Planet One

Arts projects in the Transition Network

This post comes to you from Culture|Futures

transition-articles-headerThe Transition Network is a growing network of over a thousand communities around the world. The network “supports community-led responses to climate change and shrinking supplies of cheap energy, building resilience and happiness.” The summer issue of the magazine Transition Free Press, which was published on 1 May 2013, contains four articles about arts projects that relate to the topics of sustainability and ecology in various ways. In summary:

Art and Science meet at new Bee Festival

The Louth Festival of the Bees, organised by Transition Louth in the United Kingdom in May 2013, combines biological sciences with an art exhibition, exploring “the relationships between the aesthetic and the rational”.

“We may not, single-handed, be able to stop war, cure disease, end hunger, or save the planet, but we can, each of us, plant some flowers that give insects a better chance and make our world a little more beautiful,” writes Biff Vernon, a teacher who grows vegetables and flowers in Lincolnshire, and is, according to the magazine editor, “attempting to save the planet one Facebook post at a time.”

“If we are to make the transition to a truly sustainable post-industrial society, protection of biodiversity must be an urgent priority. The festival aims to raise awareness of biodiversity, focussing particularly on wildflowers and all their pollinators,” Biff Vernon writes.

Louth Festival of Bees includes a Family Fun Day, Conference Day and Art Exhibition with stalls, exhibitions, children’s activities, workshops, talks about wild bees, wild flowers, beekeeping and art.

Anne-Marie Culhane and the art of ‘Abundance’

Anne-Marie Culhane, a performer, activist and catalyser of projects who lives in Cornwall in the United Kingdom, tells about the projects ‘Abundance’ and ‘The Diary Keepers’, about the festival ‘Grow Sheffield’, and about exploring the dynamic relationship between the artist and the community:

When Anne-Marie Culhane talks about Art, it is not as it is commonly understood, a commodity to be bought and owned, but a narrative co-created by people seeking to bring the earth and belonging into an urbanised culture.

“I’ve always been uncomfortable with the perception of an artist as a solitary creator who’s outside society,” she tells Transition Free Press.

To be resilient in the face of ecological and economic challenges, communities need to be adaptive and collaborative. As climate scientists admit, “we’re not managing to communicate properly”. Because what inspires us to change are not dry facts, but celebration, creativity, and most of all, belonging:

“We can’t go into any meaningful thinking about the future unless we are examining how we live now, and the diversity of the way different people in the community live now: really looking, taking time, slowing down, observing our place within natural cycles, seeing what we share. So we can say: OK, this is where we’re at. From this point we can look forward.”

Anne-Marie Culhane developed a project, ‘Diary Keepers’, to engage people into thinking about these things by keeping a diary for a month, where they would be trying to answer questions about what it is like to live now.

For Anne-Marie Culhane everything began when she came across climate change as a student of geography: “I was overawed by what it meant,” she said. Characteristically her first piece of work did not appear in a gallery, but in a city park in Leeds – twelve installations, actions and performances during one year.

“I began to ask: How can I support people to grow their own food, to be more knowledgeable about what they’re eating, to start seed-saving and seed-sharing and using organic and permaculture methods which nourish the land and communities? This where the main energy for ‘Grow Sheffield’ came from.

The idea was to hold a big season of events around harvest, giving people from different backgrounds lots of points of access – some creative, some more practical. We had guerrilla gardening in the city centre, a film screening and open space session in a local cinema, poetry walks and Allotment Soup, a celebration of allotment culture, with artists taking up mini-residencies on different allotments.”

Her creative project ‘Abundance’ started from an idea about harvesting unwanted fruit from street trees, but it also quickly took foraging and growing stuff to another level and became about doing and being with people.

Firing up the imagination

Jeppe D. Graugaard writes about ‘The Telling’ which he describes as “a new kind of grassroots, power-down, artistic event which draws on various forms of storytelling, performance, music and craft to explore what living through a time of transition means.

“Born in the imagination of Warren Draper, The Telling is inspired by The Dark Mountain Project and created on a DIY ethos as a reaction against the debilitating effect of the entertainment industry on folk culture.

The enchanting performance of Mr. Fox is just one of many that evening set in the post-apocalyptic Church View courtyard, which is adorned by a large mural by street artist Phlegm, depicting an archer sitting in a giant horn shooting down human bones tied to floating balloons. And the evening programme is just the culmination of a series of events and workshops that ran throughout the day: a pop-up cinema, the Sheffield City Giants (15 ft large puppets), bread-making, make-do-and-mend, a singing workshop, a talk on peace, and my absolute favourite: making iron in a clay foundry.

