Monthly Archives: August 2020

An Interview with Actor, Director, and Solo Performer Rotimi Agbabiaka

By Imara-rose Glymph

Welcome to the first installment of our new series, Black Artists and Storytellers on the Climate Crisis! As a newcomer to the climate storytelling space, I am inspired by artists who highlight intersectionality in their practice. Prominent Bay Area actor Rotimi Agbabiaka is no stranger to crossing genres and pushing socio-political boundaries in neon-drenched, immersive environments that challenge the exclusivity of theatre and the status quo (see his solo show Type/Caste). His acting has taken him to a number of places, including the San Francisco Fringe Festival, historical musical venue Beach Blanket Babylon, and the American Conservatory Theatre, among others. Equipped with breathtaking poise and eloquence, Rotimi is an artistic force to be reckoned with. 

Rotimi was a principal actor in San Francisco Mime Troupe’s 2013 environmental musical satire Oil & Water, which tackled the extractive practices of corporatocracy. He was also one of the head writers for the troupe’s 2018 show Seeing Red: A Time-Traveling Musicalwhich transported audiences to 1912, when socialism was on the rise and popular among the working class. When not on stage or writing plays, Rotimi teaches theatre at institutions such as Middlebury College and the San Francisco Shakespeare Company.

In the wake of the resurgence of Black Lives Matter in the social consciousness, and its interlinked nature with environmental justice, Rotimi and I discussed how the art of storytelling plays an integral part in motivating people to reflect on pertinent global issues, the experience of being a queer artist, and what enviro-activism really entails. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Rotimi Agbabiaka in Type/Caste. Photo by Cabure Bonugli.

You were a writer and actor for the troupe’s 2018 show Seeing Red, and you’ve been a collective member of SFMT for ten years. What first drew you to revolutionary, satirical theatre?

Several things. I was born and raised in Nigeria which, in my lifetime, has undergone multiple coups, military dictatorships, and transitions to a civilian government with various levels of corruption causing a really stark gap between the wealthy and the poor. Even as a child, the impact that decisions made in the political arena had on everyday people was clear. Politics was always a subject I was aware of and interested in – such that I studied economics to understand the ways in which financial and socio-political issues affect how people live. In my final year of study, I was hired by the San Francisco Mime Troupe after a general audition to perform in the 2010 show Posibilidadan original musical about the take-back of factories by workers in Argentina. We really engaged with communities around issues of worker ownership and the exploitation carried out by corporate entities. This introduction to the great potential that theatre has to address political issues in a way that is accessible to non-typical theatre goers fostered my growth and my passion for it.

As a core member of the Black Artists Contemporary Cultural Experience and as a prominent Bay Area theatre maker, what role do you see art and storytelling playing in motivating people to think more deeply about social and environmental change?

Art is powerful in that it presents a narrative that helps people understand and make sense of their own situation. So much of how we, as individuals, approach and think about environmental justice and politics is shaped by the prevailing narratives surrounding us – narratives that we have heard and adopted. Art can be very effective in telling a story that illuminates the struggle tangibly and, in the simplest way, highlights the protagonists and the villains to show what is at stake. It allows us, as audience members, to envision a better world through our own emotional response and a way forward out of the present predicament. Through the very act of bringing people together to share space in mutual experience, art reminds people to see the world in a new light. 

Velina Brown, a fellow SFMT member, recommended that I speak to you about your roles in the 2013 SFMT eco-musical satire Oil & Water. Walk me through your inspiration and process for embodying the characters. What research was done?

In Act 1, “Deal With The Devil,” I played the Obama-esque presidential figure and in Act 2, “Crude Intentions,” my main role was that of a villainous Chevron executive. With a stripped-down crew, I had a variety of ensemble roles as well. There were many aspects to playing these roles, especially within the context of SFMT’s stylistic roots in agitprop and Commedia Dell’Arte. I thought about the physical manifestation of the characters and how the physical life of a person conveys to the audience their role in events. For the president, there was a sense of wanting to emulate Obama’s characteristic speech patterns and establish the character as a person who wants to be a hero but is not. With the Chevron exec, I took on the vocal and physical characteristics of a heavy, threatening, evil archetype often present in mystery thrillers. We amplify these character traits for comedic effect so that these ideas linger in the minds of observers. The creative exaggeration is intentional as the humor makes a point about the perpetuation of greed driving social issues.

To color our portrayal of the fossil fuel industry and inform our creation, we researched the activities of Chevron in the Ecuadorian Amazon. One book about climate justice that I highly recommend is This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. She really spells out the magnitude of the problem and the kind of changes that are necessary in relation to consumption, our use of land, and the ways in which our current systems are set up to perpetuate environmental devastation. It is written not from a place of nihilism or pessimism but from the belief that we can all do something to combat climate change.

Looking at your solo works, the fast-paced, subversive Type/Caste and Manifesto, which draws on creative ancestors Fela Kuti, Grace Jones, and James Baldwin, are you inherently perceived as an activist because you identify as queer and Black?

Theatre can be an ally and a tool for activism. Anything you put on stage is “political;” it presents or advocates for a specific viewpoint on reality. In that sense, there is always a political element to theatre and to what I do. However, my idea of activism is shifting from the performativity one sees on stage, or on social media, or even in street protests. 

Effective activism also consists of coordinated, strategic actions that are much less glamorous. I have been reading Bayard Rustin’s, From Protest to Politics, which talks about the kind of targeted political work that would improve conditions for all people, not just African Americans. He understood that after the landmark Civil Rights legislation was passed in the 1960s, further progress would be connected to larger systemic changes that addressed the upward movement of wealth. Adolph Reed is another organizer and thinker who I’ve been greatly influenced by. He has an insightful perspective on the kind of organizing required to achieve quantitative differences in peoples’ lives. I am trying to connect more to this sort of activism in my ongoing work.

Since you were raised in Lagos, do you have a sense of what the conversation on the climate crisis is in Nigeria?

To my knowledge, the official position of Nigeria as a country in development doesn’t include mitigation conversations because the primary national industry is oil. In terms of the devastation caused by oil production, that is very much at the forefront of many Nigerian communities. Many tribes along the Niger Delta region, which is where much of the oil is extracted, have seen their livelihoods destroyed and their rivers polluted while receiving virtually no compensation. Multinational oil corporations bribe local officials and reap the benefits of extraction without facing any consequences for the destruction caused to these areas, which are deemed expendable. In their pursuit of natural resources, these major drivers of climate change contribute to the unequal distribution of oil wealth, increasing mass poverty. When local activists have tried to speak out about the injustice, they have disappeared, been imprisoned, and murdered. That is the reality.

