Artists and Climate Change

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Why Do Women Climate More Than Men?

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

I have been doing work at the intersection of arts and climate change for over a decade, and though I have no scientific data to back what I’m about to say, I have observed that women climate much more than men—that is to say, this particular intersection is overwhelmingly female. I have found this to be true again and again, whether I’m leading workshops, commissioning playwrights, or publishing essays by artists who engage with the issue. As soon as you say “arts” and “climate change” in the same sentence, the traditional male/female ratio gets reversed.

In a world where we have to fight tooth and nail for equal representation, how did women manage to claim a space, let alone that space, for themselves? Although this state of affairs seems to be true in all of the arts, including the theatre, it is certainly not true in the sciences. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women make up only 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce. And my own unscientific observations, based on who I meet at universities and climate change conferences, confirm that there are far more male climate scientists than female. So, what is it about the intersection of arts and climate change that attracts women, or, at the very least, that hasn’t caught most men’s attention yet?

Gaia. 8838: Tellus. Roman relief, 13–9 BC. Marble, Ara Pacis. Royal Cast Collection, Copenhagen.

Since we are the primary caretakers of children, I suppose it follows that we would be the primary caretakers of the planet. How we bond with our offspring must be similar to how we bond with nature and our environment. In almost all cultures Mother Earth is female so there is clearly a deep-rooted connection; think of Gaia (Greek), Pachamama (Inca), Jörð (Norse). Not to mention the countless female deities associated with nature such as goddesses of water, wild animals, mountains, forests, etc. But while this reasoning may be partly true, I hesitate to see it as absolute and reinforce traditional gender roles. If the nurturing impulse was the sole driving force, we would be a majority in more than one discipline that has climate change as its primary focus.

Could this gender imbalance be a function of the deeply entrenched inequalities in the arts, which keep women in the margin, away from economically viable opportunities and the eyes of the public? Used to being cut off from the mainstream, we may be turning to where we feel we can have an impact. With climate change being so politically charged, small and nontraditional venues are more likely to engage with it than large institutions. Those venues are also more likely to have a woman at the helm, which, in turn, increases the chances of women artists working there. Since commercial success is mostly inaccessible to us, maybe we choose to focus on issues that are personally meaningful rather than financially rewarding.

In addition, according to UN Women, climate-induced disasters exacerbate entrenched gender inequalities. Or, as the title of a WomenWatch article aptly describes it, The Threats of Climate Change are not Gender-Neutral. In impoverished countries, women and girls face greater health and safety risks as resources become scarce or compromised, and they are more likely to become victims of gender violence. Women also have less access to decision-making and economic assets that may mitigate the effects of climate change. Female artists may be especially attuned to this reality and understand the need to address climate change as an imperative to protect ourselves.

I brought up this question of gender in relation to arts and climate change in a few conversations recently to see if anyone had any insight. A colleague from the UK cited women’s ability to collaborate as a possible factor influencing female artists’ decisions to engage this issue. Climate change mitigation and adaptation requires collaborative problem-solving across many sectors and an ability to bring multiple partners together. Since women show greater proficiency in this skill than men, she posited, wouldn’t they naturally gravitate toward a field that requires working across disciplines and establishing successful collaborations? I did a bit of research to see if there was data out there that supported this claim. This is what I found:

According to an article from BBC News, a worldwide study conducted in schools shows that girls outperform boys at collaborative problem solving. Girls “show more positive attitudes towards relationships, meaning that they tend to be more interested in others’ opinions and want others to succeed.” Another study done by the School of Management at the University of Buffalo reveals that “when male-dominated work groups foster collaboration and communication, it’s women who are more likely to emerge as leaders.” Because groups tend to choose leaders who exemplify their values, when those values include communication and increased interactions between members, women have a leadership advantage.

Women in Uganda carrying water from a shallow well in plastic jerricans. Photo from

Further research produced another interesting article published by Stanford Medicine about the cognitive differences between men’s and women’s brains. Women retain stronger, more vivid memories of emotional events than men do. They also recall emotional memories more quickly, and the ones they recall are richer and more intense. As a warning not to jump to easy conclusions though, the Stanford article concludes: “Trying to assign exact percentages to the relative contributions of ‘culture’ versus ‘biology’ to the behavior of free-living human individuals in a complex social environment is tough at best. … The role of culture is not zero. The role of biology is not zero.”

In light of these studies, it seems reasonable to say that women tend to work more collaboratively than men, and that this propensity may be a factor in why female artists are taking on climate change in greater number than their male counterparts who are better equipped at solving problems alone. And if women do, in fact, have stronger and more vivid memories of emotional events then men do, and recall them more quickly and intensely, wouldn’t it be harder for us to turn away from the tragedies brought on by climate change? Wouldn’t we feel compelled to expose them in every way we can and work to prevent more from happening?

All of this suggests that there isn’t one reason but, more likely, multiple reasons why women climate more than men. And these reasons are both internal and external. They have to do with who we are biologically, how our genetic makeup predisposes us to seek or excel at certain things, and how we relate to our life circumstances and exist in a world where our chosen roles are affirmed or denied by our communities.

OK. This is perfectly logical, but entirely uninspiring. Let’s try something more radical.

Is it possible that female artists are intuiting the world’s need for certain skills, know that they are ours to offer, and actively seeking ways to use these skills in service of a different future? Are we slowly establishing ourselves as leaders by using the arts, a fairly benign point of entry, to show what is possible? Are we engaging with climate change because it’s urgent, yes, but also because it’s the most obvious leverage point in creating a more gender-balanced world?

Forgive me for waxing poetic here but I do believe there is truth to the saying “The Future is Female.” It’s no coincidence that the #MeToo movement is happening in this very moment and that women all over the world are taking to the streets. Yes, it took a corrupt, racist, misogynist, narcissistic, and generally disgusting president in the United States to galvanize us, but the abuses perpetrated against women—whether sexual or other—are no different from the abuses perpetrated against our planet.

Luckily, the systems that have made those abuses possible are starting to crack. And we saw what happened last summer when a crack in the Larson C ice shelf grew to the point where an iceberg the size of Delawareweighing one trillion tons, broke free from the Antarctic continent. Cracks are to be taken seriously. If you keep chipping at them, they invariably turn into earth-shattering events.

Perhaps after millennia, the cosmic pendulum is finally swinging back toward the feminine. Thanks to women everywhere, perhaps the yin is finally reasserting itself and reclaiming its share stolen by the yang. And perhaps just like our days running our economy on fossil fuel are numbered, our time running the world on testosterone is over.

And to the men out there who may be wondering what’s going on, I say: Join us! We need you! We need you in the #MeToo movement. We need you in the environmental movement. We need you making deep, challenging, beautiful, provocative, earth-shattering work at the intersection of arts and climate change so we can all find our way forward together. A number of your peers—brave male artists, including wonderful theatre artists—are already doing this work, but we need more. And don’t be mistaken: this is not about hugging trees (though if you’ve never hugged a tree, I highly recommend it). This is about figuring out whether we have it in us, as a species, to continue living on this earth with justice and integrity.

Before I sign off, here’s a last bit of statistics from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs:

The evidence is clear: wherever women take part in a peace process, peace lasts longer. In fact, a peace agreement, which includes women, is 35 percent more likely to last at least fifteen years. And without the solid foundation of peace, development is doomed to be unstable and unsustainable.

Climate change. Justice. Peace. We got it.

Now, Ladies. Let’s climate some more, shall we?


