize it – I gave it to Pete, and he remembers is early in the novel.

OK, first let’s gather around a campfire, somewhere in one of the most remote areas left in North America. Beyond the thin, fragile fringe of light afforded by the fire, is a vast forest, wrapped in a darkness that is unimaginable to those who have passed their lives in cities and towns. The trees hiss in the wind, obscuring any sounds, leaving us sightless and senseless. We have our backs to the unknown, and the unknowable. Quiet now.  Did you hear that … Just a branch crashing to the forest floor says one grizzled old guy hopefully. The circle pulls in tighter.

Yes, there could be anything out there and we wouldn’t know it until it was upon us. In this fear inducing crucible, what else is there to do but swap stories of dangerous times we’ve faced – tales of wolves, and wolverines, pumas and polecats, and of course, Grizzly.

It’s my turn, and I begin slowly.

I guess my most dramatic encounter with a grizzly occurred in Denali National Park, Alaska. It was the first week of June and most of the Park was empty. I was hiking up a braided stream bed toward a range of hills, when I rounded a bend and saw a mother grizzly with two cubs on a small rise by the stream, maybe 30 yards from me. This combined three of the worst things you can do with a grizzly – surprising a mother with cubs, coming from downwind, and being alone. I froze, and so did she, for a moment.

I’d seen plenty of bear over the years, including one fairly close call with a grizzly in the back country of Glacier National Park, but he’d run off as we approached, and most of the others had been black bear, or grizzlies at a considerable distance.

But I’d never encountered one this close. She could see me – bears have pretty good vision, but their nose is their main source of information – and I was downwind. She stood on her hind legs and swayed back and forth as she tried to get my scent. She was a huge female, and completely unafraid of me. I had the sense that if there were a thought bubble over her head, it would have said something like, “Should I kill this thing now or get the cubs to safety first?” Anyway, another minute or two of that and she would have  picked up a scent – urine – running down my leg.

But, fortunately, she dropped to all fours and chased her cubs over the rise, and I thought I was in the clear. Breathing a sigh of relief, I wondered whether I should head back to the road, or keep going. About the time my pulse rate got down to 150 beats per minute, there she was again, standing atop the hill, looking straight at me.

I have never felt so insignificant in my life. This was her world; the next step in our dance was hers to make, and there was nothing – not one thing – I could do. She was faster than me, stronger, and in this context, a good deal smarter. We locked eyes for a moment – another stupid thing to do: you’re supposed to be submissive in the face of an aroused grizzly.

Was I frightened? Hell, yeah. But there was something else going on here, too. I felt alive in a way I never have before or since; blood and adrenaline coursed through my veins, and I had an almost preternatural focus, as seconds became centuries, and centuries of our species history boiled up within me in seconds. No thinking now. Just her and me in a vast expanse, locked in dance choreographed by both our ancestors over a million years’ time.

All I could see were her eyes, and I struggled to read my future in them.  She did the same, as she held my gaze. She wagged her head back and forth, her black eyes fixed on me. I began to speak softly, assuring her I meant no harm. I’ll never know whether she heard me or not, but after a few more moments, she dropped to all fours and headed back over the hill.

Me? My hike was over … I headed back to the road, very happy to be alive. I have a couple of photos of her chasing her cubs over the hill. They’re not very good. I think the camera may have been shaking a bit. But they are among my favorites.

Mary: I was enchanted by Lynx from the Dunne-za (the real people). Have you spent time with this Aboriginal group? I did a little reading on them and learned that there are only 1,000 or so left. Their historical culture involved hunting-gathering, vision quests, and a religious type of prophet group called Dreamers. Is Lynx supposed to be a dreamer? You mention that the Dunne-za believe that all people have magic in them. Can you expand on these ideas?

John: I have not spent time with the Dunne-za. I first read about them years ago in British Columbia Magazine, and I was fascinated by their creation story. As you note, vision quests and Dreamers are a big part of their belief system. I was beginning to think about writing a novel, and I filed them away, sure there was a place for them. Lynx is a Dreamer, and so is Jake.

The idea that the Dunne-za believe everyone has magic in them was something I seized on for my story, although there’s some evidence that historically they did believe that. What I wanted was a way to look at our “civilized” world through the eyes of an outsider – someone who experiences the world in a way we do not, someone who can see the folly of our own beliefs and behavior.

