Why do arts and culture have such power to generate change?
Some definitions of culture
- The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.
- The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.
- Maintain (tissue cells, bacteria, etc.) in conditions suitable for growth.
- The cultivation of plants.
So, if we add up these definitions, Culture is what humans – and other species – do to create conditions for life to thrive. We can think in a new way about Culture as organised activities, so that we can create a Regenerative culture.
Here are some of the organised activities included in our broad definition of the arts and culture sector.
- Design: craft, architecture, place-making, fashion, eco-design, product design, graphics and more.
- Intangible heritage: indigenous and diaspora groups, faith organisations, sacred and healing practices, and more.
- Museums: science, natural history, art, history, industry, politics, eco-museums and more.
- Heritage: historic buildings, botanic gardens, landscape trusts, historic towns, archaeology, heritage crafts and more.
- Archives and Libraries: public libraries, specialist libraries, civic archives and more.
- Nature: gardening / landscape design, creative science, ceremonial land stewardship, and more.
- Wellbeing and participatory practice: arts for health, nature-based therapists, socially engaged arts, disability arts and more.
- Creative industries: digital & creative technologies, games, media, marketing, publishing and more.
- Learning & education: teachers, facilitators, researchers, lecturers, Public Engagement with science and research and more.
- Arts: theatre, music, visual art, literature, live art, film, dance, comedy, public art, outdoor arts, street arts, carnival arts, environmental arts and more.
What can arts and culture do?
Culture brings people together
Culture gives space to articulate our place and survival in the web of life. In studies of systemic interconnectedness, the energy and resilience of a system are where connections and links are the strongest; participation, diversity, plurality and variability the greatest.
Through its convening powers, culture brings people together across differences of generation, heritage, gender, class and working expertise to find commonality: all perspectives can be drawn on to create the future we want to live in.
Celebratory social spaces allow us to to look backwards and forwards in time, where our collective knowledge, intuition and a sense of wonder at what is possible come together.
Culture renews and transforms
The arts and design can spark change in people, places and structures. They show us how we can ‘speak differently’, disrupting the status quo and letting new ideas emerge to engage people’s imaginations.
Drawing on metaphor and abstraction, cultural activities tap into our human values and abilities of connection, storytelling, caring for places and making meaning.
Science and technology alone cannot play the role of interpreting the existential crisis we face or shifting the destructive values that underpin the need for change. Culture explores the fierce poetry of the heart; the pain of what we are losing and a yearning for the restoration and celebration of life.
Culture, literally, ‘tills’ (cultivates) the soil of a society, creating conditions for renewal and change, ready to plant something anew: systemic changes in land use, energy, finance, food and community resilience, reimagining the world the way we dream it to be.
Culture builds capacities for action
Participation is key to many of today’s cultural and arts practices; building creative skills, keeping alive lost crafts and healing knowledge, and learning through doing.
Drawing on old patterns of belonging, kindness and stewardship, culture energises people’s capacities for action to respond collectively to challenges. It can give courage, can inspire re-skilling, and can offer alternatives to the story of ‘limitless’ growth and consumerism.
Play and creativity extends the possibilities we draw on and reduces the effects of fear and stress. Non-competitive ways of working open up space to rehearse new realities of living within ecological limits, shaping our new ways of being human: in our relationships to non-humans, resources for survival, and knowing oneself as part of nature.
Culture lets us learn
Public debate and policy does not yet honour the role culture plays in accelerating and nurturing societal change in this Earth crisis. How societies change is connected directly to how people learn (across differences and generations, with others) and how knowing that we’re part of a larger web of life on Earth becomes embodied into our behaviour.
A more viable future can be reimagined. Being bold, active players in this great reimagining is why and how culture matters.
Creative and cultural activism
Culture and creativity can inspire and support action and can make activism more effective.
See our ideas on pathways you can follow to carry out change.
See our guidance on direct activism.
Go here for a large and growing list of inspiring organisations and initiatives for a sustainable world.