Rotimi Agbabiaka in Manifesto. Photo by Robbie Sweeny.

Within the environmental movement, why do you think there has been a lack of queer, BIPOC, trans, and frontline voices in the mainstream conversation around climate change? 

In the United States, many voices at the forefront of conversations about climate justice are not amplified or highlighted. That is a manifestation of the way our public discourse about politics is heavily managed by a media apparatus entwined with corporate interests. Discussions about race, policing, healthcare, and systemic inequities are restricted by the dominant media narratives. This has led to a situation where the main authority on climate change is Al Gore, who proposes solutions that are corporate-friendly and wholly inadequate. Our news is designed to sell ideas that are not threatening to the neoliberal ruling elite so it’s really important that anyone truly interested in these issues seek out sources that are not MSNBC, CNN, or the New York Times.  

Reflecting on Green Voices of Colora compilation list of BIPOC climate activists by essayist Mary Annaïse Heglar, and the advocacy of marine biologist and policy expert Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, do you hope to see the emergence of more voices of color in the climate conversation?

It is wonderful to have people of all backgrounds and identities in the conversation. However, the most important thing is to have voices that are educated on the topic and who are not aligned with corporate interests. From my perspective, if you have BIPOC figures like Condoleezza Rice or Clarence Thomas speaking, that is not particularly helpful to achieving climate justice. Beyond looking for a certain hue or sexuality, I am looking for a certain awareness that includes everyone, including marginalized voices. 

It is essential to realize that the injustices people are railing against – be they racial, gendered, or what have you – are linked directly to environmental justice. They are all connected to the exploitation of labor and of the planet. These ills are the product of our capitalist system –constantly generating products to profit the small percentage of people who control the majority of wealth.

I’m interested in how we build a coalition of people who recognize that this is their collective issue. How do we resist a ruling class (the Jeff Bezoses of this world) that is upheld by pitting people against one another through the myth of separation based on skin color, gender, sexuality, national origin, etc.? We need to rise united against the global elite. That is what will ultimately save our planet.

In the majority of online lists of American climate artists, there is usually only one person of color mentioned (such as Allison Janae Hamilton). Boundary-pushing visual artists Tavares Strachan and Torkwase Dyson are not even mentioned. I would love to arrive at a place where Black climate artists are sufficiently represented and don’t need a separate list for recognition. 

Yes, there are certainly layers and levels of access that have historically been more available in this country to white artists. This access leads to greater institutional resources such as funding and presence-making, often for worse. In our context, it makes sense that these lists are dominated by people of European descent.

There is a tendency to silo different kinds of oppression. To say, “oh, I’m working on racial justice right now, I can’t focus on climate” when these topics are intrinsically linked. We need to foster a greater understanding of this phenomenon to expand our view of intersectionality’s impact. The larger the movement we build, the more of a chance we have to have more diverse voices involved in environmental justice, and a greater opportunity to effectively enact the change we need.

What’s next for you?

I am working with Black Artists Contemporary Cultural Experience, currently gestating a piece for the fall titled Black To The Future. It was going to be a staged performance but with the pandemic, it will now have a digital component. It is a collective original piece exploring what the future will look like, while interrogating the notion of Black identity with the premise of a separatist Black American nation. We are going to channel a multitude of perspectives on Black identity and “Black future” in a humorous, satirical, zany, in-your-face production. This might build up to a live performance sometime in the next year.

Relatedly, I am also conducting and writing journalistic interviews. I had a piece published last week on the Theatre Bay Area website focusing on the perspective of Black Bay Area theatre makers who have been engaging in outsider art for decades, and how they are responding creatively during the pandemic. 

(Top image: Rotimi Agbabiaka in Manifesto. Photo by Robbie Sweeny.)

This article is part of our Black Artists & Storytellers series.

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Imara-rose Glymph is a student at Bennington College pursuing an interdisciplinary degree looking at multi-cultural identity, language, biology/ecology, and performative arts. Most recently, she was a media fellow with Global Citizen Year, documenting Indigenous Women’s agricultural stewardship, and a representative of Intersectional Outreach with Extinction Rebellion. She has been involved in the climate conversation since leading youth delegations in the GIN 852 conference Hong Kong, organizing bio-tours of mangrove conservation areas, and guiding students as an Arctic Hall Docent with the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. 

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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WE ARE OCEAN @ Klimahaus Bremerhaven

Date: 24 September 2020 (3:45 – 5:45 pm)
in English

Participants
Antje Boetius (Director Alfred-Wegener-Institut; tbc)
Christian Berg (sustainability expert and transdisciplinary thinker)
Jens Ambsdorf (Director Lighthouse Foundation)
Ralf Tiedemann (teacher BZO Velten)
and more guests to be confirmed soon
Moderator: Anne-Marie Melster

www.klimahaus-bremerhaven.de


About “WE ARE OCEAN”
Berlin by the Sea at FUTURIUM, Berlin (photo: René Arnold)

WE ARE OCEAN is an interdisciplinary art project which gathers artists, students, scientists, policymakers, philanthropists, teachers, and curators in order to raise awareness and engage in dialogue about the environmental condition of the ocean and the role humans play in its current and future state. The project events in Berlin and Brandenburg investigated how we interact with the ocean and how interdependent humans and the ocean are. The overall goal was to raise scientific and political awareness through the arts, particularly among young people, to stimulate behavioural change and social action and help them to act responsibly and become conscientious citizens. Ultimately, WE ARE OCEAN seeks to shift the narrative surrounding the ocean – from that of an ocean for human use and exploitation with infinite resources – to an ocean that offers numerous yet precarious benefits to humankind which is its steward and caretaker.

In 2019 we started in Berlin and Brandenburg, in 2020 it is traveling to Kiel (Germany), Marseille (France), Vancouver (Canada), Bremerhaven (Germany), Venice (Italy) with more stops to follow from 2021 to 2030, since we will support the whole UN Ocean Decade.

The different project parts of WE ARE OCEAN and WIR SIND DAS MEER in Brandenburg and Berlin conducted by Lisa Rave and the respective film produced by the artist were funded by Stadt und Land, Stiftung Berliner Sparkasse, Fonds Soziokultur, Deutsche Postcode Lotterie and IASS Potsdam.

