A big welcome to this first post for the RSA's Arts & Ecology project. It's a regular chance to talk about what's happening on the project, and on the broader issues that it is addressing. Far more importantly, as our team here has far more questions than answers, we hope to provoke your responses and ideas to inform this next more ambitious, more participatory stage of Arts & Ecology.
If you don’t know what has been achieved previously, there is information on the site. So this is essentially an introduction to ‘what next’ on the project.
The RSA has long been at the cutting edge of combating climate change, first offering a prize for reducing industrial smoke emissions in the year 1770. More recently a massive tree planting scheme. And now the Arts team sits next to another major project at the RSA, CarbonLimited, developing new ways to encourage individual citizens to play a role in reducing the carbon emissions which increase global warming. We want to match their practical and exploratory initiatives with completely different, complementary perspectives, those of artists and the cultural sector.
We started Arts & Ecology in partnership with Arts Council England in 2005. Two huge words coming together inevitably create potential for the largest ever Pandora’s Box and I frequently feel that the lid is perilously close to bursting open.
So we at once try the difficult art of focus, yet remain open and alert to the complexity, scope, inter-relatedness and the sheer enormity of the issues. What I have seen markedly change in these two years is the sheer amount of interest from both within and outside the sector in what artists and the cultural sector have to say and bring to the debate. We now have on average two thousand visits a month to the website, daily contacts – artists coming through London, non-arts organisations wanting to involve artists in their activities, people wanting to know how they can source more information and be engaged.
Well before us there were and always will be extraordinary arts projects addressing climate change. Of course artists raising questions, posing new ideas, exploring behaviours, commenting, revealing. And organisations,Cape Farewell, Platform, a number of academics and university courses, the website Yasmin to name but a few.
We have Peter Gingold’s Tipping Point and Al Tickell’s Julie’s Bicycle. All operating in different ways but all working for positive change. Further national and international examples are described in the book we published at the end of last year, Land, Art: A Cultural Ecology Handbook and even this is inevitably well short of comprehensive.
What we want to do at the RSA with ACE is to profile many of these activities and to extend the discourse. Building and adding to previous debate, Arts & Ecology Exchanges will provide a platform for artists alongside politicians and others who are influencing our future.
A new series – one event a month for five months beginning in the New Year – is currently being planned so let us know if you are interested but not already on the mailing list and we will be sure to send you information as soon as we have dates and speakers confirmed. The headings for this series are huge including conflict and migration; population increase, consumption and waste; diminishing biodiversity and the threats to the eco system.
A bigger project is the development which is currently taking place of the new Arts & Ecology Online. This blog is a precursor and we’d WELCOME your suggestions as to what you would like included on the site as we prepare the briefs and specifications.
What would you like to see and what services?
Anything from the briefest note would be incredibly helpful. Our vision for it is that it will profile interesting projects, of course; have plenty of means for conversations across the world between artists and between the cultural sector and people in other disciplines; have regular thinking pieces from a wide range of contributors; information on environmental issues and organisations. That it will be a hub, a place to make connections and add ideas.
The third related and new venture for us is Arts & Ecology International. Three artists are preparing to travel to Afghanistan and to India; a project is underway in Brazil and we will be developing new partnerships in China, India and the U.S. in 2008. Working internationally in another way, we are commissioning short animations which will be shown on Arts & Ecology Online and beyond – and a project in virtual space on Second Life.
But to end this first blog with art. On a recent Saturday morning I experienced one of the great rewards for working with artists. I got up before dawn to go to Gunpowder Park to see the latest work by Argentinian artist Tomas Saraceno. He talked at our No Way Back? Conference at the LSE last December, and then again at the symposium we ran as part of the 2007 Sharjah Biennial. This time time there was little talking.
Trained as an architect, Saraceno’s work poses the idea of floating cities. At the invitation of Arts Catalyst he brought a giant inflatable to the early morning autumn mists of Essex. It lay there, a huge circle of sheeting on the ground, held down by sandbags.
A small group of lucky, lucky people were there in the dew. Slowly we helped the giant fill with air and grow as the sun came up and saw it brought to life, the colours of the foil which forms part of the material spectacularly colourful as the sun reflected off it.
This is why I work with artists – this is a serious, magical, unique, positive experience. This is invigoration for the Green movement, for the Climate Change lobby, for the scientists pouring over statistics and charts. Thanks to Saraceno and to Arts Catalyst we who were there will remember this morning for the rest of our lives.