Chantal Bilodeau is a playwright and translator whose work focuses on the intersection of science, policy, art, and climate change. She is the Artistic Director of The Arctic Cycle – an organization created to support the writing, development and production of eight plays that look at the social and environmental changes taking place in the eight countries of the Arctic – and the founder of the blog and international network Artists & Climate Change. She is a co-organizer of Climate Change Theatre Action, a worldwide series of readings and performances of short climate change plays presented in support of the United Nations COP meetings.


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

Art as Collision

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Despite being more connected than we ever have been, today’s world is, arguably, more fragmented than it has been since we entered the era of the global village. We can track the shift: think Brexit, Trump, and the rising of imaginary walls in what seems like a regression to Cold War-era isolationism.

But let’s not be too quick to become despondent. I believe the fault lines we’re seeing emerge are probably the last hurrah of old, staid ways of thinking. Traditional power is in a corner, and right now it happens to be screaming the loudest. The more people feel their way of life (or thinking) is under threat, the more likely they are to retreat into silos where all ideas are familiar and comfortable.

That’s where the artist comes in: to challenge, to disrupt, to interrogate what makes people uncomfortable, and push us towards understanding ourselves and the world more fully. Good art is often not born out of comfortable spaces, but comes from conflict and collision – and it’s not until there’s difference that people collide. Through collision there’s an exchange of ideas and perspectives, and through that exchange, if those involved are really listening and applying themselves, art, as well as the acknowledgement of a shared humanity and connection to the planet we live on.

“Every culture has its origins in hybridization, interaction, confrontation. In isolation, by contrast, civilization dies out. The experience of the other is the secret to change,” writes Octavio Paz in an essay on art and culture.

Young people today feel less defined by national borders, and increasingly see themselves as global citizens. Modern technology and media connect us all. We are increasingly becoming aware of “the other,” of how their differences manifest in their perspectives, and we are learning to listen, sometimes readily, sometimes with more resistance. If we accept our role as artists, and take responsibility for creating art that grasps at truth, we can tap into the collision and the difference, experience others, and challenge each other, as well as our audiences. Art is, after all, confrontation. We can become a collective made up of a kaleidoscope of culture that pushes new modes of expression.

But to do this, we need to think outside the box. We need to go outside the box if we are to collide. We need to be curious, raise questions, and be understanding, even if we don’t find the answers that we sought. We need to think differently about booking art, making it, marketing it, curating it and selling it. We need to dismantle traditional ways of thinking to build newer, more nimble models that adapt to the world’s changing dynamics and reflect our myriad of truths, through our practices and experiences.

This work is already happening in museums, in art centers, in hospitals, in academia, in businesses. It’s happening everywhere, in all the spaces in which there’s tension, where we push ourselves in new and potentially unknown and brave directions. I like to call our generation, especially the youth of today, the “slash” (/) generation because we’re not afraid to throw caution to the wind and try our hands at new and exciting things. Today’s artists, myself included, wear many different hats.

In addition to my roles as theatremaker, educator, and international arts advocate/consultant, and underpinning all of them, I’m a connector. I’m curious about people and I encourage them to be curious about one another. I’m fortunate enough to be able to facilitate the exchange of ideas and practices through programming conferences and hosting long tables where the art “elite” sit alongside young cultural innovators. These forums are vital sites for disruption because artists are the real cultural diplomats, as their creations speak to the people, their audiences, the loudest, and make further linkages possible.

Too often I hear people say they “can’t.” “How?” they ask. They get so bogged down by that question that they don’t even think about the what. They don’t realize that the closer they get to the what, the clearer it becomes, the more the question of how begins to fall away. When I hear an artist say, “I can’t,” I ask: “How do you work in a field of imagination, of dreams, of access, and say it cannot be done? You are here, in this field where we have the privilege of engaging with ideas and expression, and with that, comes responsibility. You must speak your truth. You are a thought leader. Discover what you have to offer, acknowledge it, and let it radiate from you. You’re here. You have power. You’re in a position to make a difference and create change.”

There’s a dire need in art, and the world today, for voices to speak, limbs to tweak, brushes to streak, from a new, diverse generation of artists. The current fragmented world this generation grows up in, just like others before, is a particularly fertile ground for the creation of art. Increasingly, our communities are rich with people from all walks of life. It’s an ideal space for collision, for learning, for artistic expression. Let us not pigeonhole what culture should be. Let us not build walls around our traditions. Instead, let’s allow ourselves to engage and collide with all the “others” around us, and march to the tune of a future that’s pregnant with potential. Let’s tap into our moment of political and ideological fission to create art that does not shy away from difference or shirk uncomfortable questions. Engage. Learn. Create. The world is our audience…as well as our teacher.

(Images: I-DENT-I-TIES, a large-scale interdisciplinary performance project with 50 students of the University of the Free State Qwa Qwa Campus, South Africa. Creative Team: Djana Covic, Nico de Rooij, and Erwin Maas.)


Erwin Maas is a New York based theatremaker, educator and international arts advocate from the Netherlands. He has worked extensively in Australia, Europe, South Africa and USA. In New York, he directs numerous productions Off Broadway, Off Off Broadway as well as Site Specific. Maas is the Artistic Director of the International Society for Performing Arts (ISPA), Artistic Associate & Director of the Fellowship Program for the International Performing Arts for Youth (IPAY), Co-founding Director of the Pan-African Creative Exchange (PACE), and the Programming Director for the Off Broadway Origin Theatre Company


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

Necessary Recalibration

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

I have travelled to many out-of-the-way places but the Antarctic landscape, or my imagined Antarctica, has been on my mind for as long as I can remember. It was like a mythical place that was rumored to be real. I visited Antarctica two years ago in January and feel like a part of me is still there.

Before leaving I read several books, but nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced while there. My initial impression was one of suspended belief – I had no point of reference for what I was seeing, making it impossible to take in. The scene from the ship felt like a backdrop for a movie or a play. When I finally kayaked and spent time with the landscape, I began to absorb what I was seeing and close the physical and mental distance I felt at first; I had to touch it to believe it was real. Because Antarctica is so quiet and the color palette limited to mostly grays, blues, and white, I could take in more than usual: limited distractions amplified my perceptions. Time felt suspended and this slowed-down quality allowed for increased sensitivity to my surroundings. Even my ability to listen seemed more acute. Sounds consisted of the ocean, wind, creaking glaciers, penguins, and whales blowing and breaching. Calving glaciers sounded like cannons going off – it was beautiful and terrifying and more alive than any landscape I have visited. The poet John O’Donohue wrote: “the landscape is not just matter but it is as alive as you.” The place has a palpable power that is indescribable.

Real Blue, 2017. Pigment print with gouache, graphite, and charcoal.

Antarctica is enormous in every way and the idea of “capturing” it with anything, including a camera, seemed ridiculous and not something I was capable of. I shot a lot of footage not knowing what I was going to do with it. After I got back, it took a year before I looked at the images. Instead, I researched and read to try to make sense of my intense response and the trip’s lingering resonance. Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s essay  “Eye and Mind” was interesting and helpful. He writes about the world and the body being made of the same “stuff” and the “undividedness” of things. I read about “jouissance” from the perspective of Hélène Cixous and gained further insight from Donna Haraway’s brilliant book Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. These readings and more helped me understand the recalibration that occurred while I was in Antarctica. I realized I have always been uncomfortable with our culture built upon a platform of human exceptionalism. I experienced a place as alive and deserving of respect as any human being.

Blue Flow, 2017. Pigment print with ink and graphite.