Mary: You and I have had a little discussion on the beginning of the book, which basically starts with the main character (or one of them) reading an ad in the paper. I had pointed out that Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael began the same way; I think it’s interesting that in Quinn’s book, the ad asks for a student who has an earnest desire to save the world. You cited your inspiration to be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who often also begins the story with a letter or news article. I think this is an interesting writing device. The character Jake is looking for people to help him save the world. This is a long lead-up to my question, which is: Would you respond to such an ad? Where do you think it might lead?

John: I’ve had a chance to reflect on your question about Ishmael, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it may well have influenced me. It had been many years since I read it, and I’d forgotten how prominently the ad played in the opening sequence. At the same time, techniques such as letters, ads, and phone calls are pretty common methods to start a novel, so who knows, maybe it was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or maybe it was just another arrow I’d stored in my quiver, gleaned from reading constantly and widely. My second novel in the trilogy starts with a letter, by the way.

There are several answers to your question about answering the ad. As a young man in my twenties with no children, I would have answered such an add in a nano-second. After having children, probably not. And now, with my kids on their own, I would like to think I would.

As to where it might lead – why, to an adventure, of course. The best kind of adventure where a little bit of good might come of it.

Mary: I caught some interaction between characters, from Socratic dialogue (Jake questioning and answering those who responded to the ad) to otherwise didactic relaying of information in dialogue (such as survival tips, philosophical quips) that came out in conversation. These dialogues served as an effective tool in providing information. Did you ever feel that by doing this – which I actually thought was done quite brilliantly – you were really going to create a seed in the reader’s head? I think it worked – was this your aim?

John: It was exactly my aim.

One of the great challenges in climate change fiction, particularly for those of us who feel passionately about the need to tackle global warming immediately and seriously, is to avoid writing a polemic. If the characters and story are a thinly disguised way of making your argument, then it will show, in weak characterization, predictable or implausible plots, and deadly prose. If that’s your aim, study the science and policy and write a non-fiction book. Nothing wrong with that – there are plenty of great ones out there.

But fiction must stand on character and plot. Any information a novel imparts can’t come from you, the author. It must be organic to the story and the people populating it. If it is part of conflict, or if it comes from a mysterious place, so much the better. Fiction may connect on a rational level, or it may not, but it absolutely must connect at an emotional level, or it won’t work.

One of the best examples of this comes from On the Beach by Nevil Shute. The characters’ struggle to carry on with a sense of normalcy in the face of imminent death says more about the horrors of nuclear war than a thousand essays, or a stack of statistics. When we watch Peter Holmes plant and lovingly tend a garden he will never harvest, or attempt to tell his wife how to kill their baby daughter before radiation sickness sets in, we care about them. And because we do, we not only understand the horrors of nuclear war, we feel it. 

This is the power of good fiction, and it is what I am striving for when I write.

* * *

John writes and tells great stories, fiction and otherwise. Who doesn’t like a good bear story? I was thrilled to hear the next part of the trilogy is coming soon. It is like looking forward to a visit with an old friend. When we recently talked again, he told me:

I think fiction still has an important role to play in defining the zeitgeist of an era. What I find fascinating is the plethora of dystopian works in film and fiction. I believe they are both a reflection of the times we’re in, and a creator of them. By which I mean, there’s a vague sense of dread, even among those who don’t acknowledge climate change, and dystopian stories allow them to grapple with their fear. Actually, I think the dread goes beyond climate change. The institutions and the disciplines we used to rely on are in disrepute so there’s an inchoate sense of doom … hence the other phenomena in film, and in graphic novels, The Super Hero.

This is an interesting point – the feeling of growing insecurity leading to this sense of doom. I think we’ve always felt that, but for much of the world not trusting a world leader, such as the current president of the United States, it just adds another layer of fright as though things are going to end, with a whimper or a bang, maybe in our lifetimes.

John also contributed a short story to Winds of Change: Short Stories about Our Climate, which I published at Moon Willow Press in 2015. The anthology originated from a short story contest put on by Eco-fiction.com in 2014. We recently provided John’s short story, “How Close to Savage the Soul,” for free at the Dragonfly Library in order to contribute to teaching material at Western Michigan University, whose English professors had read the anthology and thought so highly of John’s story that they really wanted to use it in their classrooms and in the book Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents: Reading, Writing, and Making a Difference. This teaching text’s comments about John’s story and others from the anthology may be found in Google Books.

