“It’s not climate change, it’s everything change”, Margaret Atwood

Climate change is a result of culture in the widest sense, the way in which humans live on the planet – the arts and the practices of artists are an expression, a reflection and a shaper of this culture, currently a culture of unsustainability.

We see an opportunity for artists, designers and creative practitioners working across all disciplines (including performing arts, visual art, socially engaged and community practices, literature, film and screen, design and craft) to share their skills, knowledge and perspectives to not only address environmental sustainability, but also change the way we interact in society – thus re-imagining the culture and embedding sustainability within it.

culture/SHIFT areas of work

Adapting to and mitigating the impacts of the climate we have created requires collaborative, interdisciplinary thinking as well as creative solutions. Our culture/SHIFT programme supports cultural and sustainability practitioners to explore new ways of working together to address complex problems and bring about transformational change. It includes:

  1. Developing a community of practice to inspire and inform working at the intersection of culture and sustainability as supported through our Green Tease events programme and, back in 2015, Arts & Sustainability Residencies
  2. Encouraging climate change-related artistic work
  3. Creating opportunities for cultural practices to play an active role in sustainability-related work

Key activities

Since 2016 we’ve been working on a number of fronts, acting as a connection point between sectors and disciplines, instigating new partnerships and facilitating the exchange of ideas. Our work has included:

  • Researching examples of existing work in this area through our Library of Creative Sustainability
  • Building new partnerships, particularly with sustainability and climate change-focused organisations
  • Piloting different approaches to arts and sustainability collaborations, some examples of which are provided below
  • Developing resources, facilitating exchange and building capacity across cultural and sustainability sectors for working in this area

Guiding culture/SHIFT themes

Along the way we have developed some guiding themes to articulate the potential of cultural practices in this area and help steer the direction of new initiatives, made possible through artists’ training and experience:

  1. Artists are experienced in working with complexity and are equipped to address the multi-faceted nature of the challenges and opportunities posed by climate change
  2. Artists can help to make the invisible visible, revealing the hidden and underlying structures which impact upon the sustainability of current and future societies
  3. Artists are skilled at holding conflicting ideas in creative tension, exploring the contradictions, trade-offs and benefits associated with transitioning to a more sustainable society
  4. Artists work in interdisciplinary ways by bringing together diverse forms of knowledge and expression into new configurations which can help society to think differently

Flows to the Future Study Workshop

Flows to the Future Study Workshop, April 2017

Projects and partnerships

Since 2017 we’ve run a number of projects, testing out these themes and building new partnerships with a range of organisations. These included:

  • Levenmouth Adapts: an eight month project in Levenmouth, Fife to promote climate ready decision making in a way that incorporates community interests and champions the value of creative approaches to bring about change, run in partnership with Adaptation Scotland and Fife Resource Solutions.
  • Arts & Climate Adaptation: a pilot project exploring the potential of artistic practices to engage communities in climate change adaptation in Aberdeen, run in partnership with Sniffer/Adaptation Scotland, Aberdeen City Council and Robert Gordon University;
  • Flows to the Future study workshop: a two-day workshop of exchange between artistic and sustainability practitioners – building understandings of the social, environmental and economic value of Scotland’s flow country and the potential for artistic practices to contribute to its future sustainability, run in partnership with RSPB Scotland;
  • Blue Cow theatre performance: supporting the development of a new performance work Blue Cow by theatre-maker Alice Mary Cooper, based on communities’ experiences of living on contaminated land, and her interest in theatre as a force for making change;
  • The Embedded Artist Project: working with American civic artist Frances Whitehead and local partners, we are seeking to develop a series of projects across Scotland which embed artists within urban planning and development processes. So far we have run seminars in partnership with Frances and colleagues at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (DJCAD) in February 2017 and North Edinburgh Arts and the Edinburgh Art Festival in August 2017 with policymakers, sustainability and cultural practitioners.

Learning and exchange

We have also hosted a number of what we are calling ‘linking events’ to support the exchange and dissemination of learning between projects to enhance their potential more widely, including:

We are in the process of developing a second linking event in partnership with ClimateXChange and Sniffer/Adaptation Scotland.


Our work in this area isn’t unique, although the context of Scotland’s ambitious Climate Change commitments, as well as wider historical, social and cultural factors, have implications for what we do and how we do it. Here are some references to work, projects and writing which we find inspiring:

Get involved and be kept up to date

We are keen to continue building on the positive partnerships already instigated through culture/SHIFT, particularly with those working in the areas including urban planning, environmental management, sustainable development and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

To find out more about culture/SHIFT and related work please contact Creative Carbon Scotland Producer Gemma at

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About Creative Carbon Scotland

We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

Read more about CCS

0131 529 7909

Supported by

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A project initiated by Edinburgh’s Festivals with key partners the Federation of Scottish Theatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network

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