Our world is becoming warmer and climate change poses great risk to natural and social systems. Both human and non-human species are vulnerable. Dealing with it as a technical problem that can be addressed through greater knowledge, know-how, innovation and expertise, has not led to the substantial changes needed to address this challenge.
Art and creative practices have the potential to challenge current thinking on climate change by presenting new ways of approaching complex problems. Artists are often at the forefront of innovation, addressing problems in novel ways free from disciplinary constraints. Art has the capacity to not only raise awareness but also use creativity in addressing complex issues, encouraging reflection and acting as a conduit for cultural renewal. Creative ways of integrating the practical, personal and political dimensions of climate change may contribute to more successful adaptation.
Transformations to sustainability involve changes in the practical, political and personal spheres. This means addressing climate change as an adaptive challenge that is also linked to beliefs, values, worldviews and paradigms. Art can contribute to alternative perspectives on adaptation by exploring values, beliefs and worldviews about climate change and challenging them. This can raise awareness and provoke community action.
Based on the recognition that fundamental social change is needed to address the climate challenge, how can art challenge the root causes of climate change, the shared beliefs and worldviews that keep the system in place? And how can art contribute to sustainable transformation triggering changes at the personal, cultural, institutional and systems levels?
Art for Change is a 30-day change experiment where participants receive information and insights, then reflect on and share their experiences. By approaching change as an experiment, we start to question our assumptions. What makes change easy or hard? What kinds of conversations does it generate? In exploring “what if?” and “why not?” we start to see things differently. We see new solutions and understand that we are in fact part of those solutions.
Between January 12 and February 10, 2018, twenty-six high school students from the António Arroio Art High School in Lisbon, Portugal committed to trying on one change that would address an aspect of sustainability, such as eating less meat/being vegetarian, using public transportation, avoiding plastic water bottles, buying only national products, etc. Over 30 days, they considered everything from logistics, habits, cultural norms, regulations, and social infrastructure to their own beliefs and assumptions about change, and reflected on their journey in regular posts. They engaged in group dialogues sharing difficulties, lessons learned, and their relationship with the many facets of change. They learned that their experiment was more than just about behavioral change, or making a small reduction in the global carbon budget. Instead it was about understanding how change happens, and recognizing why people are the most powerful solution to climate change.
Being art students, they developed artworks that reflected their personal and collective experience with change. Each student created a poster and a brochure that were combined in an exhibition shared with national and international audiences.
Art for Change culminated in an exhibition of the students’ artworks within the Festival Telheiras in Lisbon, May 9-19, 2018. The exhibition took place at a community building of the local administration and was open to the festival guests as well as the general public. It showed the outcome of a collective experiment conducted by the project Art For Adaptation (CE3C, Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon), the Antonio Arroio Art High School in Lisbon, and cChange (Norway). The goal of this collaboration was to visualize the connection between a global problem and our everyday behaviors. The experiential setup of the project aimed to facilitate a process of reflection on behavior change including its challenges, learnings and to inspire and empower others.
Real transformations happen when people experience that they are connected to others, and that their ideas and actions matter. Every action creates ripples, and ripples can turn into waves. History shows us that collective movements are always energized by people who pose questions, share stories, and inspire others. Artists have always used creativity and courage to challenge current thinking.
Thanks to a collaboration with the project ÁGORA, a book chapter was published about Art For Change in the beautiful e-book CRIAR CORPO CRIAR CIDADE. It discusses preliminary results of the collaboration project and shows some of the students’ artworks.
(Top image: Artwork by Xavier Lousada.)
Julia Bentz is a postdoc researcher and integrated member of the Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Modelling (CCIAM) research group at the Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon (FCUL). Her background in interdisciplinary social sciences (MPhil. Development Studies, PhD Economics) and personal interests have directed her research towards the interactions between social and ecological systems in a variety of research fields, including marine spatial planning, marine wildlife tourism, protected areas, sustainable mobility, climate change adaptation and transformation. Within her current project, Art for Adaptation, she aims to develop new understandings of how artistic and creative practices can contribute to successful climate change adaptation.