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Audio version of ‘excerpts from conscient podcast episodes 8-17 recorded at creative climate leadership usa’

Creative Climate Leadership USA  was developed by Julie’s Bicycle, an international  leader in arts, culture and climate change based in London (led by Alison Tickell) and brought together 25 arts and culture leaders from the US and Canada to Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona from March 8-14, 2020 thanks to a collaboration of EcoArts Connections, the University of Arizona and the Colorado European Union Center of Excellence  (CEUCE) based at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Note: below is transcription of an audio introduction for this series of episodes that I recorded on Saturday, March 14th, 2020.

I’m at the biosphere in Oracle, Arizona. 

I just ended my participation in the creative climate leadership course, and I recorded a number of episodes for the conscient podcast during this week. 

I decided to present them as a series because they are a set of conversations with participants and they all have interconnections in terms of discussions about leadership, climate change, cross sectoral collaboration between art and environment and other things: storytelling, circus arts, aesthetic, technical, methodological… 

There’s lots of very interesting content that I was able to capture here and so I present them as a set of podcast episodes that have connections between them and that I encourage listeners to explore, because they all, in one way or another, touch upon the theme of leadership in and around the climate crisis. 

What happened this week was also very troubling for all of us because the COVID-19 virus started hitting very strong this week and many governments around the world started imposing restrictions and self-imposed isolation, for people like me, for instance, coming back from the US to Ottawa. 

What was really interesting was how this group of leaders discussed and developed language about the role of the arts in times of crisis. (note: see Crisis: Principles for Just and Creative Responses)

I was part of that group and it was certainly a highlight for me, having had the privilege to be here and having spent time thinking through not only the role of art, in and around change, but specifically in situations of crisis, which, of course, the climate, is, in crisis. 

We had the opportunity to think as a group about what we want to move forward as a proposal in terms of the increased role of arts and culture in and around climate change. 

So I hope you enjoy the series and explore the work of these artists and cultural workers.

I thank them from the bottom of my heart for sharing the knowledge, their tools and resources so generously and I wish you the listener lots of good encounters about how the arts can better contribute to environmental awareness and action.

Note: below is a transcription of excerpts of interviews recorded the week of March 8-14, 2020 at the Creative Climate Leadership Arizona course. See https://www.conscient.ca/series/conscient-english/ to hear the individual podcast episodes (e08 to e17)

e08 Creative strategist, coach and facilitator Sholeh Johnston

  • I think the arts and culture more widely has a huge role to play in shaping our belief systems and values that determine the way that we relate to the environment.
  • The leadership challenges is one both of being conscious that how we make and what we make in the cultural sector influences the consciousness of our society and therefore the cultural paradigm that people are living in and living out their lives through, so that means that the concepts that we present and work with, but also the ways that we behave, the ways that we make work with what materials, in what spaces, really tells the story of who we are. I really think cultural leadership connects in the climate crisis, connects everything from greening, the spaces that we work in, to become beacons of what’s possible, the possible and emerging future and also using the creative skills that we have to really facilitate, empowerment and change.

e09 Artist and Professor in the School of Art and Associate Dean for Research in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Arizona in Tucson Ellen McMahon

  • In the broadest sense, it’s like this critter, this virus, this nature, has moved in to this realm of culture and we’re watching things drop away that we created : music events, art, everything… school, all the things that basically we use to define ourselves to ourselves as human, versus animal, this little virus is just going Bing, Bing, Bing, Bing being these aren’t real.

e10 Theatre and performance artist, consultant, and cultural organizer Rebecca Mwase

  • Art is a practice (or it can be, I should say: I don’t think it always is) a practice of expanding consciousness. So much of what we do as artists is find relationality and connection points, and then explore the possibility of a present or a future that we haven’t quite attained yet and so thinking about that in the age of the climate crisis, I think gives us a tremendous opportunity to explore and to embody possibility for engaging with the earth as it continues to change, for engaging with each other and for doing so in ways that are more, symbiotic and hopefully interdependent than we currently are. I think the way that we interpret and tell the story of ourselves – arts in a way to reflect back to ourselves who we are and how we came into being that – that then also offers the opportunity to shift a narrative, to become more in alignment with who we want to be and how we want to operate, as opposed to what is.

e11 Multidisciplinary and circus artist Eliana Dunlap

  • I would say ask yourself a lot of questions. Ask yourself, what are you, what do you, as an artist, want to perpetuate in the world and, and ask whether what you’re doing is perpetuating that. I often I talked to a lot to other circus artists and something I’ve noticed is there’s a lot of people that end up performing things that they don’t actually feel that great performing, because it sort of puts forward or perpetuates some sort of cultural narrative that they don’t agree with and they feel uncomfortable about that. I’ve been in that position before where I’ve been told, okay, this is what you’re performing. This is how you’re doing it and I felt very uncomfortable on stage and I realized that you don’t always have to, as an artist, sometimes, as a circus performer, your role is to interpret someone else’s vision. So you don’t always have that control, but I would just encourage people that when they do have that control or when, whenever there is a dialogue between the performer and the director to kind of bring up those ideas of what are we trying to perpetuate in the world and is what we’re doing now doing that. Is it perpetuating the values and the culture that we want to see? I think starting from that fundamental place there are a lot of different avenues you can take in that exploration, but I think you kind of need to start from that foundation.

e12 Climate scientist and Regents Professor and Director of the School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona Diana Liverman