The scientific-artistic workshops delivered by the scientist Oscar Schmidt from IASS Potsdam, the artist Lisa Rave and the curators Anne-Marie Melster and Julia Moritz from ARTPORT_making waves were giving an overview on specific topics like fishing, transport and traffic, energy extraction, seabed mining, global climate, interdependence ocean and climate, tourism, garbage). The scientist delivered the scientific knowledge, the curators and the artists created a program of knowledge transfer through interactive and participatory methodologies with the outcome that the participating school students were able to demonstrate what they had learned during the workshops and to express their feelings and solution orientation in the film WE ARE OCEAN created by the artist, but also during the interactive interventions at Marine Regions Forum and in the Futurium Berlin.

Weblink

Ecostage: Placing Ecological Thinking at the Heart of Creative Practice

www.ecostage.online

September 2020 Launch

Ecostage supports creative practitioners journeying toward an ecological, interconnected approach to working that recognises their place within the whole ecosystem in order to inspire a radical and ethical repositioning of their work. 

Formerly Ecostage Pledge, Ecostage is a grassroots, autonomous online platform to help all arts practitioners towards a more ecologically-centred approach in performance making. It is being re-envisioned by a group of ecologically-minded designers, to adapt to the current more pressing issues. Our new site re-launches September 2020 following our crowdfunding.

Ecostage is for anyone in the performing arts sector at any stage of their sustainable journey; it connects freelancers and organisations. It answers the need for shared principles and joint objectives, and to move forward as a unified front to address systemic issues tied up with our joint future including social and climate justice. It appeals to all sizes of companies and types of production needs, and to all stages of career.

Ecological thinking is crucial in considering how to find a sustained approach to how we live in the context of a changing climate: socially, politically and economically. 

Informative, practical and inspiring, Ecostage contains:

  • A list of intersecting principles to be downloaded and used as sustainable production guidelines.
  • An inter-connective approach that includes the whole ecosystem, humans and the more than human world
  • An online pledge with a downloadable logo making your eco-credentials visible when used on documentation.
  • Resources, including an expanding library of inspiring case studies celebrating diverse practices from around the world showing ‘ecoscenography in action’.
  • A growing online global supportive community of practitioners.

Join our global community and pledge your public commitment to a sustainable future. 

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” Jane Goodall – primatologist and anthropologist

“If you do not appreciate the small steps you support the status quo.” Jean-Claude Audergon – psychotherapist.

Ecostage crowdfunding: We are an eco-designer led, not-for-profit initiative who are volunteering our skills, time and passion as self-employed to get this off the ground. As such, we have launched a crowdfunding drive to invest in the expertise of a professional web developer to create a free, accessible, user-friendly and sustainably-hosted website that remains relevant and responsive to updates in the digital world.

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/ecostage
‘Support Ecostage: the go-to site for unified ecological guidelines, with resources for a flourishing, fair, creative future in performance.’

Ecostage online: 

Website: www.ecostage.online 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ecostage.online/

Twitter: @ecostage1 

Instagram: @eco.stage 

Ecostage relaunch team: 
Paul Burgess, Andrea Carr, Mona Kastell, Ruth Stringer, Hannah Myers, Michaela Fields

Contact:
If you have any queries or questions, please contact ecostage.online@gmail.com with the subject: ‘Ecostage press release’

“WE ARE OCEAN” Marseille

Wednesday 9 September (Screening, Discussion)

8-10 pm @La Plage du Prophete
With the support of Surfrider Foundation Europe

7-11 September (Workshop) @Ecole de la Roseraie, Marseille 
Workshop conducted by Marc Johnson
With the support of “Vivre Malmousque” Association

Tuesday 15 September (Performance)
3-5 pm @Théatre Sylvain
Théatre Corallien by Marc Johnson and students from Ecole de la Roseraie.

Saturday 19 September (Screening, Discussion)
8-10 pm @Station Marine d’Endoume
With the support of Institut Pythéas


About “WE ARE OCEAN”
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is unnamed-461x307.jpg
Berlin by the Sea at FUTURIUM, Berlin (photo: René Arnold)

WE ARE OCEAN is an interdisciplinary art project which gathers artists, students, scientists, policymakers, philanthropists, teachers, and curators in order to raise awareness and engage in dialogue about the environmental condition of the ocean and the role humans play in its current and future state. The project events in Berlin and Brandenburg investigated how we interact with the ocean and how interdependent humans and the ocean are. The overall goal was to raise scientific and political awareness through the arts, particularly among young people, to stimulate behavioural change and social action and help them to act responsibly and become conscientious citizens. Ultimately, WE ARE OCEAN seeks to shift the narrative surrounding the ocean – from that of an ocean for human use and exploitation with infinite resources – to an ocean that offers numerous yet precarious benefits to humankind which is its steward and caretaker.

In 2019 we started in Berlin and Brandenburg, in 2020 it is traveling to Kiel (Germany), Marseille (France), Vancouver (Canada), Bremerhaven (Germany), Venice (Italy) with more stops to follow from 2021 to 2030, since we will support the whole UN Ocean Decade.

The different project parts of WE ARE OCEAN and WIR SIND DAS MEER in Brandenburg and Berlin conducted by Lisa Rave and the respective film produced by the artist were funded by Stadt und Land, Stiftung Berliner Sparkasse, Fonds Soziokultur, Deutsche Postcode Lotterie and IASS Potsdam.

The scientific-artistic workshops delivered by the scientist Oscar Schmidt from IASS Potsdam, the artist Lisa Rave and the curators Anne-Marie Melster and Julia Moritz from ARTPORT_making waves were giving an overview on specific topics like fishing, transport and traffic, energy extraction, seabed mining, global climate, interdependence ocean and climate, tourism, garbage). The scientist delivered the scientific knowledge, the curators and the artists created a program of knowledge transfer through interactive and participatory methodologies with the outcome that the participating school students were able to demonstrate what they had learned during the workshops and to express their feelings and solution orientation in the film WE ARE OCEAN created by the artist, but also during the interactive interventions at Marine Regions Forum and in the Futurium Berlin.

Weblink

Emerging a Strategy During Crises

By Julia Levine

This month in Persistent Acts, I reflect on my growth since the development and production of my undergraduate thesis in theatre five years ago and on how, in light of the current crises, this led me to develop an emergent strategy curriculum to build authentic relationships.

When I set out to write this piece in April, the U.S. was in a different place. Since then, the country seems to have traveled back in time; the racism pandemic is manifest once again, and calls for police abolition are the norm on my social media feeds. I stand with Black environmentalists, including Mary Annaïse HeglarLeah Thomas, and Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, to demand an end to police brutality and a flourishing of intersectional environmentalism. The fight for climate justice must also be a fight for racial justice.