I decided to document the feeling of Antarctica and continue to learn from it in my studio. I traced the architecture of the icebergs and glaciers with graphite and charcoal as a way of remembering the nuances of its form. I emphasized certain remarkable traits such as the impossible neon blue color as well as the millions of variations of blue. While studying my photographic documentation, I tried to mimic Antarctica’s palette and made almost invisible markings on the photographs with ink, charcoal, graphite, and gouache. When printing the final pieces, I played with the density of the photograph only to emphasize certain elements that I remembered but worried were easy to overlook at the reduced scale. I hope the viewer who hasn’t been to Antarctica might experience some of what I experienced. I would love to have the opportunity to take this work outside of art venues to the broader population, and share these observations with as many people as possible. The more the human population embraces the Earth as a companion needing our care, and not as a supply house and a sewer, the better our chances of stopping the destruction.

Lone Glow, 2017. Pigment print with charcoal and ink.

I’m still working on the Antarctica images in the studio and don’t know when I’ll move on to another body of work. I’ve never worked on a particular series this long but I can’t seem to let go. Since Antarctica is melting and could disappear soon, it’s difficult to stop. The government is working against us and Trump has no interest in accepting climate change or in protecting the environment. I feel committed to Antarctica as both a powerful teacher and a critical place that must survive if we are to maintain a thriving world.

Iceberg Study #2, 2017. Pigment print with gouache and graphite.

(Top image: Electric, 2018. Pigment print with ink and graphite.)


Liza Ryan uses her work in photography, video and mixed media to explore themes such as the presentation and disruption of the visual narrative; the fluid psychological relationship between real and imagined spaces; processes of release, dispersal, and disappearance; and the intimate, undeniable connection between humans and the natural world.  Travel and extensive multi-disciplinary research are integral to her practice. Her work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally. She is represented by Kayne Griffin Corcoran Gallery in Los Angeles.


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

Striving for Meaningful Impact

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

The question of impact in the arts is a vexing one. Not only is impact difficult to define, it is almost impossible to quantify. Talking about impact can create the expectation that the transaction between art and audience is predictable and replicable. But it is not. Good art is unpredictable and unique, and its impact doesn’t translate neatly into a spreadsheet. As a young playwright, I used to think that impact was measured by the size of the audience: How many people bought tickets? Eventually, I came to realize that this view was reductive. By focusing on numbers alone, I was overlooking smaller, subtler clues that revealed a much more profound and, I suspect, lasting impact.

Four groups, organized in concentric circles from smallest to biggest, are invited to experience the impacts of a work of art: the artist(s), the audience, the field, and the larger community. In the theatre, many artists – actors, directors, dramaturgs and designers, to name a few – are involved in the production of a play. Therefore, before the work is shared with an audience, it has the potential to affect many people. This became apparent to me when I was working on productions on my play Sila in 2014 and 2015. Set in the territory of Nunavut, Sila examines the impact of climate change on the Canadian Arctic and local Inuit population. As the themes from the play emerged through the rehearsal process, actors and directors became more attuned to the reality of climate change, dramaturgs formulated new research topics, and designers developed an interest in sustainability. That is impact.

Artistic Vibrancy Onion – a way for arts organizations to conceptualize their impact and strategic investment. Courtesy: BYP Group.

After the artists, the next group to experience a work of art is the audience. In this case, numbers do tell a story. But by themselves, they don’t tell the whole story. Numbers are a refection of interest, not impact. Impact happens later, in the privacy of one’s home. It happens a day, a week, or even a year after encountering the work. And it is subtle. A friend once explained to me that political campaigns divide voters into categories, building a pie chart that separates groups into their political inclinations. The categories go from far left to far right, with a number of variations in between. The goal of the campaign is not to convince voters on the right to vote for the left, or vice versa. The goal is to move voters to the adjacent category in the chart. To affect one small, incremental change.

My plays focus on climate change. It would be tempting to think that impact means turning non-believers into activists. Or believers into fanatics. But that is unrealistic. Art opens up a space for conversation; it doesn’t, or shouldn’t, relentlessly push an agenda. We have to meet people where they are, and allow them to take their own journey, at their own pace. At best, I hope I can encourage people to move one step: to the adjacent category in the pie chart. Perhaps someone who doesn’t believe in climate change will be open to hearing more about it. Or perhaps someone who already believes will be inspired to take a more active role. That is impact.

Beyond the immediate transaction between artist and audience, the third group that can potentially be impacted by a work of art is the field. Every play is part of an ongoing conversation with the entire theatre community. As such, every play has the power to influence the next play – to expand our ideas about process, form, aesthetics, and ideology, and to shine a light on a conversation that may be missing from the stage. In collaboration with some colleagues, I have been working on a project called Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA) in support of the United Nations Conference of the Parties. CCTA is a series of worldwide readings and performances intended to bring awareness to, and foster discussion around, climate change. For our last iteration in 2017, 140 events were presented in more than 20 countries. Many of these events are intimate; they take place in classrooms or rehearsal studios, with only a handful of people in attendance. But the conversation within the theatre community is far-reaching. Already, the project has shown that it is possible to address climate change without sacrificing artistic integrity; that local action can translate into a global movement and that the theatre is a powerful tool for social change.

CCTA also creates community. Fifty playwrights wrote 50 shorts plays that were made available to collaborators worldwide. For each event, collaborators select the plays they want to present and send us the list. We publicize this information on social media and connect collaborators with playwrights, and other collaborators. In addition to the local conversation happening around each event, a greater conversation is taking place across time zones between artists who have never met. Plays adapted into short films in California are being screened in Germany and India. Playwrights in the US are reading their plays live on Skype for events in Australia. And so on. Some of these relationships may outlive the project and lead to more collaborations. Some of these events may inspire other organizations to do similar events. That is impact.

Sophorl Ngin, Reneltta Arluk and Nael Nacer in the Underground Railway Theater production of Sila. Copyright: A.R. Sinclair Photography.

Finally, the biggest of the four concentric circles is the larger community. Typically, this is not a group we think about. I certainly didn’t until I started focusing on climate change. Yet to achieve maximum impact, conversations have to transcend the walls of the theatre. With my play Sila, and the other seven plays of The Arctic Cycle, I strive to bring together people who may not normally encounter each other. I hope to build bridges between disciplines – science, policy, technology, humanities, and the arts. This means presenting the play in non-traditional settings such as academic conferences, scientific institutions, or university classes. It also means collaborating with earth and social scientists early in the process, inviting community stakeholders to participate in talkbacks, and engaging local environmental organizations. In 2014, excerpts of Sila served as the keynote for the conference “Warming Arctic: Development, Stewardship, Science” at Tufts University. The play introduced the topics that were going to be discussed during the conference, but framed them within personal narratives. It set a different tone for the conference and challenged scientists and policymakers to think beyond numbers. It also created a dialogue between science, policy, and the arts.

The same is true for the CCTA project. For one of the events in New York City in 2015, we invited a NASA climate scientist to talk about COP21 and the role of narrative in effecting social change. A dance company in Brooklyn, New York, invited a representative from the local chapter of the international organization to talk about their current initiatives. And various universities are incorporating their CCTA event into a larger conference that includes earth and social science, or in one case, leaders from three different faiths. This kind of cross-pollination promotes a better understanding of how people from different disciplines are tackling climate change, and how we can best support global efforts. It also creates a model for the kind of cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural collaboration that is possible in dealing with this global issue. That is impact.

Increasing self-awareness and affecting social change on a global level won’t happen overnight. It is unlikely someone will walk out of a play, sell his or her car, and sign up to Greenpeace. We do ourselves a disservice when we look for immediate impacts based on metrics. From time immemorial, the role of the arts has been to create the narrative that holds culture together. Rewriting that narrative won’t be easy. It is without a doubt the biggest, most fundamental shift humankind has ever had to make. Our job then is to celebrate every small step along the way. Our job is to recognize that there is potential for impact in every idea, every interaction, every performance, no matter how modest. Spreadsheets may lure us into thinking we are doing important work. But the faster we learn to see where meaningful impact is, the better our chances of creating the sustainable culture we desperately need to ensure our survival.