I think that this kind of reach that eco-fiction and similar genres have is remarkable. Throw a contest. Publish the best entries in an anthology. And the next thing you know, some of the stories are taught to students and make it into an instructional teaching book. It’s exciting to get noticed, but for me, the love of this literature is ultimately realized when students become energized and excited by these stories – when these students who are inheriting our messes find hope. In a highly insecure and frightening world, we are building a place of wonder and inspiration, in stories. And if we look to one thing many authors who write about climate change want to accomplish, this kind of outcome is very positive.

This far reach can include nonfiction as well, and John sent me the cover teaser for his newest book, WTF America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back on Track.

This article is part of our Wild Authors series. It was originally published on Eco-Fiction.com on June 15, 2017.

______________________________

Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs Eco-Fiction.com and Dragonfly.eco, 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 Magazine, Ethnobiology 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.

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The Top 10 Most Exciting Art Institutions in Rural Areas

by Yasmine Ostendorf 

In the last decade, the capital of the Netherlands has become incredibly popular with tourists, the giant letters I AMSTERDAM in front of the iconic Rijksmuseum serving as the ultimate selfie backdrop. However, slowly but surely, more and more Amsterdammers started opposing these letters, which had become a symbol of “overbranding” and “Disneyfication” of the city and museum square. Then something interesting happened: In November 2018, the Green Party (Groenlinks), now the leading party in Amsterdam, managed to have the letters removed – a bold political move that fueled a wider debate about tourism and the role of museums.

This conversation is relevant not only to Amsterdam, but to most European cities where Easyjet flights packed with sightseers land every hour. Have our museums become theme parks for tourists? Exhibitions are consumed –as well as plenty of coffee and cake – and topped off with the unavoidable “exit through the gift shop.” There seems to be no escaping selfies and slogans, consumption and queues.

People are increasingly living in cities: from 50% of the global population in 2008 (when the population was 6.7 billion) to an expected 84% in 2100 (when the population will be a mind-boggling 11.2 billion). Aside from the fact that we need to start talking about this frightening population growth, I’m expecting a growing need (and interest) for museums located outside of cities – far from the hustle and bustle. So next time you are looking for a weekend activity, consider visiting an art institution that is not only in a beautiful and tranquil area, but that also curates exhibitions and programs events on the topics of ecology and sustainability. Please find below my personal favorite Top 10 most exciting art institutions in rural areas – in Western Europe (for now).

Just don’t say you got it from me and don’t go there all at once!

1. Verbeke Foundation, Belgium

Founded by art collectors Geert Verbeke and Carla Verbeke-Lens, the Verbeke Foundation is a private art site, which opened its doors to the general public in June 2007. A “refuge” for art, the foundation holds an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art and offers exciting possibilities for emerging as well as less renowned artists.

‏Culture, nature, and ecology go hand in hand at the Verbeke Foundation. With 12 hectares (29.7 acres) of scenic area and 20,000 m² (4,9 acres) of covered space, the Foundation is one of the largest private initiatives for contemporary art in Europe. The warehouses of the former Verbeke transportation agency were converted into unique exhibition halls, and one of the buildings houses an extraordinary collection of collages. Artists have the opportunity to be in residence, and large and small exhibitions are held at the museum continuously.

Our exhibition space does not aim to be an oasis. Our presentation is unfinished, in motion, unpolished, contradictory, untidy, complex, inharmonious, living and unmonumental, like the world outside of the museum walls. You will find no flamboyant sensational buildings here but rather a refreshing, unpretentious place to look at art and a subtle criticism of the art world.

Founders Geert Verbeke and Carla Verbeke-Lens

Founders Geert Verbeke and Carla Verbeke-Lens

2. Museum Insel Hombroich, Germany

Museum Insel Hombroich aims to be in harmony with nature, or to show “art in parallel with Nature.” This description echoes the quote by French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne: “Art is a harmony parallel to nature.” It captures the spirit of the Museum, which explores the idea of creating a space as an ideal in both museum and landscape terms.