I too have been traveling back in time to unlearn my white supremacist tendencies, like holding onto perfectionism or my sense of urgency, and to reconnect to my past work. About five years ago, I wrote my undergraduate thesis, Existing on Earth and Stage: Exploring Human Relationships with Ecosystems Through Performance, and developed a production, GAIA: an eco-theatre project. In my research for my thesis project, I met Jeremy Pickard of Superhero Clubhouse and Chantal Bilodeau of The Arctic Cycle. That fall, I moved to New York City, and soon after started writing for Artists & Climate Change. I’m realizing now how much of an emergent time these past five years have been for me – how much I was growing, learning, changing.

I’ve also been finding solace in podcasts like Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us. Brené is a social worker and researcher, and each of her podcast episodes ends with her sign off: “be awkward, brave, and kind.” Through the various crises I’ve encountered over the past five years, I’ve come to lean into courage, vulnerability, and resiliency, so my own tag line these days is: “be courageous, vulnerable, and resilient.”

COU·RA·GEOUS (ADJ.): NOT DETERRED BY DANGER OR PAIN

When I wrote my thesis, I was surrounded by friends. It was the end of college, a tumultuous time for me, and a threshold from one phase of my life into another. Around the same time, my nuclear family as I knew it fell apart. My parents divorced after about twenty-five years of marriage, my brother graduated high school – all “normal” life events that happen in families over time. Add to these events chronic mental illness, and there was a seismic shift in my family dynamics that I could not have prepared for. I had to figure out how to support at one point my mother, and at another point my brother, from a distance. The rupture of my nuclear family as I knew it was part of my emerging experience in New York City – and feels reminiscent of this emergent time of the novel coronavirus and the racism pandemics.

When I was healing from my parent’s divorce and settling into a hectic New York City schedule, I started seeing a therapist. This mental health professional supported me in finding tools to manage the crisis that my family was going through. I harnessed my courage to take on family responsibilities and wade into uncharted territory as a child of someone with bipolar disorder. These days during the pandemic, I’m drawing on my courage to encounter each new day as an opportunity, a fresh chance to make a better world from my corner of the city. These are also vulnerable times, and just as I faced uncertainty during my family’s crisis, we are facing uncertainty in this year’s global and national crises. Add to that the climate crisis, and my existential antennae are a-flutter.

Chart by David Hillis
VUL·NER·A·BLE (ADJ.): SUSCEPTIBLE TO PHYSICAL OR EMOTIONAL ATTACK OR HARM

Fortunately, my friends in the climate theatre community have been holding space for me and for one another. We’ve checked in on each other, offered opportunities for paid work when possible, and have generally held space for our mutual existence and understanding of how unprecedented these times are. I’ve also been spending more time in organizing spaces, particularly with Sunrise, the movement of young people for a Green New Deal.

Norman Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With, and a visual interpretation of the phrase for the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Right now in the U.S., we are all living with many problems, from the oppressive, systemic forces of capitalism and racism, to the isolation, anxiety, and depression that impact folks individually, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In “The Negro and the American Promise,” a conversation that aired on Boston public television, James Baldwin sums up the moral dilemma of Black people in America:

that one is a little bit colored and a little bit white, and not only in physical terms but in the head and in the heart, and there are days – this is one of them – when you wonder what your role is in this country and what your future is in it.

This brings me back to my role in the arts, the theatre, where I feel moral dilemmas on a regular basis: Is this really what I want to be doing with my life? Do I have what it takes to “make it” in theatre? These questions remind me of why I love theatre in the first place: community and collaboration. I started out as a stage manager in middle and high school, supporting a team of artists on a collective vision for a production. Big shoutout to my public school education in the Parkway School System of suburban St. Louis, Missouri for having drama departments (and fostering arts education in general)! I so loved working as part of a team, and listening to the different needs of each artist on a production. By the end of high school, I wanted to try out directing, which I spent my college years experimenting with. I could not have done what I did in college without my advisor William Fisher, who understood my eagerness around environmental issues and encouraged me to take anthropology courses. My curiosity about the study of culture has been expanding ever since.

My undergraduate thesis production was a culmination of nearly a decade of experimentation as a theatre artist. At the same time that my production was going up, 350.org was organizing the People’s Climate March around the world. It felt like fate. I have realized since that all of the sources for my production itself are white men – every piece of found text that made it into my script was written by white guys. How could my environmental show, in which I ask big questions about humanity, have such a narrow focus? I was young, which is no excuse, and I make it my mission now to make work that gets to root causes of injustice and that is intersectional. I work to decolonize my work in the theatre.

GAIA: an eco-theatre project. Photo by Madeline Carey.
RE·SIL·IENT (ADJ.): ABLE TO WITHSTAND OR RECOVER QUICKLY FROM DIFFICULT CONDITIONS

During the COVID-19 lockdown, I spent time with adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy. This workbook, subtitled “Shaping Change, Changing Worlds,” has led me to Octavia Butler – creator of some of the most lush and nuanced world-building I’ve ever encountered in sci-fi/cli-fi. From adrienne maree brown and Octavia Butler, I’ve continued my process of unlearning colonized behaviors and language. I’ve been finding the vocabulary of sustainability, of what is possible when we, humans, remember our inherent nature: to strive for survival. To thrive, to be resilient, to move through the world with courage and for me, to return to the goal of my thesis: cultivate a better world with people I love.

In the early days of the pandemic, I set out to reflect on my creative output, and ended up generating a structure for how I make my work – for now that’s my writing, my social media posts, my facilitation of groups of people in my workplace. I’m working on adapting my curriculum to be a tool for others who may be feeling stuck when it comes to leading with clarity, transparency, and authenticity. I’ve seen a number of guides coalesce in response to the pandemic, and my offering seeks to support leaders to be courageous, vulnerable, and resilient, and to build authentic relationships. May we all remember our authentic humanity as we continue to navigate these turbulent times.

Photo from GAIA: an eco-theatre project. Credit: Madeline Carey.

Additional reading:
Theatre Post-Pandemic by Chantal Bilodeau
Covid Artist Activation Guide from The Center for Cultural Power
Creative Responses to COVID-19: USDAC Listening Shareback from U.S. Department of Arts & Culture
Mapping Our Social Change Roles in Times of Crisis by Deepa Iyer
If you care about the Green New Deal, we need you to join the Movement for Black Livesby Sunrise Movement

Recommended Listening:
Yikes Podcast
Mary Annaïse Heglar’s Hot Take Podcast

(Top image: Gaia, photo by Madeline Carey.)

This article is part of the Persistent Acts series which looks at the intersection of performance, climate, and politics. How does hope come to fruition, even in the most dire circumstances? What are tangible alternatives to the oppressive status quo? The series considers questions of this nature to motivate conversations and actions on climate issues that reverberate through politics and theatre.