An earlier version of this article appeared in Fresh Perspectives 4: Art for the Planet’s Sake, published by IETM International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts, in December 2015.


Chantal Bilodeau is a playwright and translator whose work focuses on the intersection of science, policy, art, and climate change. She is the Artistic Director of The Arctic Cycle – an organization created to support the writing, development and production of eight plays that look at the social and environmental changes taking place in the eight countries of the Arctic – and the founder of the blog and international network Artists & Climate Change. She is a co-organizer of Climate Change Theatre Action, a worldwide series of readings and performances of short climate change plays presented in support of the United Nations COP meetings.

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

Small Adaptation Miracles in Alaska

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Certain species of fish spawn in different locations. Pods of gray whales no longer overwinter at the equator. Yellow cedars are moving north. Those observations were related to us, a group of artists engaged with climate change, while we were traveling through Southeast Alaska as part of the Tidelines Ferry Tour in April 2016. It didn’t matter whether we were in Kake, Ketchikan, or Kodiak. The specifics differed, but the story was the same: Patterns of migration are changing.

The purpose of the tour, organized by the Island Institute in Sitka, was twofold: 1) to share our work with the communities we visited, and 2) to host public conversations where people were invited to talk about the changes they are witnessing in their respective environments. Throughout the month, we visited nine communities ranging in population from 600 to 300,000, hopping on and off the ferry, often in the middle of the night, and relying on strangers to open their homes to us. When we were lucky, we were invited into tribal houses and treated to stories about life in Alaska.

I was there to do research for a play about migration. This play is the third in a series of eight plays titled The Arctic Cycle that look at the social and environmental changes taking place in the eight Arctic states. The first two plays, set in Canada and Norway, deal with oil, sovereignty, cultural identity, responsibility, and legacy. I had been searching for a different angle with which to approach the play set in Alaska, the United States’ Arctic territory. When I came across an article about Syrian refugees crossing the border between Russia and Norway on bicycles, I decided to look at migration.

Migration is universal. Whether human or animal, voluntary or forced, fluid or disrupted, it is one of the most important survival skills we possess. We migrate for food, security, and better climate. We migrate to escape predators, birth our young, and seek opportunity. We migrate because the route is mapped in our genes, and because we yearn for change.

Porcupine caribou migration. Downloaded from

At the top of the world, where everything is magnified, migration is a spectacular annual event. Whether it is porcupine caribou on the coastal plains, snow geese in the Matanuska Valley, or salmon in the Chilkat and Copper rivers, the astonishing number of individuals who gather in one spot year after year boggles the mind. And perhaps less visible but just as significant in shaping the Alaskan landscape are the waves of human migration that have washed over the state in the last several thousand years: the first inhabitants who crossed the Bering Land Bridge, Russian and British settlers, fortune seekers during the Gold Rush, and job seekers during the oil boom.

Sadly, with the onslaught of climate change, migration has taken on negative connotations. Increased warming has changed the Arctic environment. Some migratory birds now arrive too late in the spring and miss the most nutritious vegetation growth, sometimes causing massive die-off. The northern movement of shrubs is impacting caribou, muskoxen, and other animals that depend on tundra habitat. And several human communities are facing relocation due to severe erosion that threatens their villages and infrastructure. For months, I have agonized over this information, wondering how to write about it. What does this mean for our world and for us? Where is the poetic lesson? Where are the hidden metaphors that could point to possible ways forward?

Sunset on Kodiak Island. Photo: Chantal Bilodeau.

These questions were swirling in my head when, in September 2016, I participated in the first Citizen Artist Incubator hosted at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria. During the residency, I reached out to a number of scientists, including economist Jesus Crespo Cuaresma in the World Population Program and Ulf Diekmann, Program Director of the Evolution and Ecology Program. I asked about climate change and migration. I asked about evolution and intelligent design. And I asked about human nature.

In a cruel twist of fate, I lost the notebook that contained all this precious information a few months later, but two important points stayed with me. From Diekmann and his group, I learned that adaptation is a response to an immediate challenge. Then, as those challenges evolve, so does the response. In other words, any given species doesn’t start by migrating thousands and thousands of miles. The original migration was probably very short, but as the environment kept changing, the length of the journey slowly increased. The second point came from Crespo Cuaresma. After spending an hour poring over a Global Migration Data Sheet that showed human migration flows between 2005 and 2010 and discussing the pros and cons of immigration, I asked him if there was anything I could communicate in my work that he would like people to know. After the briefest of pauses, he said: “Migration is a positive thing.”

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Sometimes changing the color of your lens makes a world of difference. I don’t mean to make light of the incredible hardship suffered by both humans and nonhumans who are forced to migrate under dire circumstances. But if we just put aside the cause for a moment and focus on the action itself, don’t we have plenty of reasons to rejoice? As an adaptation strategy, migration is an act of resistance. It’s the species learning to survive under new conditions. It’s life affirming its creative power.

Yes, we need to address climate change—even more urgently now that we have an administration determined to ignore it. Yes, we need to understand the risks and prepare for what’s to come. Yes, this is a scary time. But—and perhaps this is where the poetic lesson lies—let’s not forget all the ways in which we manage to survive. Let’s celebrate the determination and courage of those who either migrate for the first time or modify their age-old migration route. They are our climate change heroes.

I recently learned that beluga whales are delaying their migration south and staying in the Arctic longer because sea ice takes longer to freeze up each fall. Of course, we have no way to predict whether this will be a successful adaptation strategy, but while before, my first reaction would have been to fear for the beluga, today I say thank you. Thank you for adapting. Thank you for doing everything you can to survive. Thank you for giving me and the Earth the miracle of your continued existence.

(Top image: Traveling through the inside passage on the Alaska ferry system. Photo: Chantal Bilodeau.)


Chantal Bilodeau is a playwright and translator whose work focuses on the intersection of science, policy, art, and climate change. She is the Artistic Director of The Arctic Cycle – an organization created to support the writing, development and production of eight plays that look at the social and environmental changes taking place in the eight countries of the Arctic – and the founder of the blog and international network Artists & Climate Change. She is a co-organizer of Climate Change Theatre Action, a worldwide series of readings and performances of short climate change plays presented in support of the United Nations COP meetings.


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

Imagining Water, #7: 2-Minute Shower Songs

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

The seventh in a year-long series on artists who are making the topic of water a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances and publications that are popping up in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme.


Music reflects the cultural mood of a society and, at the same time, is a powerful medium for promoting change and encouraging action. Throughout American history, songs of dissent have influenced the outcome of wars and social movements. During the 1960s and 1970s, voices like Woody Guthrie, Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, Nina Simone, James Brown, Marvin Gaye and numerous others engaged an entire generation in protesting against an undeclared war with no end in sight and for civil rights with songs like We Shall Overcome, The Times They Are a Changing, Ohio, What’s Going On, Change Gonna Come and We Shall Not Be Moved, etc. Outside the United States, inspiring songs such as L’Internationale, a 19th century anthem of revolution worldwide, continues to call to the oppressed to rise up against tyranny. Today, artists like Beyoncé (Freedom) and Kendrick Lamar (Alright) are reaching global audiences with current anthems of discontent against racial and social injustice. By embedding a message in music, a single voice can inspire millions.

