Case Study: Fife Contemporary’s ‘Climate Emergency in Practice’ Day
Image or participants at the Climate Emergency in Practice Day
In this case study Fife Contemporary discuss an event they held for artists to discuss how to respond to Climate Emergency, a good example of the role that arts and culture organisations can have in disseminating knowledge and understanding as well as bringing together people to enable necessary discussions to take place.
Fife Contemporary is a St Andrews-based contemporary visual art and craft organisation. Formerly the Crawford Arts Centre, we now work from an office rather than a venue with a remit extending across Fife and beyond. Most of our exhibitions and projects are undertaken with partners.
In October 2019 we hosted an event for artists in the Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy, looking at ways that artists could become practically involved in addressing the climate emergency.
A major part of our work is supporting artists, and to this end, we have regularly run Continuing Professional Development events on a variety of topics. Initially these were aimed at Fife-based artists, but very quickly we opened them up to anyone who wanted to attend. Our ‘Climate Emergency in Practice’ Day was such an event, attracting attendees from Fife, Tayside, Edinburgh, and Glasgow.
From feedback at earlier events, we felt it was important that in addition to speakers, there would also be plenty of time for audience discussion, sharing of views, and just general networking and meeting of likeminded folk. We had a straightforward format –just an introduction to climate emergency from an artist-host (Jonathan Baxter, who we had worked with previously), and three short talks interspersed by group discussions.
Why a Climate Emergency Day
We have been part of the Green Arts Initiative for some years and last autumn declared Climate Emergency, recognising that time was fast running out for finding solutions to save our planet, its wildlife and biodiversity. We know that many artists try to incorporate an environmental approach into making work, and felt it was highly appropriate to offer a day for discussion.
We put together a to ask if this was something that would be helpful for artists to consider when planning work. One aim of the day was to find out if there was a need to take its development further.
Elizabeth Ogilvie leads a group discussion
Content for the event
Our small staff team spent several hours considering what we felt to be most important as themes for the day, and honed our options down to:
- Circular Economy, led on the day by Mary Michel, one of two founders of Ostrero, an organisation which aims to spread the word about using and living within a Circular Economy;
- Socially engaged practice and the environment, led by Jonathan Baxter, artist, curator and peer-educator, committed to creating work that addresses the Climate Emergency;
- Environmentally themed work, led by Elizabeth Ogilvie, Fife-based visual artist who has investigated our relationship with water and the oceans for 30 years.
In the afternoon we were joined by Catriona Patterson from Creative Carbon Scotland to give a short presentation about the organisation. Finally, we asked artist and climate activist Jonathan Baxter to start the day with a broad introduction to what Climate Emergency meant. He also drew the day to a close with a succinct summing up.
Big Climate Conversation
We also felt it was important that artists’ voices and viewpoints were heard at a political level and therefore signed up to make this event part of the Scottish Government’s Big Climate Conversation. Feedback from those attending was forwarded to the Scottish Government after the event.
Participants in a group discussion
What was discussed
- Nobody denied the existence of a Climate Emergency.
- In fact, some went beyond that and called it a ‘crisis’.
- One or two saw the situation as almost doomed, beyond help no matter what was done now; too little, too late.
- The majority were more in the middle, still having hope that with better societal awareness and change, environmental and ecological improvements could be made.
- There was a general belief that while schoolchildren understood immediately the negative impact humans have on the planet, many adults (e.g. at council level, teachers, leaders of industry and government) did not, or did not agree it was so significant and disastrous. Education was key.
- Everyone understood the huge impact of flying.
- They also understood that we all have a carbon footprint but agreed that it could be difficult to accurately gauge what exactly it was and how to measure it in a way that enabled effective changes to be made.
- In terms of the Scottish Government’s aim for the country to be carbon-neutral by 2045, many felt this was not soon enough, but were dubious that there would be sufficient support at corporate or government level for it to happen sooner.
Actions already being taken by artists included:
- Looking for suppliers, retailers and service providers with morals and ethics that align with theirs;
- Understanding they have a vote with their money: where they spend it and who with;
- Paying to have electronics (with built-in obsolescence) repaired, rather than going with the ‘system’ and just replacing; this could be further supported by empowering people with (hand) skills so that they could fix things;
- Sharing and hiring items (e.g. cars and tools);
- Working with children to understand the climate, circular economy etc.;
- Making artwork about the environment to help raise public awareness and engagement;
- Being aware of the financial, ethical, creative and environmental drivers for their arts practices.
How could more people be engaged?
- Climate change should be accepted as a fact, as the ‘norm’; too many aren’t interested in it and don’t see it as a priority in their lives or as for ‘other’ people.
- More support for hiring, sharing, renting and leasing things; offering some kind of incentive.
- Colleges as well as schools need to take up the challenge. Jewellery and metalworking courses in Scottish art schools already benefit from training by the Incorporation of Goldsmiths (Edinburgh) into using environmentally-safe practices, recycled precious metals, and ethically sourced stones, but this is just one small area of education.
- We need to rethink how society works and how jobs can be created and kept.
- Align knowledge of climate issues with mental health developments on the beneficial effect of being in nature.
- Many felt that the Scottish Government was in a better place than others. When they realised that the event was also part of the Big Climate Conversation they felt heartened that something was being done.
- Many also felt that the way that schoolchildren had accepted climate change was a reason for optimism; now the message had to be got across to the unbelievers in the adult population!
- Many felt that change was hard to embed – we are up against corporate barriers where money-making is king and where this crisis isn’t taken so seriously.
- One comment was that this issue was fundamentally about culture and culture was very hard to change. Most of us are distanced from power and the ability to really make a huge difference with climate change can feel out of our hands.
- One of our speakers used Voltaire’s quote from the 18th century – ‘Men argue. Nature acts’.
- The overwhelming feeling at this event was that it was time to stop arguing and start acting before it’s all too.
Inge Panneels speaking with participants
Overall, the day was a great success with 26 attending, but it was also a serious day with little levity. An interesting outcome for us was that it put us in touch with research being undertaken by artist Inge Panneels at Napier University concerning the creation of a to gauge artists’ carbon footprint when producing work. Inge was able to describe briefly what her research was about and there has since been a further meeting in Edinburgh. We hope to be involved in how this develops in future.
Having declared Climate Emergency last year, we now actively consider how different aspects of our work as an organisation may add to our carbon footprint and amend plans if necessary. We are also shortly to add a section to our website about Climate Emergency and hope it will become a useful resource for artists.
Images: Fife Contemporary
Fife Contemporary are a member of our Green Arts Initiative: a networked community of practice for Scottish cultural organisations committed to reducing their environmental impact. It is free to become part of the community, and there are lots of resources and case studies (like this one!) to support #GreenArts organisations. Take a look at our Green Arts Initiative page for more information.