______________________________

Julia Levine is a creative collaborator and vegetarian. Originally from St. Louis, Julia is now planted in the New York City downtown theatre realm. As a director, Julia has worked on various projects with companies that consider political and cultural topics, including Theater In Asylum, Honest Accomplice Theatre, Superhero Clubhouse, and Blessed Unrest. She is the Marketing Manager at HERE and is Artistic Producer of The Arctic Cycle. Julia writes and devises with her performance-based initiative, The UPROOT Series, to bring questions of food, climate, and justice into everyday life.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Abigail Doan interview on MOOWON

“Walking is often viewed as an act of resistance, at least in terms of the individual feeling empowered to shed societal expectations, identify tendencies to subjugate nature, and assess the status quo.”

– Abigail Doan, Environmental artist and researcher
Walking Libraries

An interview with environmental artist and researcher Abigail Doan sheds light upon slowing down, walking and observing nature as a form of artistic practice that helps us discover new ways of relating to our surroundings. She proposes such act as means to unearth potential solutions for resiliency and connectedness — both on an individual and collective level — in this critical time of climate change. READ INTERVIEW HERE….

PHOTOGRAPHY by ABIGAIL DOAN
INTERVIEW by MONA KIM
EDITED by MOOWON

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ecoartapace ecoartspace is a nonprofit platform providing opportunities for artists who address the human/nature relationship in the visual arts. Since 1999 they have collaborated with over 150 organizations to produce more than 40 exhibitions, 100 programs, working with 400 + artists in 15 states nationally and 8 countries internationally. Currently they are developing a media archive of video interviews with artists and collection of exhibitions ephemera for research purposes. Patricia Watts is founder and west coast curator. Amy Lipton is east coast curator and director of the ecoartspace NYC project room.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

Go to EcoArtSpace

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River Mourning

By Susan Hoffman Fishman

Joan Sullivan, Canadian photographer, organic farmer, and core writer for Artists and Climate Change, is in mourning.

In January of 2020, while walking along the shores of the iceless St. Lawrence River – which should normally be covered with thick ice that protects Quebec’s coastal communities from harsh winter storms – Sullivan had what she describes as an emotional “melt-down.” She was overwhelmed with grief about two dramatic environmental changes that were happening simultaneously on opposite sides of the planet: the lack of winter ice in Canada and the apocalyptic bushfires in Australia, where her daughter lives. At the core of her emotional distress was her realization that the world was never going to go back to the way it was and that “we all needed to find a new way to live with the non-human world.”

Sullivan ultimately accepted that taking highly realistic, factually-based photographs of the energy transition as she had been doing for many years as her way of addressing climate disruption, no longer worked for her. She admitted to me in our recent conversation that she felt as if she had been “shouting into the wind for the last 10 years” and needed a different approach to her photography that expressed her grief and sense of loss about the changing environment.

Wind Turbines, 2017

Sullivan came to photography as a career through a circuitous route. With degrees in nutrition and international public health, she spent the first half of her life studying and working to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, mostly in Africa. At the age of 50, she moved back to Canada, purchased an abandoned farm, and became an organic farmer and professional photographer. She regards her body of photographs on renewable energy as photo-journalistic and documentary. In order to ensure that the images she produced were crystal clear, she spent countless hours perfecting them. Her hard work led her to become the only female photographer/videographer in Canada shooting the construction and expansion of renewable energy in the context of the climate crisis.

Restless with her long-standing, renewable energy work, Sullivan signed up for a master photography class in October 2018, sponsored by Culture Bas Saint Laurent in collaboration with the Centre d’art de Kamouraska. The theme for the weekend class was the St. Lawrence River. The students were instructed to use the river as a metaphor for rebirth and new beginnings. Sullivan’s photographs captured the river without winter ice in her usual photo-journalistic manner. In June 2019, a number of these photographs were chosen for a group exhibition as part of the 10th edition of the Rencontre photographique du Kamouraska that was to take place in the summer of 2020. The exhibition was planned much before the COVID-19 pandemic led to closures of art and cultural venues across Canada, and was postponed until the summer of 2021.

Then, in the fall of 2019, Sullivan enrolled in a two-year course entitled “The Study of Artistic Practice” at the Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR). Her UQAR professor, artist Danielle Boutet, encouraged Sullivan to consider that she was at a critical crossroads with her work and to use this opportunity to experiment and grow as an artist. Working from a gut level and in the late afternoon light, Sullivan abandoned her tripod and began experimenting with long exposures and deliberate jerky camera movements. The images that resulted from that process were out of focus but luminous, ethereal, and poetic. With the St. Lawrence as her principal subject and muse, Sullivan had captured the colors of the winter sky reflecting on the open water at a time when there should have been thick ice. Enormously pleased with the result of the images, she sensed that she had found a new direction for her work and a new language with which to express her grief.

JOAN_SULLIVAN_FLEUVE_FRAGILE-3.jpg
From the series Grief, 2020

Twelve of Sullivan’s photographs from her new series, which she titled Grief, are currently part of a summer group exhibition at the Centre d’art de Kamouraska. For the purposes of the exhibition, her work is called Fleuve Fragile / Thin Ice. (Sullivan explained that in French, there are two words for “river.” “Rivière” is a smaller river that empties into another river; “fleuve” is a river that enters into a bay or ocean, like the Mississippi or, in this case, the St. Lawrence.)

In spite of the pandemic, the Centre’s co-directors, Véronique Drouin and Ève Simard, were determined to host a portion of the original exhibition that had been planned for the summer of 2020 in their former courthouse building from July to September, 2020. In order to create a walking path that would allow visitors to pass through the exhibition safely, the co-directors built temporary open walls upon which the photographs are secured. These temporary curved walls mimic the waves of the river and add another dimension to the exhibition. Sullivan’s new Grief photographs replaced her older documentary images of the river and occupy the Centre’s second floor overlooking the St. Lawrence River itself. She describes the afternoon light bouncing off the river and spilling through the windows into the space as “magical.”

Installation view of Grief, vinyl on aluminum, 2020

During our conversation, Sullivan admitted to me that her current evolution towards a more abstract artistic practice means that she will likely stop creating documentary images that focus on scientific or technical aspects of climate disruption, claiming that the world doesn’t need any more facts to substantiate what is happening to the environment right now. Paraphrasing Timothy Morton, English professor at Rice University and author of Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World, Sullivan says that we are, in fact, “drowning in soul-crushing factoids.” As an artist, a farmer, and a mother, she is focused on a return to life’s basic elements – to the air, water, and land that sustain us. She is hoping that her new work will provide her, and perhaps others, with a sense of real healing from the fragile and vulnerable state in which we find ourselves.

