Dear Arts Council England
Our hearts lifted when we read the 2020-30 draft strategy’s opening statements acknowledging how much the world has changed – economically, technologically, socially and environmentally – and that pace of change will only increase. The strategy continues: “Overshadowing all of this, climate change and environmental degradation look certain to be the pre-eminent forces shaping our social, political and economic landscape up to 2030 and beyond.”
We welcome this truthful statement and write with the profound question as to why, if this is so, it does not inform and shape the vision and strategy itself?
If the facts of climate and ecological change overshadow all else, they would surely underpin and be addressed throughout the entire strategy? The imminent threat to the continuity of life on this planet, caused by the dominant industrial system, would be the pivot around which all planning for Culture in the future turns. Instead, there is nothing in the strategy other than the requirement for funded organisations to reduce their carbon footprint - a policy pioneered positively by ACE internationally since 2012.
The ‘key issues facing the arts’ do not mention the climate and ecological emergency, despite the fact that the UK Parliament, that ultimately funds ACE, has declared one. Heatwaves, Arctic fires and permafrost melting sooner than expected make climate change part of everyday conversations: a shift is underway in the cultural narrative of change.
Since April 2019, over 600 arts and cultural organisations have declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency - inspired by the IPPC, Greta Thunberg, Global Youth Strikes, the Sunrise Movement, David Attenborough, Extinction Rebellion and more. Many of these organisations are NPOs; many are located in local authorities that have also declared Climate and Ecological Emergencies. Looking at the strategy’s three areas of attention: People, Communities and Country, we note there is no sense these are nested inside each other, nor ultimately nested inside dependence on a threatened and fragile planet.
An inspiring strategy would have four areas:
People, Communities, Country and Planet .... starting with the Planet.
The strategy says “We want to see communities that are more socially cohesive and economically robust, and in which residents experience improved physical and mental wellbeing as a result of investment in culture.” We ask how this is possible without healthy environments in which Earth’s living systems are protected?
References to the following are completely missing:
- an emergency response to the planetary crisis
- a recognition of the importance of ecological literacy
- anticipating the threats to the future health and wellbeing of children and people
- acknowledging the systems of oppression and injustice - colonialism, racism and sexism - that perpetuate the crisis
- championing the power of arts and culture to reimagine vivid and compelling stories of how we might live with one another and the planet
In short, the strategy neither addresses the urgency of the climate and ecological emergency nor grasps the chance to trumpet boldly the pivotal role arts and culture play in bringing about societal changes needed to avert disaster. Artists and organisations are already proving to be proactive innovators of systemic change. Resources need to be allocated to support that. Culture Declares Emergency urges ACE to prioritise the importance it claims to give to the emergency throughout its new 10-year strategy. Without this, there is a real danger ACE will be left behind.
Culture Declares Emergency urges ACE to declare a Climate and Ecological Emergency and offers all heads, hearts and hands in support of such a declaration. There is a bold opportunity to be grasped. 10 years is the maximum window of opportunity we have to radically turn things around so as to avoid dangerous and potentially catastrophic and existential levels of climate change. This radical change will be led by artists and cultural practitioners whether ACE accompanies them or falls behind.
How great if we could all travel together!
Culture Declares Emergency
“I see art and creativity as absolutely central to winning and sustaining people. This is hard work, and people need to be fed as full human beings not just with food, but their spirits need to be fed as well. Art keeps people in movements because it gives us moments of beauty, release and community.”