I am an artist and I am engaging in climate action. To some this might seem like a strong statement, whereas to others it might seem as natural as proclaiming: “I am a doctor and it is my duty to save lives.” Last year reignited people’s sense of purpose, making us rethink what matters to us most. For many artists, it highlighted the biggest challenge of all – climate change and climate injustice.
If 2020 taught us anything, it must surely be how interconnected everything is. Art cannot be separated from politics, just as we now realise public health strategies and the business models of the hallowed British pub are so tightly interlinked. We have discovered that everything is political.
Politicians use artists and their music to launch career-defining campaigns. Comedians are used to raise millions for charitable causes. Film director Danny Boyle was used to curate the opening event to the world’s biggest sporting show. So it should be unsurprising if artists realise that their voices and art can help inform, inspire, engage and drive change. Greater political engagement is a good thing, from local and community projects to large-scale protests such as Extinction Rebellion’s response to the National Portrait Gallery and BP sponsorship.
My own particular pathway was becoming a founder committee member of the Brian Eno-spearheaded music and climate action organisation EarthPercent. It introduced me to organisations such as Julie’s Bicycle, ClientEarth, Music Declares Emergency and Climate Museum UK. Many great cultural organisations take climate action seriously, and the delay of Cop26, the UN’s climate change conference now taking place in the UK in November, is a perfect opportunity for cultural organisations, artists and the UK arts sector as a whole to lend its voice to presenting the case for climate justice.
It would be remiss not to mention Black Lives Matter, which has reopened the conversation about the systematic oppression of minority peoples across the globe. The movement is a reappraisal of past and present injustices that we must not allow to become future ones. Similarly, the climate movement needs to listen to different artistic voices, which is why I was encouraged to apply to the Season for Change’s Common Ground initiative, and honoured to be one of the commissioned artists. My commission uses music and different artforms to highlight the voices of the black community in south London and the effects of air pollution from the South Circular Road.
Now is the time to be bold about fighting climate change and injustice. This could be programming an event; commissioning new work; organising a debate or curating an exhibition; providing space for performances; making art, theatre, music or films; showing what you’re doing behind the scenes; or putting climate change centre stage in creative and cultural ways.
We all have a part to play. Maybe Season for Change is a way to get your voice heard: “We are the UK arts and we are engaging in climate action.”
Season for Change is a UK-wide cultural programme inspiring urgent and inclusive action on climate change, running until July