Opened to the public in 1987, Museum Insel Hombroich sits on a 21-hectare, conservation-grade landscape and is comprised of ten pavilions (called “walk-in sculptures”), which are open exclusively during daylight hours. Some pavilions are quite hidden amid stunning meadows filled with wildflowers. The absence of captions, labels, signposts or even barriers in front of the works contributes to making this a very tranquil and almost spiritual experience; you can fully engage with the artworks and get lost in the experience. It’s not about the fame or ego of the artist (though there are some incredibly famous works in the collection). Furthermore, there is hardly any artificial lighting, which allows the works to always be connected to the outside world.

To me, Hombroich means not only the construction of a museum, but an attempt to find a new way of living with all the ideas and things that one might almost see as having been disparaged in our current society.

Karl-Heinrich Müller (1936–2007), founder of Museum Insel Hombroich and Foundation

Karl-Heinrich Müller (1936–2007), founder of Museum Insel Hombroich and Foundation

3. Kasteel Wijlre, The Netherlands

Located less than half an hour away from the quaint town of Maastricht, tucked between the rolling hills of Limburg, you will find Kasteel Wijlre, a castle-esque private home turned contemporary art space. Though it received the European Garden Award in 2014, the term “castle park” seems more appropriate for this three-hectare green area, which includes lawns, a rose garden, an apple orchard, an herb garden, a vegetable garden and a toad pool. This “castle park” houses several permanent artworks, including the archetypal Broken Circle by Ad Dekkers, and the easily missed, yet not-to-be-missed bronze tree by Giuseppe Penone, hidden among “real trees.”  Previous exhibitions have included a selection of previously unseen collages, photographs and drawings by Gordon Matta-Clark, as well as the exhibition What About A Garden (shown above), examining how the garden affects our thinking and sense of agency.

We love sculptures, but didn’t want a sculpture garden. In our garden, a tree is never sacrificed to make way for an artwork. In Wijlre, art, architecture, and landscape form a perfect unity.

Founders and collectors Marlies and Jo Eijck

Founders and collectors Marlies and Jo Eijck

4. Hauser & Wirth Somerset, United Kingdom

The fancy and well-known contemporary art gallery Hauser & Wirth is mostly associated with bustling city-life, with its galleries located in cosmopolitan hubs such as London, Los Angeles, New York, Zurich and Hong Kong. However, in 2014 Hauser & Wirth decided to bring their next artistic venture to a farm that had been derelict for several decades in rural Somerset. Next to the old and restored barns turned exhibition space, and a great restaurant, there is the stunning outdoor area: a landscaped garden dotted with sculptures designed by internationally-renowned Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf. With conservation, education and sustainability at the core of its mission, Hauser & Wirth Somerset offers a variety of special events including talks, seminars, workshops and film screenings. It is also home to a bookstore and an artist-in-residence program where visiting artists can immersive themselves in the idyllic surroundings.

Photo by Alexandra Goldina

5. Louisiana Museum, Denmark

Sitting on a cliff, overlooking a stretch of ocean between Sweden and Denmark, is a museum that was initially intended to only exhibit Danish art when it opened in 1958. It is still home to significant Danish modern and contemporary art, but it also displays work from beyond the Danish borders and keeps close ties with museums globally. The grounds around the museum include a landscaped sculpture garden that connects art, landscape and architecture. The property slopes towards the Øresund strait and is dominated by huge, ancient tree specimens and sweeping vistas of the sea.

On display are works by artists such as Jean Arp, Alexander Calder and Louise Bourgeois. The sculptures are either placed so they can be viewed from within the building, in special sculpture yards, or they are installed around the gardens, where they enter into a symbiotic relationship with the surrounding lawns, trees and the sea.

6. CDAN (Center for Art and Nature), Spain

On the outskirts of the city of Huesca, in the north of Spain, you might not immediately expect a cutting-edge expo on gender and ecology, yet this is exactly the type of exhibition you find at the Center for Art and Nature. Merging art and nature through contemporary art exhibitions, the center invites new reflections on the relationship between creation and landscape. In most shows, the visitor is encouraged to be an active collaborator.

The beautiful natural light, and the quality of the landscape and natural elements that surround Huesca, contribute to making a visit to CDAN a  stimulating yet calming experience.

