Reflection Creating climate democracy in Scotland 

At this Green Tease event, we explored the role of the arts and culture sector in helping to imagine and cultivate spaces for climate democracy in Scotland.

At the root of the climate emergency is a crisis of political imagination. Our current democratic structures are limited in who they represent and what they can achieve. We need radical, collective visions of alternative futures to drive transformative action.  

At this Green Tease event, we explored the role public participation can play in the climate and ecological emergency; and the importance of art and culture in envisioning and creating the radical climate futures we need. A just and equitable response requires creating and extending dynamic, participatory systems with new citizen engagement opportunities.  

To help understand those connections, we had three great speakers on creative democratic innovation followed by creative participation in practice in the form of a live version of The People’s Palace of Possibility, an interactive performance installation about utopias, rage, and how we create change.  

Recording of the speakers

Audio Player Here

Democratic myopia 

Our first speaker of the evening, Oliver Escobar, senior lecturer in Public Policy and academic lead of democratic innovation at Edinburgh Futures Institute, introduced the term ’democratic myopia’ – a concept of short-term thinking in institutions driven by electoral and market cycles that makes it difficult to act on the climate emergency. He argued that we, through public participation, can unlock this mechanism: 

“The climate crisis demands short-term action based on long-term thinking, and democratic innovations can do that. However, we cannot reach a desirable future if the means do not reflect the values we want for the future. That is where democracy and climate come together.”  

Imaginaction: A creative democratic life 

Art and culture are essential in opening up spaces for democratic participation by connecting to futures greater than the present: 

“It is important that we begin to think of power as creative: When you share power, you generate power because your creative capacity to act was not there before”, Oliver Escobar said. 

Democracy is more than elections, and we need art to reverse this narrow understanding and open up the public imagination that we can create new citizenship that goes beyond the established institutions. To capture this need, Oliver Escobar used the term imaginaction1: 

“Imagination and action go together. Action without imagination is an action that constrains the horizon of possibilities we are now endeavouring. We cannot act on the crisis we are facing unless we can imagine things that are truly different”.  

Unlocking our imagination was also crucial for the next speaker, Claire Dufour, Creative Climate Producer at Creative Dundee, who said:  

“We are in a crisis of imagination of what today and tomorrow could be. To me democracy is about action.”  

Communities as vital democratic spaces 

When people are given the right conditions, they can create change and build bridges between communities, movements and institutions. However, today only 35% of Scottish citizens feel part of how decisions affecting their community are made and 77 % would get more involved if it was easier to participate in decisions that affect it. By increasing opportunities for public participation, we can deepen the role of citizens in decisions around climate. 

An important feature of democratic innovations, such as Citizen Assemblies, is that members are selected in a way that is demographically representative of society. This means we avoid the self-selection bias that normally exists in public spaces. Creating in-build institutional spaces for citizens to be heard is also something that environmental movements such as Extinction Rebellion have long been advocating for. However, democratic innovations should also take place outside formal institutions and for this communities are vital.   

Democratic life should unfold in all social, cultural, and economic relations, something that was emphasised by Claire Dufour from Creative Dundee. Her presentation focussed on the regional programme CULTIVATE that demonstrates how art can cultivate democratic spaces in communities.  

CULTIVATE is a leadership programme for creative practitioners and local communities to collaboratively explore creativity as a root for climate action in the geographically, socially and economic diverse Tay region. CULTIVATE helps creative practitioners to engage local communities in sustainable practice, foster environmental leadership, and share learning.  

From left: Claire Dufour, Oliver Escobar and Malaika Cunningham

One of the artists in CULTIVATE is Nicky Bolland, who works to bring together communities in conversations across generations, creating spaces around painting and tea to have conversations. Another project is led by Jade Anderson called The Wee Wardrobe, making second hand clothing a first choice locally.  

“On a local level we are showing what can happen through collective action, collaboration and placemaking. Democracy needs to be people focussed, from the grassroots meeting people where they are and help people in communities with their visions and art and culture can really help with that,” Claire Dufour said.  

A culture of participation 

The third speaker of the evening, Malaika Cunningham from Artsadmin spoke about how we need a culture of political participation where we use multiple approaches to create deliberative and participatory spaces where citizens can imagine and express their views in different ways. Getting everyone into a space is not enough. We must make sure that everyone feels able to express themselves.  

This is the reason Malaika Cunningham developed the People’s Palace of Possibility, which everyone got to try in practice after the talks. a way to create conversation between strangers. She got inspiration from the idea of Real Utopias developed by Eric Olin Wright, based on the idea that utopias already exist out there and that the more we connect and celebrate them the more they can actually transform society. According to Malaika Cunningham, we need a culture of participation to make that happen.  

“We need a broader idea of ourselves as citizens more than just consumers. We need deliberative spaces all over society in which citizens are invited to be critical and imaginative, and listen to opposing views and to exchange ideas,” Malaika Cunningham said.  

One way of building a democratic culture is via artistic practice. According to Malaika Cunningham, a crucial part of creating a democratic culture is providing alternative forums for political exchange, not always depending on verbal political debate. Diversity within the room is not enough: To include as many people as possible, there must be various ways to communicate through alternative channels like sound, pictures, or text. 

The People’s Palace of Possibility 

After the three speakers, Malaika Cunningham presented a live version of The People’s Palace of Possibility an interactive performance installation about utopias, rage, and how we create change.  

The project started in 2019 as a part of the Bare Project and creates a space where citizens are invited to join a collective called palace citizens that dares to imagine a different future. First the participants were invited to become palace citizens and were sent out for an audio guided walk which invited people think about our connections with each other, place, our values. During the walk people were asked questions such as, ‘what do you think about when you think about the world?’ and ‘who or what gives you hope?’and were encouraged to take pictures related to those, which would be uploaded to a shared archive.  

When people returned from the walk, the event space had been split into four areas with the prompts from the walk together with pictures to continue the reflection. Participants were then invited to reflect and discuss ways that they could work with creating spaces for democratic participation with the climate emergency.   

4 people talking around a table

During the discussion, the participants touched upon the value of getting out and exploring the local area through a creative and participatory exercise: a practice some could see themselves using in teaching and community activities as a way of engaging people with their local environment. Several also expressed that today’s talks and exercises have revealed creativity is a powerful way of inviting a more diverse audience into a conversation about the climate emergency. 

Here is a sample of some of the other themes and thoughts.

Green background with notes

Over time, the hope with The People’s Palace of Possibility is that the archive can model a different democratic participation that is creative and playful: “I think it is important for democracy to be fun,” Malaika Cunningham said.  

The post Reflection Creating climate democracy in Scotland  appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.

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