I admire the work and commitment of Artists & Climate Change and have been waiting for the right content and moment to make a contribution.
I proposed recently that they republish my September 19, 2020, converted blog, which explores the idea of “preaching to the converted,” and includes reflections on deficit preaching and issues of impact. But I reconsidered and proposed instead that I write this critique, About converted, as my thinking evolves…
Let’s put paddle to water…
First, some background. I am a composer by training, a student of Zen, and I love the outdoors. On September 15, 2020, I retired from the Canada Council for the Arts, where I was a senior strategic advisor and contributor to corporate environmental policies and partnerships, such as the National Arts Centre’s English Theatre Climate Change Cycle. I’ve had privileged access to networks and knowledge and now am an independent cultural worker.
I launched the conscient: art & environment blog and podcast in January 2020 as a personal learning journey to explore “how the arts and culture contribute to environmental awareness and action.” You can read about my motivation in my first conscient blog, terrified.
My intention is to help inform the arts community, and the general public, about some of the outstanding work being done in the field of art and climate change by leading activists and cultural workers.
It’s been interesting but I recently came to the conclusion that my conscient work was a form of “deficit preaching,” which CBC Radio’s What On Earth: How the arts might help us grapple with climate change (do listen to this episode!) defines as “the idea that people will change their behavior related to a problem if only they had more information about it.”
This made me think about my audience for conscient: art & environment and question some of my assumptions and privileges.
In converted, I wrote that “most people, including most artists, do not respond to ‘wake up calls’ about climate change and other existential issues, no matter how passionate or compelling the arguments might be.”
I asked, “what then is an earnest art and environment podcast producer to do?”
I stood my ground and stated that “I think you have to follow your gut instinct and buckle down on where you think you can make a real difference and not look back.”
What choice do we have?
But the truth is that most of the time, I’m discouraged and deeply depressed about the state of the world. I’ve come to absorb some of the pain of the earth’s degradation in my body and carry this maelstrom within me, quite literally, in my gut.
At times, it feels utterly hopeless, doesn’t it?
In converted, I quote one of my favorite writers (and regular contributor to this forum), Joan Sullivan, from her brilliant Solastalgia essay about this sensation of despair: “a form of emotional, psychic, and/or existential distress caused by the lived experience of unwanted transformation or degradation of one’s home environment or territory.”
My questions, fellow art and climate change workers, include:
- How do you manage solastalgia: plunge forward or strategically retreat?
- What keeps you going?
- How do you recover from the stress and strain?
- How can we better support each other?
- On what issues and themes would you like to see more research?
Please let me and each other know.
Here is my plan.
First, I will undergo a reset before jumping back into the fray. I’m not sure, however, where I will focus my energies once I re-emerge: it might or might not be through blogs and podcasts.
Thankfully, I have a shelf full of articles and books by scholars and activists with compelling theories and strategies. I will read and reread these and consider next steps.
For example, one of my sources of inspiration is the Crisis: Principles for Just and Creative Responses document that I helped shape while at the Creative Climate Leadership USA course in Arizona, which took place from March 8-14, 2020. A cohort of artists, arts administrators, cultural workers, and scientists from across the U.S. and Canada gathered at Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona to explore creative methodologies and collaboration to address climate and environmental challenges. It was a very intense course that focused on developing creative responses for a new climate future, as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic escalated in the United States and around the world. See the conscient: art & environment podcasts 8 to 17 for a series of 10 interviews with Creative Climate Leadership USA participants and faculty.
Thankfully, I also have access to specialized blogs and podcasts for support, such as Jennifer Atkinson’s Facing It, a podcast about love, loss, and the natural world that suggests that we need to work our way through this pain and reconnect with hope, and Green Dreamer, a podcast and multimedia journal illuminating our paths to ecological regeneration, intersectional sustainability, and true abundance and wellness for all. Artists & Climate Change postings are also an anchor in a sea of turmoil.
I suspect that given the magnitude of the issues we collectively face, many of us reading this posting share, consciously or not, this dreary state of mind.
Part of me remains hopeful and thinks that it is not too late, while another part of me feels like it is impossible to save the world as we know it.
What then is the role of art?
How do we move forward?
I concluded converted with this quote from “What should we expect from art in the next few years/decades? And what is art, anyway?” a lucid piece of writing I recommend by curator Carmen Salas:
Imagine art which is capable of rekindling values of care, kindness, compassion, action-taking, social justice and cooperation. I’d like art to take a larger social dimension. Art isn’t about stagnation, conformism, fear. Art is about risk taking, resistance, empowerment and transformation. If we are going to have to re-engineer society after coronavirus, we need art that is less about individualism and the “artistic genius” and more about artists and institutions that focus on systematic solutions and collective/collaborative practices that foster community care and participation, collective consciousness and action-taking.
Art has the capacity to cut through clutter and help us feel, as opposed to only think, our way through emotions like eco-grief. It can also help us feel inspiration in strategies like regeneration and reconciliation.
I’ve had the privilege to see some of the artworks, meet with artists, and experience the immense and unlimited power of art.
What is tough is keeping our heads above water, especially when water levels are rising so quickly, and sometime invisibly.
I welcome your feedback or critique, such as this comment by independent artist, writer and cultural worker Richard Holden that I received about converted:
… It is far more effective to be satisfied planting seeds, if not of doubt, then at least curiosity. … Seed planting may take longer, but I’ve found that given patience, it can be far more effective.
(Top image: Scenery from a recent bike ride. Photo by Claude Schryer.)
Claude Schryer is a composer and arts administrator from Ottawa. During the 1990s, his work focused on acoustic ecology and soundscape composition. From 1999 through 2020, he held management positions at the Canada Council for the Arts, leading the Inter-Arts Office and serving as Senior Strategic Advisor in Arts Granting. From 2016 to 2019, he produced 175 three-minute audio and video episodes of simplesoundscapes, which explores mindful listening. In January 2020, he launched the conscient: art & environment blog and podcast, exploring how the arts contribute to environmental awareness and action. You can find Claude’s coordinates on the conscient website.