From the series Grief, 2020

(Top image: From the series Grief, 2020)

This article is part of Imagining Water, a series on artists of all genres who are making the topic of water and climate disruption a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances, projects and publications that are appearing in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme.

______________________________

Susan Hoffman Fishman is a painter, public artist and writer. Her work has been exhibited in numerous museums and galleries throughout the US and she has received many grants and commissions. Since 2011, all of her paintings, installations and photographs have focused on water and climate change. She co-created a national, interactive public art project, The Wave, which addresses our mutual need for and interdependence on water and has inspired thousands of adults and children of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to protect this vital resource. Her most recent body of work calls attention to the growing number of rampikes along our shores –trees that have been exposed to salt water and died as a result of rising tides.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Twist’s shift #1

Twist’s Shift is a new strand of semi-blog, less formal and structured than Ben’s Strategy Blogs, more a rag-bag of thoughts and experiences from the last wee while. 

Those of you who subscribed to the Twist List in the past may recognise the style. This is the first edition, as it were, and we’ll see how it develops. I’ll try to make sure there is something each time for readers from both the arts/cultural end of things and the climate change side, and it perhaps aims to bring these ‘two cultures’ together on an irregular basis. 

Talks and events

I seem to have been giving lots of talks and facilitating events while in lockdown – online, obviously, which has been interesting. At Creative Carbon Scotland we have noticed that meetups for our Green Arts Initiative(for people in cultural organisations) and Green Teases (for people from both the cultural and climate change worlds, to facilitate collaboration and new connections) have been attracting more people and from further afield than our in-the-flesh ones. This is true also of other organisations’ events that I have been involved in. 

I chaired a Public Sector Client Forum event about Designing for a Changing Climate for Architecture & Design Scotland – videos and resources available via the link. Normally these would attract an audience of 40-50 people, but A&DS had over 130 attendees from all over the country and it was a terrific discussion. It brought together unlikely pairings such as Dr Alette Willis, a storyteller and academic who argues that ‘we live in a soup of stories’, which help us shape our lives, how we think and behave, with Clive Bowman, the Circular Economy Manager from Zero Waste Scotland. I’d imagined he’d want to talk about re-using materials in the context of the built environment, but he took the opportunity that Alette’s angle presented to focus on the values behind the very concept of a circular economy. We had a great conversation, with lots of input from the audience. 

Alette Willis turned up at an equally well attended Cross Party Group on Culture to which I contributed at the Scottish Parliament (or rather, not there at all). I had based my talk around Alette’s ‘soup of stories’, so I was a bit nervous to see her in the virtual audience (luckily she was happy with my use of her idea!). My argument was that if we’re going to transition to a fairer, better, zero-carbon future that is adapted to a changed climate, we need to live by different stories to those we live by today. And, if you consider the counterfactual, that is going to be very difficult if the cultural institutions and outputs that help shape our stories are promulgating high-consumption, me-focused lifestyles that promote inequality and imply high carbon emissions. By way of examples I pointed of course to Hollywood, which churns out stories set within very high-carbon lifestyles; but also to a great chunk of Scottish cultural output that has, in the past at least, set great store by Scotland’s history of coal mining, shipbuilding and heavy, carbon-intensive industry. We need to find new stories that shape a different sort of ambition and future and that don’t laud those who live by carbon. Kit England from Climate Ready Clyde also contributed, talking about our collaboration with that group, which is working on adaptation for the whole of the Clyde basin. Generally, the discussion was very strong, although the shadow of the effect of the lockdown on the cultural sector hung over things.  

More recently I had a long conversation with the theatre critic and general political/cultural commentator Joyce McMillan, which led to this article, which (as with all of Joyce’s writing) is well worth a read. It brings together some topics I have been thinking about and working on for some time – making me sound much more articulate than I was on the phone! 

The internationalisation of the arts

Just before the lockdown I filmed a talk about the internationalisation of the arts for a conference of dance artists, funders and others taking place in Lisbon. In my talk I asked the audience to think about internationalisation in terms of globalisation and what that has meant for the arts and artists. Like manufacturers, globalisation and the development of very cheap travel since the 1970s, and particularly perhaps the increasing role of the EU, have meant that arts organisations and artists can and do sell their services abroad, and they buy in services (shows and talent) from abroad (dance companies are particularly multi-national, perhaps because language isn’t a barrier). Similarly, audiences can travel easily to see work and have come to expect an at-home diet of international companies performing. But globalisation, as the UK’s manufacturing sector has learned, has its downside: the artists and companies are in competition with artists and companies from abroad, some of whom may have lower costs making them cheaper, or may simply seem more attractive to promoters and audiences because they are from elsewhere. Audience members may hop on a flight to foreign parts to see a show with a city-break thrown in, so depriving their local theatre of their company. 

In fact, the Portugal conference was postponed until December because of the pandemic, which of course has highlighted the fragility of our international supply chains when it comes to PPE and ventilators, but also perhaps in terms of artists who might be locked down at home, even if promoters and audiences could welcome them here. And conversely it has highlighted for producers the risk of relying on international touring, projects or teaching to fill a festival programme or balance the books.  

International working

More recently I held a workshop with a group of dance artists and companies from Scotland to discuss international working. Some echoed a comment I had heard previously from theatre companies, that they need to do international touring for financial reasons as much as artistic or social ones. And they agreed with some musicians I have spoken to that they, and their artists, were increasingly unwilling to travel internationally for short engagements: to fly to Colombia for two performances, or even to Germany for one. 

This applies not just to the arts but to academia, business and others. Of course, COVID-19 has taught us to Zoom about and there is much talk of a reduction in business travel. This has its pros and cons. I asked the Scottish dance people to think about how international working breeds inequality; people with caring responsibilities – primarily women – are much less able to travel and so could miss out on career opportunities; people with disabilities are likely to find fast travel to unfamiliar places much harder than those without them. And as Joyce’s article mentions, for me the communal thinking that theatre provides is an important part of society working out how to address difficult and complex questions at the same time as building local communities. Maybe academic conferences and certain sorts of business meetings do the same and I don’t think we’ve yet learned how to think together across the net – I’m not sure it’s actually possible without holding your breath to hear the next devastating line that you know is coming, or laughing with your neighbour at the joke you’ve both just seen and heard. 

The Buried Giant

Finally, earlier on in the lockdown I found myself strangely drawn to re-read Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Buried Giant, a book I found unlikely but good when I first read it back in 2015. On the surface it’s an Arthurian tale of knights and dragons and, importantly, a strange mist that seems to make everyone lose their memory of the past. This feels like a bad thing but it turns out to be more complex than that: not everyone is quite what they seem.