Understanding just how effectively music can shape public opinion and behavior, the government of Cape Town, South Africa, in partnership with the finance firm Sanlam, has sponsored an innovative project that directly impacts the conservation of the city’s critically diminishing supply of water. They commissioned ten of South Africa’s leading musical stars to adapt their existing songs into a 2-minute format to help residents limit their daily showers to exactly 120 seconds in compliance with current regulations. The 2-minute songs were consolidated into an album that is free and easily accessible for downloading on a dedicated website and on YouTube. According to instructions on the 2-Minute Shower Song website: “start the song and turn up the volume…when the song ends, so should the shower.”


South African rapper Kwesta recording a song for the “2-Minute Shower Songs” album. Courtesy of Sanlam.

The 2-Minute Shower Songs are not merely a response to the abstract concept of conserving water for a shortage projected to occur sometime in the distant future. Cape Town is on the verge of becoming the first major city in the world to completely run out of water within a few months. Day Zero, the date when the city’s reservoirs fall to 13.5 % capacity, is currently set to occur on July 15, 2018. The city’s drastically reduced water supply is the result of three consecutive years of very low rainfall. Of the 50 liters or about 13 gallons of water a day that is the recommended allotment to residents, 20 liters or 40% of the daily water limit is consumed during a 2-minute shower. Without severe conservation and significant rainfall, the taps will be turned off on Day Zero, forcing the entire population of 4 million to line up for daily water rations.


Theewaterskloof Dam, a major source of water for Cape Town on January 25, 2018, in Villiersdorp, South Africa. Courtesy of Brenton Geach, Gallo Images, Getty Images.

The 2-Minute Shower Song project is the brainchild of the King James Group, a creative team that developed the original concept of a billboard campaign into a way of “tapping into almost everyone’s hidden pleasure of singing in the shower.” In a February 8, 2018 interview for the South African on-line publication, Bizcommunity, Susan van Rooyen and Moe Kekana of King James Group explained the creative process behind how the campaign was devised:

The project originally began as a billboard brief, trying to figure out how we could communicate or give people a way to save water. And when the City of Cape Town urged everyone to cut down water in the bathroom specifically, we found our insight: Many of us, whether we like to admit it or not, sing in the shower. And if we could use that to manage how long people spent in the shower, we could help save water. But an idea that size wasn’t going to fit on a billboard. And so, the #2minuteshowersongs were born: Songs you can sing along to, but that also tell you when your shower time is up.

Rooyen and Kekana noted that the artists’ commitment to the project was “phenomenal.” In response to a question about the recording process and the results of the campaign, they summarized:

In just four days they recorded the ten songs and produced an album in under two weeks. The sense of urgency in the songs, the urgency to make it happen, was a reflection of the crisis. There is something so pure, yet so powerful about music. And that’s what we needed to really make our message heard.

Our campaign spread further than we anticipated. Not only were Capetonians singing along to shorten their showers, but they were singing on the radio, and even created their own versions of our shower songs in an effort to keep water use down. Word also spread across international waters with our campaign being featured on the climate change section of and on BBC radio.

The ten artists and their songs include: Kwesta (Boom Shaka Laka); Mi Casa (Nana); Good Luck (Taking it Easy); Fifi Cooper (Power of Gold); Francis Van Coke (Dit raak beter); Jimmy Nevis (Day Dream); Rouge (Déjà vu); Desmond & and the Tutus (Teenagers); Youngsta (Wes Kaap); and Springbok Nude Girls (Bubblegum on My Boots).


Promotional photos of artists, courtesy of Sanlam.

The 2-Minute Shower Song website includes all of the songs and a “Behind the Scenes” video showing a brief excerpt of the recording process. Musician Good Luck expressed his motivation for participating in the project by stating, “I worry that if everyone stays nonchalant about the seriousness of the situation, then they’re going to wake up one day and realize there’s no water coming out of the taps.”

(Top image: Courtesy Associated Press.)


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 caused by climate change, 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.


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

Persistent Acts: What is Enough?

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Through Persistent Acts, I look 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? My Persistent Acts series considers questions of this nature to motivate conversations and actions on climate issues that reverberate through politics and theatre. The Persistent Acts series continues, juxtaposing questions from Naomi Klein’s recent book No Is Not Enough with Blake Sugarman’s solo performance, Prelude to the Apocalypse (For What It’s Worth).


Climate change. Refugee crisis. Gun control. Globalization. Reproductive rights. Hunger. Poverty. Obviously, this isn’t the first time in history that systems have gone awry. As I consider our current political climate and the facts of climate science, I wonder what the tipping point will be: when the higher education bubble will burst, when Social Security will run out, when racial and economic divides will become full-on civil wars, when the Earth will no longer sustain life as we know it. When will the systems that have gotten us to where we are collapse, or, ideally, when will power and resources become equitably and sustainably redistributed? I wonder when my society will utter a collective “enough” with the destructive status quo, and the work of activists and progressive organizers will become the norm.

I also think about “enough” in terms of what I do to thwart the daunting “when” questions. Am I doing enough? In the midst of the current political shitshow, I’ve turned to Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. In addition to outlining the atrocities of the current US administration, and therefore justifying my anger, Klein highlights successful resistances to oppressive and pollutive systems, including instances of unionizing laborers, countering exploitative globalization, and more. She combines her experiences in journalism and activism to unpack the power dynamics that led us to our current socio-political system. Klein especially criticizes neoliberalism, an ideological project which, as she describes, “holds that the market is always right, regulation is always wrong, private is good and public is bad, and taxes that support public services are the worst of all.” As a major influencer on global policy, neoliberalism has structured cultural and political values around capital, which is to say not ecosystems and especially not sustainable energy. The thesis of No Is Not Enough posits that in undoing the damage of hierarchical ideologies like neoliberalism, we must not only say “No,” we must forge realistic alternative value systems – a series of “Yeses” to rally behind.

Illustration © Oliver Stafford

Illustration © Oliver Stafford from “Naomi Klein’s Guide to Resisting Power” on Huck Magazine.

Klein offers an option, composed by activists and union organizers, called The Leap Manifesto: A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another. A project spearheaded by sixty movement leaders in Canada, The Leap Manifesto is focused on “building a world based on caring for the earth and one another.” It looks to restructure cultural values, prioritizing Indigenous sovereignty, clean energy, and public infrastructure. Jobs that are already low-carbon, such as teachers, nurses, social workers are valuable in our culture and should be treated as such. This looks like, in one of my favorite examples, the expanding purpose and value of a postal worker, who is not only responsible for delivering mail in a green vehicle, but can also deliver fresh meals to the sick and elderly. Taking a step further, The Leap, an ongoing project that has grown out of The Leap Manifesto, seeks to build places like post offices as community hubs, “where residents can recharge electric vehicles; individuals and businesses can do an end run around the big banks and get a loan to start an energy co-op.” The Leap Manifesto, by placing value on jobs outside of the carbon economy, lays out realistic ways to leap Western culture into sustainable systems, because we don’t have the time for incremental change. This is where my theatre practice comes in, because I utilize and participate in theatre to instigate difficult conversations and practice alternative, sustainable realities, which The Leap exemplifies and offers. My introduction to The Leap is juxtaposed by my recent theatregoing experience at Prelude to the Apocalypse (For What It’s Worth) by Blake Sugarman.

I met Blake working on Theater In Asylum’s The Debates. Blake is an artist and activist who uses his solo performances to interrogate dominant ideologies, similar to the ones dissected in No Is Not Enough. I am continually motivated by the ways in which he brings his activism to his art, and vice versa. For Prelude to the Apocalypse, Blake’s activism is heavily featured, as his program note shouts out to Sunrise, a burgeoning movement of young people fighting for climate action. Knowing that Sunrise was in the context of the show, I was curious to see what stories, questions, and feelings would arise.