Marisa Merz installation view at Centre international d’art et du paysage de l’île de Vassivière. Courtesy of Centre international d’art et du paysage de l’île de Vassivière. Photo by Claudio Abate.

7. Centre international d’art et du paysage de l’île de Vassivière, France

This incredible museum is located in the middle of a lake and reached only by footbridge (or boat). Apart from it being on an island, the Centre international d’art et du paysage de l’île de Vassivière (the International Center of Art and Landscape at Vassivière Island) stands out because of its emblematic lighthouse and aqueduct-shaped building, designed by Aldo Rossi and Xavier Fabre.

The Centre is a place dedicated to contemporary creation, experimentation, production, research, exchange, training, and reception. It aims to be a habitable and convivial place for art on a human scale, and presents series of temporary exhibits. Over the months and years, great names have exhibited their works there including Pierre Bismuth, Hubert Duprat, Yona Friedman, Cyprien Gaillard, Thomas Hirschhorn and Tino Sehgal. A stroll in the beautiful natural environment of the island is mandatory.

8. Skaftfell Art Center, Iceland

Skaftfell, based in Seyðisfjörður East Iceland, is a visual art center with the essential role of presenting, discoursing, and encouraging the development of contemporary art. It is a meeting point for artists and locals and its activities consist of exhibitions and events, alongside an international residency program and outreach program. Skaftfell is also the guardian of a very small house previously owned by a local naïve artist Ásgeir Emilsson (1931-1999). In March 2013, Skaftfell received an Icelandic award, Eyrarrósin, for outstanding cultural leadership in a rural area.

The Center also hosts a residency program that allows artists to live and work in a unique micro community where creativity is applied to the everyday, and that fosters dialogue between art and life. Over 250 artists have come to Seyðisfjörður and to East Iceland through the Skaftfell residency over the past 20 years. Some have left a physical trace, or a trace in someone’s memory. Some have returned many times, and others have stayed for good. Skaftfell is far away from the busy capitals of contemporary art, and it offers a refuge for artists – a hiding place, and a thinking space. The Center encourages artists to embrace the idea of a slow residency, and to allow themselves time for contemplation, setting the ground for a shift in their practice.

Photo by Amedeo Benestante

9. Volcano Extravaganza, Italy

Every year since 2011, Fiorucci Art Trust has presented the artist-led program Volcano Extravaganza on the volcanic island of Stromboli, Aeolian Islands, Italy. Artistic leaders of previous editions include Runa Islam (2018), Eddie Peake (2017), Camille Henrot (2016), Milovan Farronato (2015), Haroon Mirza (2014), Lucy McKenzie (2013), Nick Mauss (2012), and Rita Selvaggio (2011). In recent editions, Fiorucci Art Trust collaborated with the Serpentine Galleries. The events include film screenings, contemporary art exhibitions in the Fiorucci Art Trust houses, and experimental performances across the island.

10. Mustarinda, Finland

The Mustarinda Association, comprised of a group of artists and researchers whose goal is to promote the ecological rebuilding of society, the diversity of culture and nature, and the connection between art and science, is located in a house at the edge of the Paljakka nature reserve in Kainuu, Finland.

Contemporary art exhibitions, boundary-crossing research, practical experimentation, communication, teaching, and events form the core of their activities. Mustarinda reaches towards a post-fossil culture by combining scientific knowledge and experiential artistic activity.

The Association is active both locally and internationally, and is involved in the PoFo project in collaboration with the Helsinki International Artist Program where they invite people from various fields to discuss what a  post-fossil future might look like.

PS: I’m researching similar initiatives outside of Europe – in Africa, Asia, South-America, etc. Please let me know if you know of any hidden art gems in rural areas!

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Curator Yasmine Ostendorf (MA) has worked extensively on international cultural mobility programs and on the topic of art and environment for expert organizations such as Julie’s Bicycle (UK), Bamboo Curtain Studio (TW) Cape Farewell (UK) and Trans Artists (NL). She founded the Green Art Lab Alliance, a network of 35 cultural organizations in Europe and Asia that addresses our social and environmental responsibility, and is the author of the series of guides “Creative Responses to Sustainability.” She is the Head of Nature Research at the Van Eyck Academy (NL), a lab that enables artists to consider nature in relation to ecological and landscape development issues and the initiator of the Van Eyck Food Lab.

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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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