I returned to it and I became convinced the book, written in what we didn’t know then was the run up to the Brexit referendum and not long after the Scottish independence referendum, has important things to say about the importance of both remembering and forgetting. We may need to forget some of the battles that have been fought that have divided us and the damage that has been done, we may also need to remember why we fought those battles and why the hurts were caused, possibly in order to forgive them. And we may need to remember what past times were like so we can avoid them in future. As the pandemic has maybe given us an insight into what past lives were like, as the current UK government is (mis-)using myths about the Second World War to achieve its pernicious aims, and as climate change is making us re-examine our present practices, The Buried Giant suddenly seemed to become an important and useful book. I’d encourage you to read it – it isn’t really an Arthurian tale at all.

by Ben Twist, director of Creative Carbon Scotland

The post Twist’s shift #1 appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.

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Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

Go to Creative Carbon Scotland

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Wild Authors: Gila Green

By Mary Woodbury

This month, we look at another young adult fiction novel – and yet another novel set in South Africa. Thanks to Stormbird Press and author Gila Green for the interview and essay. Stormbird Press, one of Dragonfly’s affiliates, is a new publisher in Australia. As an imprint of Wild Migration, Stormbird is deeply connected to the global environment movement. Wild Migration is a not-for-profit conservation organization that has worked around the world for years to build participation capacity among wildlife scientists, wildlife policy experts, and civil society to secure international wildlife conservation.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Read an excerpt at the Dragonfly Library.

In No Entry (Stormbird Press, 2019), Canadian teenager Yael Amar signs on to an elephant conservation program and comes face-to-face with violence, greed, murder, and the taste of a very real danger for all of us: elephant extinction. The story takes place in South Africa’s famous and breathtaking Kruger National Park.

Yael vows to devote herself to saving the planet from human greed and is set to learn all she can about ivory poaching when she accidentally encounters a murderous poaching ring taking place below the surface of her newfound paradise. She receives a second blow when she discovers that her idol, Clara Smith, the prestigious and well-respected program director, profits from blood ivory while preaching about the sanctity of wildlife. Yael is forced to decide on a new mission: expose this poaching ring to the police or return to the safety of her normal life – before she becomes their next victim.

On her journey, she is accompanied at times by her conservative, naive boyfriend, David, and at other times by her new brash best friend, New Yorker Nadine Kelly. She is inspired by her African guide, Sipho, a poverty-stricken artist, professional park ranger, and ultimately, her partner in risking her life.

As Yael is forced to confront the ugly face of elephant slaughter, she grieves the loss of her brother Ezra, who was murdered in a terrorist firebombing before the novel begins. It is this grief that gives her the strength to confront the evil men who would empty Africa of every last elephant to fill their own pockets.

CHAT WITH THE AUTHOR

Stormbird: Tell us a little about yourself, including your interests and hobbies.

I am very proud of my children, and my greatest pleasure is to spend time with them. That turns out to be a lot of time, but it’s well worth it. After my family, my second love is, of course, writing. In addition, I love power walking, yoga, pilates, nature, travel, hiking, cooking, and I’ll never say no to a day off at a Dead Sea spa.

StormbirdHow did you become involved with the subject or theme of your work?

Before I wrote No Entry, I searched for something to take my writing away from the Israel landscape. There’s plenty to write about Israel and the Middle East, but after writing three books playing with those settings, I wanted to expand my canvas.

I have a writing partner who once told me that writers are really just writing the same book over and over again with different characters. I didn’t want to be one of those writers!

At the same time, I have always known one of my writing strengths (I have plenty of weaknesses too, structure anyone?) is location. I believed changing location would immediately alter my characters. Characters derive from location and not the other way around; though many writers begin with characters, I always begin with location in time and space.

And it worked! As soon as I delved into Kruger National Park, got caught up in the trees, birds, and animals, my characters changed too, and the expansion I was looking for took place. It gave me a breather from what I’d been writing about for years, and I loved it. I’m looking forward to the sequel. Yael will be back, and Clara’s not too happy with her or Nadine!

Stormbird: Who are some of your favorite authors and how do you feel they impacted your writing?

As an ex-literature major, I admit I was once snobby about books. I only read what is known as literary fiction for decades. It took me a while to realize that was a big mistake. Now I read everything, well, almost everything. I’ll never be a big fantasy or science fiction fan, but I’ve learned to really enjoy writers like Neil Gaiman, someone I wouldn’t have looked at when I was twenty.

As a Canadian, I grew up on Canadian literature and love the Canadian writers we all know, such as Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro. Atwood was also born in Ottawa, by the way, three years after my mother was born there, so that might be one of the reasons I enjoy her. She grew up in the same place and time period as my mother. Alice Munro grew up not far from Ottawa, too, and in a similar time period.

Both of these writers influence me to this day. I honestly couldn’t list all the writers I love and who influence me, but some of them are Leonard Cohen, Truman Capote, Bernard Malamud, Flannery O’Connor, Joan Didion, and Joyce Carol Oates.

I was once published in Fiction Magazine alongside a short story by Joyce Carol Oates, and I was thrilled to pieces. To this day, I wonder if she ever read her courtesy copy and noticed my story. It’s hard for me to believe she would, but I can dream. Joyce, if you’re reading, please let me know.

Stormbird: There are some scary moments in No Entry. Did you struggle with how graphically to write the discovery of the poached elephant scene or the violent scene with the poachers?

Yes. I wanted the book to be aimed at young adults because I believe they are the generation that needs to know – and most in the West don’t seem to be aware that their grandchildren might not see elephants, except in the odd zoo. They will be the most affected by animal extinction and we, as adults, have a responsibility to tell them.

I believe a novel with an admirable heroine and a little romance thrown in will reach more young people than a non-fiction book. So, yes, there is some violence, but it’s very tempered because I definitely took the audience age into account.

The truth is I believe less is more. There’s no need to sensationalize the scenes. Elephant slaughter in plain language is enough. In addition, there’s a sub-theme of terrorism in the novel because violence is universal. I purposely made the terrorist event happen in Canada because I wanted to get the message across that senseless violence doesn’t just happen in Africa or the Middle East. That attitude might allow some of us to feel off the hook. It happens everywhere, and we all have to make sure we are part of the solution or there won’t be one – and that thought is too devastating to imagine. I refuse to go there, and No Entry ends on a victorious note for a reason.

Stormbird: Thank you so much, Gila. It has been a pleasure spending time with you. All of us No Entry fans are looking forward to meeting Yael again in your sequel.