  • One of the things I look for is for artists and the cultural sector to help us envisage a future that’s positive. I’m not really looking for more, the vision of the apocalypse that science is presenting is hard enough, I’m not sure whether we need to elaborate on what we’re saying, but what we’re looking for as scientists is ways to have human behavior change. So that emissions come down and we’re helping the disadvantaged to adapt to climate change and to the extent the cultural sector can help us imagine those positive futures. That’s one of the gaps. I think we’ve tended to spend our whole time talking to each other about how bad it is and I’m always looking for some hope. And I think maybe the partnership for hope would be a good place to look.

e13 Artist, filmmaker and educator Andrew Freiband

  • Our outcomes, the products of our work, are the very tiniest part of our existence as artists. Our processes are really fast: thinking and reflection, engagement with others, participation in our surroundings and our environment and our community, our relationships. I talk about this sometimes in terms of three texts. I’m using texts here in a kind of loose form: a film as a text or a picture as a text. So, the kind of artists texts, the final text is the artwork itself, the painting let’s say. Then there’s an audience text or a set of audience texts: audience texts are responses to that painting for people’s feelings, emotions, questionnaires, like whatever it might be reviews. It’s basically the people experiencing the artwork itself. And then the biggest thing of all is what we call the producer texts. Producer texts are all of our sketchbooks, our memos, our notes and in that body of text there’s a huge amount of knowledge that is really valuable, because that’s actually how we spend most of our time as artists, producing producers texts. The stuff that no one ever sees, the stuff that never finds a home on a gallery wall or in a theatre but it’s really, really valuable. That’s where we do all our learning.
  • There’s another metaphor, there’s like a textile metaphor, of culture where our actions just weave into the weft that’s already there and change the pattern and shift things, alter things, but not in a profoundly impact way. So we need activism because we do have things like elections and we do have structures that respond to that, but we also live in a super divisive society that’s being divided algorithmically right now. I often fear that activism feeds into that and the art that I’m excited about really actually brings people together in a way that doesn’t satisfy this kind of righteous spirit. A lot of people feel in an activist moment, like, no, we’re right and they’re wrong. We have to beat them, you know. But that’s gonna get us, that’s gonna ruin us all. And, not to be like too pious about it, but art is something we should all be able to respond to and allow us to all like recognize our flaws and our faults and then grow through them and get better. I think the art that I’m excited about has unifying potential but is kind of slow acting as opposed to activism.

e14 Ecoarts activist, art-science connector and founding director of EcoArts Connections (EAC), Marda Kirn

  • I realized that it’s one thing to have the scientists and the artists coming together and a very important thing, but to go beyond awareness and into action, you really have to have the sustainablists involved. And I sort of came up with this equation: the scientists can tell us the, what the observable evidence of what’s happening or what’s what they believe to be coming. The artists can provide the, so what, why is it important? What does it mean? Why should we care? The sustainablists can provide the now what, what do we do and how do we move forward?
  • A quote that I love so much from the native American activist, Wynonna LaDuc. And she said, one time it’s as if we’re on a raft and we all know we’re drowning. She said, but if we could, and we don’t know how to swim, she said, but if we could see another raft up ahead, even those of us who can’t swim would dive into that water and make our way to that raft. Help me build that raft. I feel like that’s one of the things that artists can be so incredibly involved and helpful at this moment, along with scientists and sustainablists and all kinds of people to really come and say, we have to shift, it could be really hard. It could be really fun. We just have to try and go for it.

e15 Municipal arts funder and museums educator Matthew Chasansky

  • The way to think about this is that the way to make artists and arts organizations thrive is to make sure that climate change is a part of their thoughts, their business plan and their strategic plans. Now that we know that the timeline is short and severe climate change effects are within a time horizon that is within a strategic planning time horizon. So if we hope for them to thrive, we need to help them move that forward. And so hopefully through our grants and policies, that’s going to happen.
  • We need to ensure that current artists, but also two and three generations down, are building on what they’re doing to make sure that by the time we are dealing with the most difficult part of climate change, which is certainly coming, that we have the right sort of mental, psychological tools to protect and go on and, and be successful.

e16 Writer, artist, and climate resilience planner Lauren de la Parra 

  • I think you kind of got at it in the way that you framed the question, you know, it’s, it’s about asking where do I start? And maybe you don’t know exactly where, where you want to end up yet, but if you start somewhere and you do that in a way that is curious and you try things and you get feedback and you keep iterating and keep trying things, I think ultimately meaningful things will emerge, if not at the outset, then over time, because we’re all in this constant learning process.

e17 Change agent, disruptor, artist, counselor, sparkplug and community architect Em Piro 

  • For me, some of the things is I was kind of working through this question of like, what does it mean to be essentially creative facilitators in the age of climate change in the midst of a disaster? Some of the things that were really resonant for me were the idea that self-care is community care. That solution scale up more effectively than they trickled down and something I’ve been paying a lot of attention to is the real position prime position that we’re in to work, especially with Asian Pacific Islander producers, and practitioners and neighbors who, who I think have been disproportionately targeted in this time and I think we’ve created these really mechanisms of mutual support that can also be really targeted and engage a broader community, kind of through addressing the people who are being the most unfairly kind of attacked in this moment.

Published by Claude Schryer

Franco Ontarian sound and media artist, arts administrator, cultural worker, zen practionner, former manager and senior strategic advisor at Canada Council for the Arts (1999-2020)