Art will convey environmental message

Artists will be joining forces with environmental professionals to highlight the urgent need to address climate change and other ecological catastrophes facing the planet.

While the debate on environmental issues has, so far, been dominated by scientists and politicians, artists feel they can also make a valuable contribution.

Speaking at Chartered Institution of Water & Environmental Management’s annual conference on Wednesday, the institute’s president, David Rooke, said art and the environment would be an important theme for the body this year and in the future.

“[We want to encourage] public understanding of the challenges facing the planet and connect the arts community and environmental professionals so we can explore the relationship between arts, science, engineering and nature,” he said.

“Our objective as an institution is…to challenge and inform individual and societal attitudes towards the environment an engender a better understanding of environmental affairs and lifestyles.”

Artists could help to inspire people to acquire the skills and knowledge they needed to live in a more sustainable manner, he added.

While scientific studies and governmental policy reviews might present hard facts on environmental issues, they can lack immediate public appeal and may seem daunting and inaccessible to some.

Art has the potential to cut to the heart of the debate and communicate images of environmental damage, or the heartbreaking beauty of the natural paradise that could be lost, in a way that people can connect with and understand.

An image of a flood-hit town could, for example, convey a message with an immediacy that a scientific report on the incident may lack.

Michaela Crimmin, head of arts and ecology at the RSA, said she had spent a considerable part of her career fighting to have artists’ voices heard in other arenas and it was refreshing to be invited to engage with another sector.

“On the whole our contributions haven’t been very much encouraged [elsewhere],” she said.

“I have a real conviction that artists have so much to bring to this complicated and huge agenda.

Artists’ interest in the environment and our connection with the land was not a new phenomenon, she said, and could in fact be traced back to the beginning of time.

But the urgency of an impending environmental crisis was making it more important than it had been in recent generations.

“We are in pretty terrifying times and in some ways…the droughts and the floods and the fires and environmental disasters are a bit biblical in a way,” she said.

“There’s a need for real collective action.”

She said art could help focus the debate and inform the views of society.

“None of this is new,” she said.

“Artists have always been very much involved in politics, economy and green issues. A lot of artists now are working politically, socially and environmentally.

“A very important role artists have to question and challenge and be direct and truthful.”

More information on the RSA’s Arts and Ecology programme can be found by following the link while CIWEM will be encouraging an ongoing dialogue between artists and environmental practitioners over coming months.

Sam Bond

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