GILA GREEN ON WHY SHE TRAVELLED TO HOTSPOTS IN AFRICA

My fellow Ottawans, residents of the world’s seventh coldest capital, accused me of having an affinity for “hotspots” after I’d lived among Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Israel, and spent six months in South Africa, all by the age of 23.

At the time, I hadn’t appreciated how challenging my “coldspot” worldviews would serve me as a writer.  My senses savored scenes I couldn’t have imagined; a ride on a downtown bus with strangers who thought nothing of asking you to hold their babies while they paid the driver; delicacies like halva (gourmet sesame bars), silan (date honey), and tehina (sesame paste) in the grocery store; the tribulations of trying to pay a bill in a different country (in Israel, it is unfathomable to me how many people sit for hours at the post office to pay their monthly utility bills); or the shock of trying to renew your Canadian visa in South Africa.

We traveled to a government office in Soweto that had every window shattered. We would have phoned ahead to make an appointment, but the phone cables had been dug up and stolen long before we arrived. Despite being the only one in the queue for Tourist Renewals, I waited hours to be informed I had to come back tomorrow.

For all of our wealth and education in the West, there’s a concerning stereotyping of other parts of the world. Since I completed my journalism degree in the early nineties, negative news has increased in both intensity and frequency. Studies show news outlets worldwide have become gloomier from the late 1970s to today.

“As long as bad things have not vanished from the face of the earth, there will always be enough incidents to fill the news, especially when billions of smartphones turn most of the world’s population into crime reporters and war correspondents,” laments psychologist and author Steven Pinker.

That’s bad news for all of us and for writers in particular. If we avoid the Middle East and Africa because of the negative stereotypes (death, war, hunger), or write only from those points of view we see presented in the major media outlets, we betray the truth. We are guilty of neglecting the warmth, development, and the positive conservation efforts that are being done to preserve the globe for all of us. For more of this to happen, more of us from coldspots need to warm up.

WILD ELEPHANTS IN AFRICA

From Dragonfly and news sources: Just recently, new export laws proposed at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) mandated limits on the export of wild African elephants. According to National Geographic:

The capture and sale of live elephants has come under increasing criticism as scientists have learned more about the complexities of elephant behavior and intellect. Elephants often refuse to leave their sick or dying behind. They’re smart, social creatures with family bonds that last a lifetime. And in recent years, evidence has stacked up that they use tools, work together to achieve common goals, mourn their dead, and are capable of empathy. During certain times of the year, African savanna elephants are highly gregarious, with hundreds gathering together.

The ban limits the capture and sale of wild elephants; Chinese and American zoos can no longer buy them. Though the sale of elephants from some African countries was already banned, it was easier for South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe to export to overseas zoos. The new measure protects wild elephants even more.

According to World Wildlife Magazine:

In 1930, as many as 10 million wild elephants roamed huge swaths of the African continent. But decades of poaching and conflict have since decimated African elephant populations. In 2016, experts estimated that Africa’s elephant population had dropped by 111,000 elephants in the span of a decade. Today, there are just 415,000 elephants across Africa. While elephant poaching is trending downward, with significant declines in East Africa, poaching continues to steer the species dangerously nearer to extinction.

This article is part of our Wild Authors series. It was originally published on Dragonfly.eco.

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Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs Dragonfly.eco, a site that explores ecology in literature, including works about climate change. She writes fiction under pen name Clara Hume. Her novel Back to the Garden has been discussed in Dissent Magazine, Ethnobiology for the Future: Linking Cultural and Ecological Diversity (University of Arizona Press), and Uncertainty and the Philosophy of Climate Change(Routledge). Mary lives in Nova Scotia and enjoys hiking, writing, and reading.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Introducing our New Series on Arts & Climate in Higher Education

By Clare Fisher

I don’t know about you, but when I try to think about climate change, my head hurts. Maybe this is because it’s what ecocritic Timothy Morton calls a “hyperobject:” a thing too spread out in space and time to be comprehended from the point of view of the human, and human-centric narratives of cause and effect. Maybe it’s because I’m not trying hard enough. Maybe I should drink some more water.

As a writer and researcher, I am just starting to probe this hurt, both in my fiction and as part of my Creative Writing PhD at the University of Leeds. My project looks at how formal experimentation with failure in fiction opens up new ways of thinking and feeling through the structural failures in which we all live – a phrase which has taken on a whole new layer of meaning in the wake of COVID. Sitting at the same desk, staring at the same screen, reading the different (but somehow also the same) news stories about the UK government’s latest failures in managing the situation, I ride a “coronacoaster” of emotions with which you are no doubt familiar, trying, and frequently failing, to resist the conclusion that nothing will change.

But things will change and already are; the trick is learning to see it. Seeing what we don’t see about climate change is exactly the focus of Jenny Offill’s novel Weather, which I spent the first few weeks of lockdown writing about for Alluvium journal. My article examines how the novel centers the ways in which climate change, and our inability to both think and feel it, intrudes during seemingly trivial moments in our lives. Writing it while stuck inside felt strangely appropriate.

It is within this context that I’m particularly excited, as both a writer and, well, a person, to be working with The Arctic Cycle, the organization that runs the Artists & Climate Change initiative. As explained by Thomas Peterson in this post, we are compiling a database of university programs, courses and syllabi which integrate the arts with climate change. While we are still very much at the beginning of this process, the response to our call-out for participants already demonstrates the depth and breadth of interdisciplinary learning taking place in this area, with programs bringing together theatre and sustainability, social justice and activism with artistic practice, fiction and the environment, to name just a few. The finished database will, we hope, be a site where researchers can share and exchange knowledge, as well as a source of information and inspiration for students, activists, artists, or anyone wanting to find new ways of learning and teaching climate change across and between disciplines. 

Over the next two months, I will be investigating the philosophical, pedagogical and epistemological underpinnings of these programs in more detail. What sorts of knowledge are they aiming to produce? How are they grasping at what falls into the cracks between disciplinary boundaries? How might their graduates contribute toward meaningful action around climate change? Through engaging in open-ended, non-judgmental interviews with program directors, tutors, and students, I’ll tease out what makes each program distinctive. I’ll share my findings through regular blog posts, focusing first on individual programs, and second, on drawing out patterns, comparisons, and contrasts between them. I’ll not shy away from moments of mess and uncertainty, both in my own research process and in those on which I’m reporting. In doing so, I hope to stimulate further debate and ideas amongst those working in this exciting, if undoubtedly messy, area.

This article is part of our series on Arts & Climate in Higher Education.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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