Part of the show dropped me into despair, as Blake juxtaposes stories of climate deniers with the hard facts of climate science. Tackling climate issues raises all kinds of questions, which Blake posits throughout the show – from how we relate to one another, to what effect time has on us, to whether we’re paying attention. By the end of the performance, Blake fully breaks the fourth wall, coming into the audience, offering a “penny for our thoughts” in response to the question “What is enough?” This was at once a vulnerable and powerful position to be in: the opportunity to voice my politicized view with a room of strangers.

I shared that my go-to thought of “enough” is life off the grid. That “doing enough” looks like “unplugging” myself from our current energy grid, living without a cell phone, or any other mode of digital communication. In other words, to do “enough” on climate change is to forgo my life as I know it. But would taking my own life off the grid have an impact on our national or global energy policy? To me, the disaster of capitalism is the underlying factor in human-caused climate change, and so my individual choices won’t undo such a deeply ingrained system that puts economic profits over people’s lives. So, is it enough to take an ideological stance against a capitalist structure? If such an ideology is backed up by realistic alternatives, then yes, in my mind that is enough to get us started on the work of publicizing and modeling a more equitable way of life.

Yes, it does feel like we’re presently in a prelude to the apocalypse. But as Blake illuminates, that’s only for what it’s worth, not an end-all-be-all outlook. Something is happening here, and it’s up to the people – not greedy governments – to build the world we need, one that is equitable for all beings, one that is sustainable for future generations. This work is happening, especially in grass-roots organizing, so that whether or not that tipping point or the apocalypse arrives, people are working to take the future into their own hands.

Take Action
Learn more about and support The Sunrise Movement
Get involved in The Leap

(Top image: Blake Sugarman.)


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 on the Marketing team at HERE Arts Center and is Artistic Producer of The Arctic Cycle. Julia writes and devises with her performance-based initiative 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

10 Pioneering UK Initiatives

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Back in the days when I was still working for Cape Farewell in London, the appetite for artistic engagement with climate change seemed to be everywhere, including in the big cultural venues: from Ten Billion, the shocking science-lecture-performance at the Royal Court, to programs at the Science Museum and the Tate. The prevailing attitude focused on raising awareness about global climate change, and asking questions about what was happening in our own backyards. How much insight did we have into the carbon footprint of these grand buildings? Ambitious productions, touring and attending conferences and Biennale all over the world – greening our own practice was just as (or even more) important as raising awareness about melting glaciers. And here the amazing ladies (mostly ladies) of Julie’s Bicycle jumped to help.

Since 2012, all cultural organizations that receive regular funding from Arts Council England are required to report on their environmental impact, using Julie’s Bicycle Creative IG tools – advanced carbon calculators designed specifically for the cultural sector. This has made Arts Council England the first arts funding body to recognize the environmental role that the cultural field can play. Museums, theatres, festivals, tours, galleries and productions started to reduce their carbon emissions (as well as water use and waste) as it was made fun and clear how to do so. See below a Top 10 list of my favorite art organizations talking the talk and walking the walk – with several gems from Scotland!

Open jar

1.  Open Jar Collective

The collective of socially engaged artists and designers that form Open Jar Collective operates mostly out of Scotland and actively share food, ideas and possibilities for change. Always involving the local community in their workshops, dinners and debates, they are re-thinking and re-shaping Scotland’s food future. Make sure to check out their project Soilcity, where the collective offered explorations of soil culture through the alchemy of composting, growing, foraging, fermenting, brewing and cooking.

We use food as a vehicle for bringing people together, as a common language to understand the global economic system, and as a tool for exploring people’s fundamental relationship to the land.
—Open Jar Collective

Human Sensor, Kasia Molga, 2016. Photo by Nick Harrison, courtesy of Invisible Dust.

2.  Invisible Dust

Reporting every day on the level of air pollution in London, Invisible Dust aims to making the invisible visible – particularly environmental challenges that don’t necessarily register to the naked eye. This awareness is brought through artists’ commissions, events, education and community activities. One of their exciting new projects, Under her Eye, features the amazing Margaret Atwood (amongst other ubercool ladies) in a summit on Women and Climate Change at the British Library this summer.

I love working with Invisible Dust – it’s a fantastic platform for collaborations between artists and scientists who are natural collaborators; both are explorers and storytellers, seeking out new ways of understanding, communicating (and indeed, changing) the world around them. So when it comes to the dry (and let’s face it, often frankly terrifying) language of climate change, the marriage of the two can be particularly effective. Artists can respond to environmental data in work that provokes real engagement – and scientists in turn can consider more creative and impactful ways of sharing (or indeed conducting!) their research. By communicating these urgent issues in lateral, innovative ways, by using humor and humanity, these sorts of works can reach us on a more animal, cellular, level – and therefore, hopefully, demand our response.
—Lucy Wood


3.  Creative Carbon Scotland

Inspired by the ladies at Julie’s Bicycle, Creative Carbon Scotland supports Scottish arts organizations with training in carbon measurement, reporting and reduction. Though their work involves a lot of strategy and policymaking, the direct involvement of artists remains key. Projects such as The Green Tease, but also various themed residencies, allow for a good relationship with the local community and places artists in both arts- and non-arts organizations.

We believe that the things artists know and the way they think and do things has a contribution to make to changing the way we organize our society, which will help move it towards a more sustainable future.
—Creative Carbon Scotland


4.  Grizedale Arts

Tucked away in the beautiful English Lake District, Grizedale Arts is a self-proclaimed “curatorial project in a continuous state of development.” The site, called Lawson Park, is a productive farm (which includes livestock), where artists can’t be afraid to get their hands dirty. The program, consisting of events, projects, residencies and community activities, engages with the complexities of the rural environment. Grizedale is the type of place where process is valued over product, and the boundaries of what an art institution can be (or ought to be) go wildly beyond the established structures and the idea of the white cube. Bring your wellies.

I want to broaden the idea of what art is and how it works; it is fundamentally the connective tissue that energizes all of our activities. It is an action, not a product, and everyone uses it. I help artists and communities make better use of one another, opening creative processes for both parties, helping both parties escape the confines of what can be a horribly narrow mindset. I aim for a way of living that is connected, a level body of resources built around fundamental elements, a real world of growth, cycles and change.
—Adam Sutherland


Professor Jaeweon Cho in the Science Walden pavilion during the first phase of the project, 2016.

5.  Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World

Now part of a family of art and ecology organizations, which includes at Dartington Hall in Devon, CCANW is an educational charity which brings together curators, artists and researchers (myself included!) to give people a deeper understanding of their responsibilities within nature. Its Soil Culture project (2013-16), organized collaboratively with Falmouth University and RANE, was comprised of a research phase, an artist residency and a touring exhibition, and aimed at deepening public understanding of the importance of soil. It became the UK’s most substantial contribution to the United Nations International Year of Soils.

In the coming years, we hope to encourage a new generation of artists and curators to engage more people with the urgent ecological challenges we face globally. We believe that the arts can effect change in ways that complement the work of conventional education and science.
—Clive Adams


6.  ONCA

ONCA, a gallery and performance space in Brighton, has an interesting founding story. It has to do with ONCA founder Laura Coleman meeting a puma in Bolivia. She connected with the puma, who had been a pet until it came to the refuge where Coleman met it when it was ten months-old. The puma, called Wayra, was terrified of the jungle. Over the years, Laura developed a friendship with Wayra, learning more from this cat about trust, patience and love. In 2011, Laura came back to the UK wanting to find a way to tell Wayra’s story, intertwined with the stories of all the other animals (human and non-human) she met in the jungle. ONCA is therefore an art space dedicated to performance and storytelling about issues that affect animals.

