Creative force

G Magazine

Art has the potential of reaching out to people in a way that hard data doesn’t. So goes the theory on why unleashing creativity is a potent weapon in the fight against climate change.

350.org Earth Art

350.org ran their successful worldwide 350 Earth Art campaign last year, inviting participants to create a world first with a number of impressive artworks that can be seen from space.

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“Art is a way of mapping our landscape, story is a way of placing ourselves in the continuum of time, dance teaches us to be the animals and plants we live with. Art has a purpose that is beyond distracting you from your life. Art is about personal connections to the world around you...expressing what you have at stake. I am the river that is choking. We are the confusion of the unseasonal winds. We are the uncertainty of the future of our planet.” Wesley Enoch, Artistic Director of Queensland Theatre Company in Greening the Arts, October 2010.

Over dinner with friends recently, someone made a casual reference to “a few years ago, when everyone was worried about global warming.” I could see where this guy was coming from. In popular culture, all manner of crises – from celebrity scandals to natural disasters such as the Queensland floods – have a used-by date. For many Australians, climate change is mentally tagged as yesterday’s news.

But the reality is that, far from putting the threats posed by climate change behind us, we have barely begun to nibble away at its edges.

Natural laws are not going to budge, regardless of political hedging. The science has been staring us in the face for two decades, but the way it’s been communicated has failed to mobilise a response on the scale that is needed. How can a sense of urgency be reignited in a way that moves people to act, instead of paralysing them with fear and doubt? The potential answer according to many of late, is through the arts.

The heart of the matter

This is a problem that requires cooperation and transdisciplinary thinking on a global scale. It’s a mistake to think that any one sector of society or discipline is going to have the answer,” says Guy Abrahams, co-founder of Climarte, a recently established independent, not-for-profit organisation that seeks to draw the members of the arts communities together to grapple with climate change.

Whether it’s a short film, a play, a song, an audiovisual installation or a poem, the arts possess the power to “grab people in ways they perhaps didn’t expect to be grabbed,” he says. “The arts go to the heart, rather than the head.”

Bill McKibben, founder of international climate action network 350.org, has come to the conclusion that: “You don’t build movements with bar graphs…We need a big movement, and big movements come from beauty and meaning, not columns of statistics.” Leading by example, 350.org ran their successful worldwide 350 Earth Art campaign last year, inviting participants to create a world first with a number of impressive artworks that can be seen from space (see image gallery at the end of this article).

Creative campaigning

To beauty and meaning, you can also add playfulness, humour and a dash of anarchy. At least, that’s what Sydney three-piece band, The Lurkers (top right), believe. Their music is traditional folk and bluegrass, but their politics are proudly progressive, with tongue-in-cheek songs about “environmental evangelism, disobeying the law and DIY global suicide”. As guitarist Martin Cubby points out, referencing Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, folk music has historically been the music of protest.

When not roaming the country in their biodiesel-powered yellow van, or toiling away at their day jobs in the union movement, community sector and environmental education, you’ll find The Lurkers putting themselves on the line for climate change movement – literally.

At the 2010 Climate Action Camp in the Hunter Valley, NSW, The Lurker’s double bassist Nick Mueller was locked onto train tracks with six other activists in a non-violent protest to stop trains carrying coal.

“We had a huge amount of support and care from friends and activists who gave us sunscreen, water and food,” Mueller recalls. “We sat in the beating sun and heavy rain singing, dancing, telling stories and playing music for seven hours. There was even a radical marching band!”

A year earlier Mueller was part of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition’s delegation to the Copenhagen Climate Conference. The other band members joined him, and The Lurkers made their international debut, touring Denmark, Switzerland and Germany.

The medium is the message

The Lurkers were a natural choice for the 2010/11 Peats Ridge Sustainable Arts and Music Festival, held over the New Years period in the Glenworth Valley, an hour north of Sydney (see photos in the image gallery at the end of this article).

Since the inaugural festival was held in 2004, its organisers have focussed on creating an environment that’s not only entertaining, but also conducive to learning about sustainability. It’s a theme that permeates every aspect of the event, from the provision of recycling, compost and waste bins to environmental workshops and commissioned visual and performance art.

“The whole reasoning behind the festival has been to educate the organisers, the musicians, the artists and the attendees about environmental possibilities, concerns, initiatives and also to test those through practice – through the artworks, through the technology, to actually develop new programs and initiatives,” says festival co-founder and arts and culture program manager, Victoria Johnstone.

The sense of celebration, the beautiful natural surroundings and a good dose of humour and fun ensure there’s no danger of things becoming too earnest.

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