GALA Member Spotlight: Cape Farewell

22nd January 2015

GALA is a partnership between 19 cultural organisations that has enabled collaboration to investigate the role of environmental sustainability for the arts and design sectors. Who is involved with the Green Art Lab Alliance? Through our series of GALA member spotlights we will introduce you to the many valuable team members of this international and interdisciplinary project.

In March 2015, the Green Art Lab Alliance (GALA) will be meeting for its third and final meeting in Glasgow. One of the organisations involved in this project is Cape Farewell; based in London and Toronto, Cape Farewell brings together interdisciplinary  teams to generate ideas for a more sustainable future.

Creative Carbon Scotland recently spoke with Yasmine Ostendorf, Programme Director at Cape Farewell, about her thoughts on the Green Art Lab Alliance project to-date.

CCS: What organisation do you represent in GALA and how did you find yourself involved?

Yasmine Ostendorf  (YO): I currently represent Cape Farewell, associate partner in the GALA project. After receiving a grant from the Mondriaan Foundation in the Netherlands to work with Julie’s Bicycle in the UK, I found myself not only wanting to establish a collaboration between TransArtists (my then employer) and Julie’s Bicycle, but it came apparent that the amazing knowledge and resources Julie’s Bicycle holds should be shared on a European level. This was the incentive for the application for the European Commission that I then prepared. After the grant was awarded I moved on from working for TransArtists to Cape Farewell, who, in the framework of the GALA project organised the Sea Change Lab. Sea Change is originally a 4 year research programme which aims to encourage knowledge exchange, celebrating grassroots and national initiatives on the Scottish islands,  combining local knowledge and resources with advanced technologies and pioneering research into social and ecological resilience. These initiatives include community land ownership schemes, sustainability and heritage projects, and renewable energy, adaptation and coastal management programmes, some developed in partnership with island cultural organisations. The project also aims to extend the languages, metaphors and methodologies of participating artists, enabling them to find new and affective forms for the stories and experiences of island communities.

The GALA lab, as part of this 4 year research programme, was an expedition by sailing boat to Shetland. Swiss artist Ursula Biemann was selected to take part on this expedition for GALA.

CCS: What is the significance of GALA to you and how has the project contributed to your work?

YO: It has been valuable to learn about the international practice in sustainability and the arts, learning about what’s happening in the other countries in Europe and how we all have different ideas about what sustainability means in a cultural context, how important it is, and what the role of arts can be in working towards a more sustainable future. Next to that is has been really interesting working with different types of organisations- from the big government funded Swedish Exhibition Agency to the small artist-led residency GeoAir in Georgia, that kind of diversity has been inspiring. Furthermore it has been valuable on a practical level tapping into the networks of all those different local partners.

CCS: What is your favourite memory, moment, discussion or thought that you’ve taken from past GALA general meetings?

YO: During the second meeting in Sweden we had an open seminar attended by Swedish cultural organisations and artists. TransArtists director Maria Tuerlings spoke passionately about an artist from the Pacific whose whole village was washed away due to flooding caused by climate change. She (Maria) shed a tear and it made everyone realise how pressing and real the issue of a more sustainable future is. It made the room realise this is a global, human problem we are all part of, and we can only make progress if we collaborate across borders. For me that moment unified the group.

CCS: What role(s) do you think the arts/artists can play in building a more sustainable society?

YO: In order to build a more sustainable society we need a cultural shift. Our excessive consumption, obsession with growth, depletion of natural resources, unsustainable food system, usage of fossil fuels etc are -at least for a big part- a cultural problem. The arts offer a  space for dialogue, alternatives, a place to articulate complex ideas, and creativity and imagination is crucial in thinking about what a sustainable future society would look like.  The arts allow confusion and uncertainty and create a fertile playground to spark innovation and creative solutions.What does the alternative look like? How can we fix a broken system? It allows people to think and associate freely, there is no right or wrong, things are questioned or addressed. Arts and culture allow people to engage and respond to narratives and stories on an emotional level, creating deeper levels of engagement and therefore it is more likely to instigate long term, intrinsic change.

CCS: What are your hopes for the final GALA general meeting in Glasgow this coming March?

YO: Taking into account the urgency of the topic we need to be making further international links and think about building relationships, or ‘knowledge alliances’, with places like Asia and Latin America- influential, growing economies where sustainable practice could and should be central to further development. These are areas of crucial importance if we want to instigate change on a global level and areas from which we- Europe- can learn a lot from, for instance about our relationship with the natural world.

For GALA I think it would be great to keep on collecting and showcasing inspiring arts projects in the different countries of Europe. We need to keep on supporting and facilitating these projects. These best practice projects could lay a foundation for influencing policymaking as I think a next step should be to engage governments, the EU, policymakers and funding bodies. To make a strong point we need to collaborate as countries, as artists, as people.

Image: Away with the Birds / Air falbh leis na h-eòin by Hanna Tuulikki, part of the Sea Change programme by Cape Farewell. Photo: Alex Boyd.


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