Cultivate the arts; Cultivate community; nature Nurture

Mon 6, 2020 / By John Ashlin

For our nature culture to thrive, we need to think holistically and focus on culture as much as nature. Material & waste flows, tax, policy, finance, business models need to be redesigned to nurture a regenerative circular economy; but we can’t just focus on ‘rewiring’ the material stuff in the hope it will comprehensively rewire the way we think, behave and commune. For our planet to thrive we need our culture to flourish; nurturing community and helping us reimagine what we can collectively become.

Arts & culture programming as well as festivals like ‘Coventry 2021 UK City of Culture’ can serve as galvanising platforms for accelerating the transformation to Circular Economy (CE). CE is a transformational development framework and vision gaining traction internationally; mapping out a future where by design, our economy is regenerative and restorative of natural systems and communities. However, there are barriers to transformation; with ‘orthodox’ CE lacking sufficient socioethical dimension [2] and public awareness.[3]

With education & learning a key CE enabler, it is therefore apparent that art & culture should play a more central role within CE praxis – recognised for their power to transform; reimagine; change mindsets; strengthen community; support learning. As part of the author’s CE MBA graduation management project, a consulting project was carried out in collaboration with the UK City of Culture team; which uncovered how orthodox CE frameworks could be more impactful, with greater socioethical dimension; also how City of Culture and art culture programming could support CE transition. Greater impact can be achieved when combining art & culture programming; education and learning; innovative multidisciplinary approaches and citizen empowerment. The project methodology was framed by a Theory of Change approach and informed by Donella Meadows’[4] system levers; education for sustainable development; and socially engaged art, from which conclusions and recommendations were uncovered to shape a sustainable CE legacy for Coventry.

Covid19 has made us all too aware of the fragility of our current systems, like food, transportation, supply chains and international collaboration in general. We’ve had time to start taking stock about what’s important in life, the purpose of things, and how we would like to see change. The pandemic and its impact are rooted within the disharmonies of ‘business-as-usual’ or ‘back-to-normal’. There is much talk about the need to get serious about the climate crisis and environmental degradation, with growing demand for a green new deal; which is heartening and timely. The arts and culture sector can make an important contribution to solving the social and ecological challenges we face, yet now the sector is suffering after months of lockdown. More and more arts organisations and connected livelihoods are on the brink. Yet through collective endeavour and creative thinking there is scope to find synergies between our efforts to nurture communities, natural systems and enable the arts to flourish.

Over the summer, as a series of related blogs, I want to explore these ideas with you; so we can exchange ideas, models and approaches and imagine what’s possible. I look forward to learning from your insights and experience, so we can cultivate a better tomorrow, connecting the eco-tribe with the culture-club.

1.Haraway, D. J. (2003). The companion species manifesto: Dogs, people, and significant otherness (Vol. 1). Prickly Paradigm Press Chicago.

2.Inigo, E. A., & Blok, V. (2019). don. In Journal of Cleaner Production (Vol. 233, pp. 280–291). Elsevier Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.06.053

3.Houston, J., Casazza, E., Briguglio, M., & Spiteri, J. (2018). The Route to Circular Economy. http://www.r2piproject.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/R2pi-stakeholders-report-sept-2018.pdf

4.Meadows, D. H. (1999). Leverage points: Places to intervene in a system.

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