Getting Creative with Climate Action

Climate and the environment: not something you immediately link to artists and the art industry. How creative can you really get with the climate crisis? The art world has reached a tipping point of mass awareness within the industry and, now more than ever, there is more space and attention focussed on climate action. This is more notably shown in terms of artists engaging with climate issues through their practice – but what are the responsibilities of the art world and how far do we need to go to make a recognisable change? 

Art has always been the megaphone for change and a proactive channel to communicate these worldly concerns and movements but unlike many other industries, there doesn’t seem to be any centralised sources of information to educate and benefit the art world. Amy Balkin’s A People’s Archive of Sinking and Melting (2012 – present), as well as other similar new initiatives and organisations, are being established to help understand, educate and inspire action, for example, Climate Museum

“At the Climate Museum, we know that having an emotional connection to an artwork is vital, but the urgency of the climate crisis demands more. We need to empower people to turn that visceral response into determination. Our responsibility as an institution is to provide our constituents with expert-backed pathways to climate action. We use the power of arts and the public trust held by museums to remind people that joining with others in collective action is more impactful than what one individual can accomplish alone. We show people that in action there is community and in community there are solutions.” – Anais, Reyes, Exhibitions Associate at the Climate Museum

Museums are being publicly challenged to divest from fossil fuel sponsorship and take action on their climate responsibilities – take a look at the work of Culture Unstained and activist groups like BP or Not BP, while museums like The Horniman Museum have published their intentions in a Climate and Ecology Manifesto (2020), they pledge to minimise waste, reduce pollution and invest in environmental research, as well as review and update their collections, the site and the organisation. In the museum sector, there is a growing understanding of the direct relationship between colonial exploitation and the impact of the climate crisis, which has led to some very interesting research that recommends deaccessioning as a policy towards both environmental and cultural sustainability, not to mention impactful exhibitions like the current Climate in Crisis, Environmental Change in the Americas at Brooklyn Museum. 

“Although public institutions have been taking significant steps to reduce their carbon footprint and control waste for some time, there seemed to be a lack of equivalent initiatives in the commercial sector. This prompted a group of us to set about developing the tools, strategies, and research required to help make a positive change. This is a work in progress that has extended to all aspects of the visual arts sector.” – Gallery Climate Coalition 

There are more opportunities for smaller organisations and businesses in the arts and cultural sector to engage with and take collective action on the climate crisis, aided by groups like Julie’s Bicycle and the Gallery Climate Coalition, fortunately filling this void with their free resources and necessary tools. With over 170 galleries and over 85 artists already signed up to Gallery Climate Coalition since its inception in 2020, plus a network of organisations and individuals, they’re already making movements towards their aim to collectively reduce our carbon footprint by 50% over the next ten years. After all, knowledge is power and what a better way to effectively champion these issues than through the poignant and collective voice of the art world. 

Two Own Art galleries stand proudly amongst the list of gallery members signed up to GCC: October Gallery and The Royal Society of Sculptors. We got in touch to find out their reasons for joining and Caroline Worthington, Director at The Royal Society of Sculptors, had this to say:

“I recently signed the Society up to the Gallery Climate Coalition because I am conscious that we have an international membership who are moving and showing their work around the world. As an organisation, the GCC provides us with access to information on a range of relevant topics that we can share with our members through their weekly Members News but also make us part of a community that is committed to bringing about change.” – Caroline Worthington, Director at The Royal Society of Sculptors.

Lucy Barlow’s artwork for The Royal Society of Sculptors Annual Summer Exhibition

The Royal Society of Sculptors Annual Summer Exhibition returns, featuring a curated selection of works from members and fellows. One of which is Lucy Barlow, whose oeuvre focuses on relationships between materials and landscape; their effect and confluence on one another.

Another artist using their creative platform to demonstrate the wavering status of the environment is Joe Webb. Through his original and thought-provoking screen prints and collages, Joe Webb tackles sensitive issues such as inequality, war and the environment. Common imagery of natural disaster, space, and people in imaginative, other-worldly settings questions our place and damage in the universe and, consequently, positions the viewer in a more reflective light to become more aware and conscious. His artwork can be purchased from Hang-Up Gallery, Jealous Gallery, Enter Gallery, Chappell Contemporary, Murus Art, and CCA Galleries.

With numerous roles to play here – artist, organisation, collector – how much closer are we to a significant contribution to positive change? Is swapping to eco-friendly packaging, paperless offices and trading carbon credits all we can commit to or is there more we can do to counteract the largest agitators within the art industry?

Watch this space as we continue to research this topic and bring you more art industry-specific findings.

A special thank you to Angela Suh for researching this topic, as well as The Climate Museum and The Royal Society of Sculptors for their valuable input.

Head to the Gallery Climate Coalition to find out more, become a member or donate to help them continue with their fantastic work.