We work really hard at ONCA to provide a space, and a support network, for artists, young people and the general public to explore, question and creatively reimagine the world. We ask ourselves, how do we “stay with” social and environmental justice, in all their entanglements? How can art, and art spaces, contribute towards better nows, and better futures, for all?
—Laura Coleman

Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 22.46.43

7.  Deveron Projects

“The town is the venue” describes the framework of Deveron Projects’ work, as they  inhabit, explore, map and activate the place through artist-driven projects. These projects may cover a variety of topics from employment to health, from ecology to architecture, from history to spirituality, and from migration to being local. They bring together people from all walks of life through public gatherings, symposium, forums, workshops, farmers markets, seasonal cafés, music events, street festivals, slow marathons, gardening sessions, traditional ceilidhs, internet conferences and Friday lunches. The 50/50 principle is their guideline for a socially engaged work practice: balancing artistic endeavor with everyday life.

Our town, like many rural places is facing the signs of globalization with shops, banks, services closing. We need to join forces and think of responses for creative regeneration.
—Claudia Zeiske


First Draft Ale was the catalyst for the first homemade malt organic ale in the last 500 years. Initiated by Futurefarmers, in collaboration with the Liberation Brewery. Photo: The Morning Boat.

8.  The morning boat

The Morning Boat (Jersey, Channel Islands, UK) is a program of public art projects, exploring and reflecting on agricultural and fishing practices in Jersey and the impact these have on people’s lives. At the centre of the program is an international artist residency, inviting artists from around the world to collaborate with local farmers, fishermen, politicians, chefs, retailers and consumers, to encourage public discourse on complex critical issues that are central to the island’s economy, social fabric and way of life. Projects aim to be catalysts for positive change and cultural shifts, promoting best practice and creating new infrastructures. They negotiate social, political and environmental challenges, to encourage a more responsible and sustainable way of living and consuming.

All aboard!

On a small compact island, in which the urban, suburban and rural, merge, overlap and rub together, the production processes behind our consumption (and comparative wealth) are strikingly evident and immediate. Within this revealing landscape, the local and global are entwined together, as local industries facilitate, influence and respond to international developments. Despite this microcosm, or perhaps because of it, there seems to be a lack of sustained public debate regarding the practices and accountability of island industries and a defensive attitude towards critical voices that interrogate the status quo. The local phrase, “if you don’t like it, there’s a boat in the morning,” encapsulates this attitude, a mindset that holds back progress and the ability to creatively reimagine the way we do things.
—Kaspar Wimberley


Image Credit: Performance A Play for the Parallels by Lina Lapelytė during 7th Inter-format Symposium at Nida Colony, 2017. Photo by Andrej Vasilenko

9.  Scottish Sculpture Workshop

Located in the foothills of the Grampian Mountains, in the rural village of Lumsden, Scottish Sculpture Workshop promotes a dialogue that considers the place of this rural locale within a globalized society. They are an active bunch, organizing residencies, Reading Groups, talks and lots of courses, including woodworking and ceramics. Make sure to check out their latest open call with DIY, an opportunity for artists working in Live Art to conceive and run unusual training and professional development projects for other artists.

Environment is deeply rooted across all our thinking, work and partnerships. We approach this not as a single issue but as part of the complex web of ecological, social, historical, economic, and political phenomena. Through networks such as Frontiers In Retreat we aim to be part of the global cultural shift that moves away from exploitative and extractive relationships with nature and instead work with artists to imagine, inspire and ignite new ways of being in the world.
—Sam Trotman

HeHe Fracking Futures

HeHe, Fracking Futures, 2013. Commissioned by Arts Catalyst and FACT.

10.  Arts Catalyst

Through its continuous work with artists, scientists, communities and interest groups, Arts Catalyst commissions and produces large-scale projects, artworks, and exhibitions that connect with other fields of knowledge, expanding artistic practice into domains commonly associated with science and specialist research. They also commission research and are great advocates for cross-disciplinary thinking and working. They have worked with some of the biggest names out there (think Tomas Saraceno or Jan Fabre) and their list of collaborators is as extensive as it is impressive.

Arts Catalyst promotes new artistic practices, ideas, and ways of inquiring into the world. We work with artists, scientists, and people from myriad backgrounds and perspectives to create imaginative, inspiring, engaging projects addressing important issues of our time, from extractive capitalism and climate change, to histories and representations of race and migration’.
—Nicola Triscott, CEO/Artistic Director

(Top image: Duke of York Column. Photo by Kristian Buus. The string of LED’s wrapped around London’s main columns marked a future in which sea level rise has changed the landscape beyond recognition. This project was part of the series of interventions coordinated by Artsadmin.)


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.


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

The Breathing Hole and Inuit Cultural Dramaturgy

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

In 2013, composer Aaron Gervais and I finished a full-length opera, Oksana G, about sex trafficking in Ukraine. The opera is sung in Ukrainian and Russian with some English and Italian, and had its world premiere this past May in Toronto, Canada.

The year we finished Oksana G, we began work on an opera about climate change called The Breathing Hole, about the life and death of a 500-year-old polar bear. It unfolds from 1534 to 2034 and is set by a breathing hole in Nunavut, a massive territory in Northern Canada that makes up most of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Nunavut is a territory governed and primarily populated by the Inuit people who live there.

All the characters in the first act of The Breathing Hole are Inuit. The second act involves characters from the Franklin Expedition and two Inuit hunters, while the third act is a mix of characters. The writing combines imagination, fact, and fiction.

When the outline was complete, I realized the cost of making it an opera was prohibitive, so I began to write it as a play. In the fall of 2014, Bob White, Director of New Plays at the Stratford Festival, commissioned a first draft to celebrate Canada150, the 150th anniversary of the British colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick being united into one Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. Canada150 is a political celebration, but many Indigenous colleagues have impressed on me that for their people it is not a celebration. The Canadian government made the past 150 years extraordinarily difficult for them. Refusal to honor treaties and the terrible legacy of children being taken from their families and abused in residential schools are just two of the indignities that have traumatized Indigenous people. Stories about the past, present, and future of Canada can no longer be told without contemplating the inclusion of Indigenous characters. They have been here for over 15,000 years and will be here for thousands more…if climate change does not kill us all first.

The Breathing Hole, Stratford Festival, August 2017. Photo by Itai Erdal.

In January 2016, I met Reneltta Arluk who was performing in my play Pig Girl in Montreal. Two months later I was thrilled to learn she was interested in directing The Breathing Hole. Reneltta is of Inuvialuit, Dene, and Cree descent—a fine actress and a woman who has been deeply involved in theatre about the north and about the environment. She was in the Underground Railway Theater production of Chantal Bilodeau’s award-winning play Sila. Once Stratford committed to producing the play, I began consulting with Reneltta on the script.

Bob also agreed to facilitate research consultations with Inuit artists, so in November 2016, Reneltta, Bob, and I flew up to Iqaluit to meet the people who would become our cultural consultants. Reneltta had reached out to Ellen Hamilton, the Executive Director of Qaggiavuut, a non-profit society dedicated to strengthening the Nunavut performing arts, with a focus on Inuit, to organize a reading of the play.

At the start of our first day the artists initiated an intense discussion about cultural authenticity—who can create drama from the Inuit perspective, and how they should do it. They tore into me at the top of Act I. The names I had chosen for my characters were not Netsilik names that originated from the area where the play is set. (Kevin Eelootook would eventually give the characters their new names.) I had made many mistakes in my draft, like having the characters eating raw polar bear meat, something that in reality would have killed everyone by the end of Scene One. It was a stupid mistake because instead of checking on that point I just assumed all meat was eaten raw. I also love writing overt conflict between characters, but in Inuit culture, conflict is not expressed overtly, so they helped me find a subtler way of expressing it.