This diverse mix of activities and performances makes The Telling a place to be inspired and to learn practical skills at the same time.”

More information, pictures and videos of The Telling can be seen online

Jeppe D. Graugaard is a writer and researcher at UEA, with an interest in grassroots movements and projects. More of his writing is available on

Arts book in the making: mapping arts and ecological living

Fifteen artists and writers gathered at a Writing Residency at Lumb Bank in Yorkshire to lay the first tracks down for a groundbreaking workbook – mapping ways in which the arts inspire a different way of living within the ecological limits of the planet, reported Lucy Neal.

“At Lumb Bank we glimpsed an everyday ‘art of living’ which now remains to build on and articulate over the next few months, as the book and the project come together.”

You can read these four articles in full here:

Transition Free Press – Issue 2, Summer 2013 – published on 1 May 2013:

More about the Transition Network

Transition and literature

“Stories shape the way that we act,” says Shaun Chamberlin, author of ‘The Transition Timeline’, in this interview which is an excerpt from the film â€˜In Transition 1.0: From oil dependence to to local resilience’ from March 2012.

A transition art piece

About the art piece Oil Memorial
Another excerpt from the same film, ‘In Transition 1.0’.

• Transition Towns channel on YouTube

• Documentary film from April 2012
The Transition Movement – An Introduction

• TEDx presentation about the Transition Towns and Transition Network
“My Town in Transition: Rob Hopkins at TEDxExeter” â€“ 1 May 2012

• The Transition Network’s home page:

Culture|Futures is an international collaboration of organizations and individuals who are concerned with shaping and delivering a proactive cultural agenda to support the necessary transition towards an Ecological Age by 2050.

The Cultural sector that we refer to is an interdisciplinary, inter-sectoral, inter-genre collaboration, which encompasses policy-making, intercultural dialogue/cultural relations, creative cities/cultural planning, creative industries and research and development. It is those decision-makers and practitioners who can reach people in a direct way, through diverse messages and mediums.

Affecting the thinking and behaviour of people and communities is about the dissemination of stories which will profoundly impact cultural values, beliefs and thereby actions. The stories can open people’s eyes to a way of thinking that has not been considered before, challenge a preconceived notion of the past, or a vision of the future that had not been envisioned as possible. As a sector which is viewed as imbued with creativity and cultural values, rather than purely financial motivations, the cultural sector’s stories maintain the trust of people and society.
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Encouragement of the Arts

I’m wildly excited about two books, one coming out this month the other next year – both are radical insights about what environmental change means for the human relationship to the planet. One is Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto and the other is Timothy Morton’s The Ecological Thought.

What I find so vital in their work is that they are strongly against the misanthropy that seems to underpin much of the dominant narrative around the environmental movement. To my mind, the idea that humans are stupid, indifferent and deliberately destructive is not only an inadequate account of human nature it is heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking because it is debilitating at every level. At a time when we most need compassion and creative thinking the very sentiments that block these – pervasive cynicism and conservatism – are prevalent. (I’ve used too many words beginning with ‘c’ in that sentence, I’ll move onto the letter ‘R’ for a while).

What roots the rigorous accounts given by ecological experts such as Brand and Morton is that people are hugely capable of complex thinking, adaptive living, resilience and resourcefulness. We have created this situation of environmental change so now we must rise to challenge of transforming how we think and behave in response to it. And when I read documents like Peter Head’s Entering an Ecological Age, and see speakers at the RSA like Graciela Chichilnisky, not only do these extraordinary changes feel crucial they appear do-able.

Drawing on Brand, Head and Morton, I have written a short essay for the Copenhagen exhibition RETHINK: Contemporary Art & Climate Change.
Here’s a bit of it:  Art and ideas are not timeless, they are historically specific. The uneasy realisation of our current situation is that we are part of an ecological system that we influence more than we previously thought was possible. We are not outside observers, we are participants; we engage and affect systems whether we intend to or not. … we are the co-creators of our environment. Yet we do not yet fully recognise ourselves as such. This is a revelation awaiting to be fully explored through the arts.

It is the beginning of some work I’m developing for the Arts and Ecology Centre on what the arts may contribute  in moving us towards an ecological age.  Some of the ideas are controversial. And as part of this, writer Josie Appleton has been commissioned to write an essay for this website, as her work sets out to explore fresh thinking about human capability.The Challenge of Climate Change: Towards a New Human Consciousness – is a ‘thought experiment’, as she says in her blog – so comments are welcome.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology