It takes ability and agency to unite, act and deliver

It takes ability and agency to unite, act and deliver

It takes ability and agency to unite, act and deliver
Hana Minowa, 2021 BA Fashion, Central Saint Martins, UAL | Photograph: Hana Minowa

There are three short words that circle the ceiling at COP 28: Unite, Act and Deliver. The first of these words appears to be the most difficult for humans to achieve. The convening role is critical in our ability to unite and within it, to create agency and empathy for all involved. The ability to participate is implicit in the act of uniting and this requires social, cultural and political plurality in worldviews, priorities and values. This plurality must be brought to the table at COP and elsewhere to be reflected in decision-making that enables climate, environmental and social justice to be delivered.

Claudia Lehmann, 2021 BA Fine Art, Camberwell College of Arts, UAL

As we know through our work, the arts have an incredible role in convening – creating conditions for participation and manifesting plurality using a range of methods and mediums that are, by turn, arresting, joy inducing, knowledge expanding, reflexive and action encouraging. Over the past few months, commissioned by British Council, a small team of us have been engaged in a study of mapping and analysing Climate Action and Sustainability in the Arts in the UK. The results are being published as part of British Council’s presentation at COP 28, in the form of a report and a short film. The project is part of University of the Arts (UAL) Climate Action Plan, the annual update of the plan is also being published to coincide with COP 28. Follow CSF and UAL socials for more details. 

Work by Manifest Data Lab at Planetary Assemblages exhibition, Lethaby Gallery, Central Saint Martins 2022 | Photograph: Eilwen Jones

As researchers, designers and creative practitioners at UAL, we see the arts bringing people together in relationships and actions towards unity, not only through consensus making, but also as a place for respectful dissensus on how we can be united in action and delivery of net zero and other ambitions. This commissioned research is, however, the first time that we have been able to map, analyse and draw out thematic routes that evidence the contribution of the arts to climate action in the UK. By presenting the finding of this study at COP 28, we seek (amongst others) to demonstrate the importance of COP recognising and looking to the arts and creative industries as levers for climate action. Our work aligns with calls to enable culture to contribute fully to restorative climate actions. 

Earth Quest takeover of Barbican Centre by UAL Climate Emergency Network, 2022 | Photograph: Hydar Dewachi

The arts involve relational and material dimensions that shape and are shaped by life and lives, yet the activities and impacts of the arts are not fully seen or integrated into climate policy and planning. Ours is a small study, but a clear one as far as the UK is concerned. I hope that this work can contribute to the recognition of the value of the arts in climate action in the UK. I hope that work taking place across the world will also be recognised and its potential amplified. 

Nexus Architecture by Lucy Orta at Parade for Climate Justice, Carnival of Crisis 2021 | Photograph: Lori Demata

“The arts can significantly change how we perceive ourselves, each other and how we cherish resources, reduce consumption and cultivate cultures of climate care.”

The arts involve everyone, it is personal, cultural, economic and social practice. It takes place within an ecological context. In the words of King Charles, in his address at the opening of COP, ‘the earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth’. The study outlines eight ways in which the arts contribute to a recognition of our mutuality in nature and our ability to live well together.  

Angela Mathis, 2017 MA Material Futures, Central Saint Martins, UAL | Photograph: John Sturrock

The report’s research team are members of University of the Arts London (UAL). I am delighted to say that I have had the benefit of working alongside Dr Mila Burcikova and Niamh Tuft, two highly knowledgeable, consummate collaborators. Through the research, we have had an incredible opportunity to speak with a plethora of artists and designers, campaigners and leaders from across the UK, including across UAL itself. The research enabled us to create a mapping of organisations, initiatives, networks, cultural festivals and events across UK arts and culture, identifying key actors and organisations. It enabled us to evidence collaborations across the arts and other sectors at UK and international scales. Through analysis of the data, we were able to identify emerging themes and innovative work in relation to climate action. In undertaking this work, we recognise the challenges of complexity, inclusion, agency and power in climate action. Through highlighting examples in the report, as well as case studies, we evidence ways in which the arts carefully and distinctively navigates the multiple dimensions of climate and social justice.  

Green Roof Society at Central Saint Martins, UAL

I would like to extend a huge thank you to British Council and all participants for your generosity in time and support for this study. I would also like to thank the audiences at COP, for your time in considering and acting on this report to deliver on ambitions and commitments at COP 28. And I would like to thank my colleagues Mila and Niamh for your generosity of spirit and for your fierce intelligence in all that we do together.  

Please share the report and film, both available on British Council website once aired at COP on 5 December, and amplify the recognition of the contribution of the arts to climate action through unity, action and co-delivery. 

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