The Inuit artists were upset that I had not come to them earlier in the writing process. I explained that my process is to first create the characters and the drama and then to research—either on paper or with people. Yes, I made many mistakes, but I also knew I would eventually be meeting with Inuit consultants. For months after our meeting in Iqaluit, I worked with them via email, asking questions to get the cultural behavior correct. The consultants shared their traditional knowledge and helped me gain an understanding of beliefs and taboos, but they also wanted me to be very clear in my discussions about this play that The Breathing Hole it is not an Inuit story, but rather a play by Colleen Murphy with Inuit characters.

During the process the consultants coined a new term: Inuit Cultural Dramaturgy. Together we agreed that their names and contributions would forever be acknowledged in house programs and in the published text of The Breathing Hole.

Consulting with Inuit artists from Qaggiavuut enriched the Inuit characters and in turn enriched The Breathing Hole. The only way I can truly thank these artists is by offering audiences an engaging story as well as an emotional experience whereby laughter leads to tears and tears lead to thinking about our future…together.

(Top image: The Breathing Hole, Stratford Festival, August 2017. Photo by Itai Erdal.)


Colleen Murphy won the 2016 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama and the 2014 Carol Bolt Award for her play Pig Girl. Her play The December Man (L’homme de décembre) won the 2007 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. Other plays include Bright Burning (I Hope My Heart Burns First)Armstrong’s WarThe Goodnight Bird, The Piper and Beating Heart Cadaver (nominated for a Governor General’s Award). Colleen has been Writer in Residence at the University of Regina, McMaster University, University of Guelph, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Alberta. 

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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Biennale Architettura 2018

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

For this month’s renewable energy series, I revisit one of my favorite subjects: the critical role of architects in the global fight against climate change, using the upcoming Venice Architecture Biennale 2018 as an entry point.


In 2018, I will attend my first Biennale di Venezia, the world’s oldest and most prestigious contemporary art exhibition, founded in 1895. Music, cinema and theatre festivals were added in the 1930s; architecture in 1980; dance in 1999. For the past two decades, the Venice biennale has alternated between art and architecture, respectively, during odd- and even-numbered years.

The Biennale Architettura 2018 will run for six months, from May 26 to November 25, 2018, and occupy the Giardini di Castello and Arsenale venues in the eastern part of Venice. Several concurrent cultural events and art/architecture exhibits will be organized in parallel with the official biennale, including the European Cultural Centre’s TIME-SPACE-EXISTENCE international architecture exhibit that will display six of my photos of wind turbines, considered a form of industrial architecture.

Venice, biennale, architecture, Venezia

Curators Shelley McNamara (left) and Yvonne Farrell (center), with Paolo Baratta (right), President of La Biennale di Venezia. Photo downloaded from

The 2018 biennale, formerly called the 16th International Architecture Exhibition, is curated by Irish architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara. They have chosen Freespace as the title and organizing theme. According to the curators, Freespace describes “a generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture’s agenda.”

Architects participating in the 2018 biennale are free to interpret the concept of “freespace” in any way they choose. The curators explain their choice of Freespace as follows:Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 9.45.15 PMAs a photographer focused on the energy transition, I would have liked to see here the inclusion of “nature’s free gifts of energy” – solar, wind, geothermal, water – as an essential element of Freespace. After all, architects and architectural firms around the globe are already rethinking how they use “nature’s free gifts” – both renewable and non-renewable.

A great example is Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s forthcoming skyscraper in Jakarta, Indonesia: the Pertamina Energy Tower is the world’s first supertall tower for which energy is the primary design driver. This 500-meter tower gently tapers towards a rounded open top, creating a wind funnel that sucks air inside the building to turn a series of vertical wind turbines; electricity produced from these turbines will help the skyscraper achieve net-zero energy status. Solar, passive solar and geothermal energy are also generated on-site. This is truly an inspiring design and a stunning achievement. Architecture for the Anthropocene. I can’t wait to visit when construction is completed in 2020.

Pertamina Energy Tower Fly-Through from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP on Vimeo.

I think the American Institute of Architects (AIA) says it best: “Designing and building resilient buildings is not a choice, it’s an imperative.”

Globally, buildings consume 35 percent of all energy and 60 percent of all generated electricity, much of which is, unfortunately, still produced by fossil fuels. According to the AIA, three-quarters of global carbon emissions come from just two percent of the Earth’s land surface – urban areas.

With two-thirds of global population expected to live in urban areas by 2050, the AIA nails it: “We believe that the climate change battle will be won or lost in cities.”

Lorenzo Quinn, sculptor, Venice, biennale, Support, hands

Lorenzo Quinn’s “Support,” installed at the 2017 Venice Biennale. Downloaded from

I am therefore optimistic that climate change and renewable energy will emerge as sub-themes at the 2018 biennale – with or without specific direction from Biennale di Venezia. This has already happened in previous biennales: 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014. For example, the most talked-about piece at the 2017 biennale was sculptor Lorenzo Quinn‘s “Support” (see photo above), a nine-meter tall installation that cleverly symbolizes humanity’s capacity to destroy the world and, simultaneously, to save it.

Perhaps this is the point of the biennale’s organizers: providing only a few broad thematic brushstrokes, effectively giving artists and architects free reign to express themselves. But this seems to me a lost opportunity, especially in the context of  climate change and urban sprawl.

Imagine the positive impact that large cultural events like the prestigious Biennale di Venezia could have if they encouraged all future pavilions and exhibits to address the critically important role that artists and architects, in collaboration with engineers, scientists and city planners, can and must play to reduce carbon emissions and increase resiliency of the built environment. The Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI), which organizes a biennial international competition for renewable energy art and architecture, has already been doing this for 10 years.

I will end here with a must-read quote by Ned Cramer, Associate AIA and editor-in-chief of ARCHITECT:

“Climate change is the fundamental design problem of our time. Not style, not fees, not education, not community, not health, not justice. All other concerns, many of them profoundly important, are nonetheless ancillary. The threat climate change poses is existential, and buildings are hugely complicit—even more so than that stock culprit, the automobile. As every architect should know, buildings consume some 40 percent of the energy in the U.S. annually, and they emit nearly half of the carbon dioxide (CO2), through greenfield development, cement production, and the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal. Because CO2 traps solar energy in the atmosphere, thereby heating the planet, it is the chief agent of climate change [PDF], making buildings—and by association, the architecture profession—profoundly responsible.”

After visiting the Biennale Architettura 2018, I will write a follow-up post here, which I hope is filled with bold examples of architectural insight and genius to address the most daunting problems facing humanity today. It is time for architects to take their rightful place at the center of global climate change movement.

addendum: Deadline for the LAGI 2018 Melbourne competition is 6th May 2018 at midnight GMT.

(Top image: A carved cast concrete block from the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale by Austrian firm Marte.Marte Architects. Photo: marte.marte.)


Joan Sullivan is a renewable energy photographer based in Québec, Canada. Since 2009, Joan has focused her cameras (and more recently her drones) exclusively on solutions to climate change. She is convinced that the inevitable transition to a 100% clean energy economy will happen faster – and within our lifetimes – by creating positive images and stories that help us visualize and embrace what a post-carbon future will look like.  Joan collaborates frequently with filmmakers on documentary films that explore the human side of the energy transition. She is currently working on a photo book about the energy transition. Her renewable energy photos have been exhibited in group shows in Canada and the UK. You can find Joan on Twitter and Instagram

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