How can arts and culture work on climate justice?
This post shares finding from Creative Carbon Scotland's work on arts and culture and climate justice, looking at what roles arts and culture can have for work on achieving climate justice, and what questions to bear in mind when working in this area.
For the past few months, we at Creative Carbon Scotland have been undertaking a research project looking at what climate justice means for the arts and culture sector, as part of the Local Journeys for Change programme. In our previous blog post, we looked at why arts and culture should engage with climate justice. In this post, we’ll share some of our findings looking at what arts and culture can do and how we can do it. This research is based on the Scottish context but should also be relevant across Europe. You can find out more about this work by visiting the this web page
What can arts and culture do?
As discussed in our previous blog post, Climate Justice offers a stronger role for arts and culture because it frames climate change as a social, ethical, and cultural issue as well as a scientific and technical one. It also points to how we need to be careful to show how climate change is related to other inequalities and injustices rather than separate from them. This may also involve confronting issues within the arts and culture sector. We identified five key areas where arts and culture has a lot to offer for work on climate justice.
Demonstrate links: The ways that climate change results from, links to and exacerbates other issues can be difficult to grasp or may not be immediately obvious. Artistic methods can be an effective way of engaging with more nuanced and diverse ways of understanding climate change. The arts can also encompass ambiguity and unresolved questions that do not have easy answers.
Empower communities: The arts can provide a way to increase capabilities, confidence and social capital, which is needed to allow underprivileged communities to participate in work on climate change. Underprivileged groups in society have relevant knowledge and lived experiences but may lack, or feel they lack, the skills or social capital to use these to participate in climate policymaking or advocate for change. Creative projects run by museums or others can provide a way to help build these.
New audiences: Everyone in Scotland should have the chance to influence work on climate change, but we know that certain demographics are much more involved than others. The arts can provide ways into new communities, drawing on the understanding of local artistic practitioners about the best ways of framing issues and designing artistic methods of drawing people into conversation. Cultural organisations like libraries act as important community hubs that can provide ways to develop networks and trusting relationships that are essential for engaging audiences meaningfully.
Platform voices: Climate change is still regarded by many as a middle-class, white, ‘western’, issue. The arts can offer a platform for a wider range of voices and highlight stories of the many climate activists who do not fulfil this stereotype. This can be at its most effective when artists and climate activists work in direct collaboration. The arts can also provide a way to platform environmental activists and artists from beyond Scotland, especially those based in areas that are facing the worst effects of climate change, often known as ‘front-line voices’.
Procedural justice: This term describes how work on climate change should have fair procedures as well as fair results. So, to make climate policy is fair and effective, it needs to be designed with a wide range of stakeholders that include those worst affected by climate change. Traditional methods like consultations often struggle to get responses, especially from more disadvantaged groups. Artists and artistic practices can play a role in engaging meaningfully with communities to understand their perspectives and provide routes for these to influence policy.
How should I approach an arts-led project that engages with climate justice
There is not one correct way to go about this. You may be thinking about creating artistic work, running public engagement activities, embedding artists within climate change organisations, or finding creative ways to advocate for better policies on climate change. You may be explicitly focusing on climate justice or just touching on it. The steps below are designed to help you think about what approach works best for you, consider the decisions involved, and avoid common pitfalls.
What are you best placed to work on?
- What issues feel most pertinent in the area you are based or tour to? Who are your existing audiences? Think about how you can engage with climate justice issues in ways that are especially relevant. This might mean thinking about a just transition for Aberdeen’s oil workers, engaging with land rights in the Highlands or considering Glasgow’s colonial-industrial history for example. Climate justice relates to a wide range of issues, so don’t try to cover everything. Pick something specific to engage with closely.
- What expertise and experience do you have? Think about the skills that you or your team have and where these can best be applied. For example, you might have experience on working with poorer communities or on showcasing artists of colour. It is also worth thinking about what areas you do not have experience of. If you do not have any lived experience of the issues you want to engage with, you might want to focus elsewhere or find collaborators who do.
What do you want to achieve?
- What outcomes are you looking for? Do you want to develop understanding of lesser-known climate justice issues or connect local social issues to climate change? Do you want to provide a route for underrepresented voices to be heard? Do you want to empower your audiences to act locally or provide routes for them to meaningfully influence change? All these questions will influence what kind of work you want to create.
Who do you need to work with?
- Who are your key collaborators? It is important to have the right expertise to properly address the issues that you are focusing on. This might mean finding artists with an interest, lived experience and/or strong local connections. It might mean finding researchers with an understanding of the issues and how to communicate them. It might mean local community groups or campaigners working in the area.
- How are you working with your audiences? Will you be working actively with participants to get their input and perspectives, either while in the planning stages or as part of the artistic work itself? The nature of your audiences also affects what you might focus on. For the wealthy, it makes sense to emphasise reducing their own carbon emissions. For others we should be empowering them to influence action on climate change.
How can you improve equality, diversity and inclusion?
- How can you remove barriers to participation? When creating work that engages with issues of justice, it is important to think about how this also applies to the process as well as the message. This means taking steps to remove barriers to participation for audiences. These could be physical, financial, social, or psychological. See this guide for more advice.
- Who are you platforming? The same principle also applies to those who are platformed through any artistic work produced, whether it be actors who are put on stage, local activists showcased through a film, or artists whose work is featured in an exhibition. Take steps to showcase people who are representative of the full diversity of Scottish demography and those who have lived experience of the issues being presented. This takes more time but has long term benefits for the quality and effectiveness of what you do as well as embodying principles of justice.
How are you engaging with the issues?
- What kind of language are you using? Engaging with climate justice does not require complex terminology (although this is useful in the right context). It does not even require using the term ‘climate justice’. Think about how to frame the issues in ways that most people understand. For example, a survey of offshore oil workers found that over 90% had never heard of the term ‘just transition’ but nevertheless supported the ideas behind it. Research from Climate Outreach found that those with centrist or centre-right political views were put off by the word ‘justice’, preferring ‘fairness’ instead.
- How are you balancing honesty and optimism? The climate crisis is severe and affecting some much worse than others. It is important to show this while also highlighting solutions and ways to act. Used correctly, climate justice thinking can provide clear and specific routes for action. Avoid overloading people and showcase positive stories as well as the issues.
- Are you actually engaging with climate justice? As the term climate justice is more frequently used, so the risk of misuse increases. Avoid using climate justice terminology unless you are genuinely engaging with issues of justice. If not, it is fine to simply talk about climate change.
How will you know if you have been successful?
- How will you tell if you have achieved what you wanted? This will probably involve getting feedback from those involved to understand your impact. This might not necessarily involve facts and figures; it could be as simple as having conversations and recording what people say.
- How will you take on board learning and feedback for future work? Long-term thinking is especially important for work on climate change. How can a project form part of a longer-term process of change? Where there benefits that you did not predict in advance? How can you carry learning forward?
This resource is part of our ongoing work on climate justice. For more information, please contact email@example.com.
This project is part of the IETM Local Journeys for Change activity which is supported by the European Union as part of IETM Network Grant 2022-2024 NIPA: the New International in the Performing Arts.
Local Journeys for Change (LJC) is the new IETM programme for IETM members; aimed to empower them to bring positive change to their local professional context, local communities or policy-making field.
For this first edition of the programme, focused on the theme of Inclusivity, Equality and Fairness, the LJC selection committee selected 24 projects led by IETM members from 22 countries worldwide. They will benefit from training, mentorship, peer-review exchange and financial support to implement their projects in their respective local communities.