We asked artists what they thought their role was in imagining and shaping the future, how can they contribute, what needs to be done to fire them up for changing the world?
Early in 2010 in advance of any of the Emergence conferences and before the Emergence project had really got going Rhodri Thomas and Fern Smith were interested in assessing just how involved Welsh artists were already with sustainability.
At that time Rhodri & Fern’s sense that artists had a real role to play in imagining and shaping the future was just a gut feeling. Rhodri Thomas, co-creator of Emergence was convinced that statistics and graphs could not change the world but that artists could. In advance of launching Emergence it was important to get a sense of how engaged artists were and what was being done already, so Emergence wouldn’t replicate existing projects or reinvent any wheels unnecessarily.
It was also important to hear from artists what they needed from Emergence and what type of activity or information would fire them up to the task of co-creating the future.
The information returned from a survey is always only a part of the picture. Rhodri & Fern knew that artists who completed the survey might be ones who had strong views either way about sustainability issues. However, this was a beginning and as soon as the results began to accumulate some interesting patterns emerged.
One of the most important patterns for Emergence was the disparity between how important people thought sustainability was, how they supported engagement and involvement in their personal lives, but when it came to their professional practice or position at work then these issues did not seem so much of a priority. Prior to the survey Fern & Rhodri had spoken to contacts at Arts Council Wales and got a sense that sustainability was not yet really on the agenda (this was only in 2010). Sustainability appeared to be something that the Arts Council knew they would need to begin to address (especially in the light of the Welsh Assembly’s ‘One Wales: One Planet’ strategy), but it wasn’t at the top of the list of priorities at that particular time. If Emergence was going to be approaching Arts Council for funding, then they would need a sense of how interested and involved their clients were and exactly what was being done already.
Around this time Julie’s Bicycle had just finished a review of the carbon footprint of bands/festivals and orchestras, and were now focusing on the environmental impact of touring theatre. Julie’s Bicycle were early supporters of Emergence and subsequently became part of a small Emergence advisory group contributing to the first Emergence conference in Cardiff. This was a very significant moment as it was the first time that Alison Tickell from Julie’s Bicycle had presented in Wales.
Fern & Rhodri also had lots of anecdotal evidence that the artists leading or getting involved in sustainability were the visual artists. Certainly participation at Tipping Point conferences seemed to confirm these early impressions. Working on the survey felt a very pivotal stage of the whole project. Emergence wanted to approach artists as a whole – not different art forms separately. There seemed to be few gatherings that brought artists as a sector together. From the start we wanted to have conversations across art forms and to look at what united us in terms of sustainability, our role and our place in the world.
“I feel the challenge is more to make the production of art itself sustainable by looking into ‘eco’ options e.g. using renewable materials, print on demand books, music events that run on sustainable energy etc rather than communicating the message to the public through yet more booklets and recycled art shows. Innovation and practical solutions are the way forward!”
“Sustainability is a life long issue – how do we as artists, continue to make art in a social environment that doesn’t necessarily value the arts? How do we make a sustainable practice in a rural area where public transport is rare? How do we afford to keep making work and what do we do with the work?”
Fern was born in London and now lives in Swansea, South Wales. After studying for a degree in Psychology and a Masters in Industrial Relations she formed Volcano Theatre Company with Paul Davies in the 1980’s.
Since then Fern has performed, directed and taught workshops for Volcano and as a freelancer nationally and internationally for 25 years. Fern is co-initiator and creative producer of Emergence.
fern [at] emergence-uk.org
Cynnal Cymru / Sustain Wales