Stories—

Climarte: Bringing artists to the forefront

Climarte is an alliance of art sector organisations, practitioners and professionals. The organisation, founded in 2010, focuses the energy and ingenuity of creative sectors to engage, inspire and motivate people to act on climate change.

Climarte organises and produces events and workshops with an aim to increase awareness and consideration of a different way of knowing and feeling climate change. In turn, it enables different and novel ways of organising and activism. Guy Abrahams describes how artists step into the sociopolitical arena to reflect upon and discuss the state of society and the natural world. He highlights how artists, and Climarte, act to record events but also to catalyse cultural change1.

The organisation reflects and responds to an understanding of climate change as not only a physical phenomenon but rather a merging of sociocultural, ecological and geological transformations. In turn Climarte’s diverse work explores the intertwined social, environmental and cultural implications of climate change. The organisation creates a space through which cultural producers, communities, and other stakeholders are able to understand, discuss and work collaboratively through climate change. 

Art+Climate=Change

Art+Climate=Change is an arts festival led by Climarte that has run in 2015 and 2017. It has brought together the work of Australian and international practitioners to spark change, create awareness and collaborate with the public to imagine potential futures.

The festival runs at multiple sites in Victoria with the support of private firms, universities, local and international government organisations, as well as artists, art institutions and organisations. The 2015 festival had over 75,000 visitors to 25 exhibitions and 46 public programs2.

In both festivals, a series of talks, workshops and discussions accompanied the art exhibitions. These events have highlighted the ability of art, as Abrahams describes, to provide an intellectually freeing and non-threatening space. The diverse programming of the festival has brought to the table not just experts but also Indigenous, Settler and international voices from the art world and the general public.

In Art+Climate=Change, John Wiseman highlights a key question about the role of art and the festival – “what, if anything, will this art really change?”. He identifies four domains where the work of artists, curators and attendees have contributed creative insights that are novel and impactful: recognising risk, imagining alternative pathways, creating emotional resilience, and exploring new solidarities.

Identifying and Recognising Risk

Climarte contributes to a more holistic understanding of the risks of climate change by engaging with emotion and psychology. This emotional engagement represents a significant departure from the status quo of climate change communication – normally revolving around statistics and science. Artists and events bring climate change into proximity with our everyday lives and experiences, making us more aware of the implications and risks of climate change. A variety of Climarte events and exhibitions have engaged with climate change’s impacts on local and non-local spaces, macro and micro scales, human and non-human species.

Climarte has provided a significant contribution to the public recognition of the risks of climate change. Multiple narratives and viewpoints on these risks are highlighted through the diversity of artists, activists, experts and publics that interact during the festivals, exhibitions and events. The organisation brings artists and the public to the table to discuss and identify risks that may be omitted in mainstream and expert discussions.

Imagining Alternative Pathways

Climarte explores, highlights and encourages what Kelly Gellatly calls “new ways of being within our world”. Through its public and collaborative programs, the organisation has called for the public, climate experts and art-makers to imagine freely what potential alternative responses to climate change there may be. New and novel imaginings of the future are encouraged and made possible through the forums organised by Climarte. 

The event “Baby It’s Hot Outside” run by the Carlton Connect Initiative as part of the 2015 Art+Climate=Change festival is a great example of imagining alternative pathways. The immersive, speculative event asked attendees to imagine themselves in the Melbourne of 2050, following three consecutive days of over 47℃. The attendees, with the help of an expert panel, were tasked with developing a plan of action to survive this hot future. 

This forum sought to leave ‘everydayism’ in order to allow exchange and consultation between public, experts and art-makers to ‘daydream’, to test the validity of ideas and to reframe the way we look to the future and at the present. Subsequently, this departure from the everyday allowed the co-creation of a space where members of the public and experts could interact, share and exchange knowledges. Through this collaborative ‘daydreaming’ and the removal of everyday power dynamics, new ideas and innovations can emerge that may lead to alternatives unimaginable currently. 

Creating Emotional Resilience and Engagement 

Burke and others (2018) describe how participatory art grounded within place and local everyday experience is key to engaging people who are undecided about climate change. Informal conversations, dialogues and discussions arise through the ‘placement’ of art within communities and the everyday. Climarte helps to build emotional resilience through not only recognising the range of emotions and emotionality produced in response to climate change but also creating and providing spaces of solidarity to connect with other individuals and networks. 

A key example of this immersive and participatory art in Climarte’s work was the 2015 exhibition and event “The Warming and The Anthropocene Cabinet of Curiosities”, and the accompanying “Anthropslam”. The twenty-five artists in the exhibition explored their feelings of unease about the future of our world in a variety of mediums. These artists pitched the works and objects they contributed to the exhibition in the “Anthropslam”, described by Abrahams as a “conversational interchange between artists, audience and respected climate change commentators”. Through this ‘localising’ of artworks and establishing interaction between art producers, consumers and scientists, Climarte provided an opportunity to discuss the impacts of climate change differently. 

Fostering emotional resilience requires the empowerment of actors and audiences. A key aspect of Climarte’s work is re-engaging and enabling the public to act on the issue of climate change – this is achieved not only through presenting different artists’ engagements with the themes but also providing opportunities to act, whether implicit or explicit. In fostering new connections between audiences in participatory artworks and events, unknown opportunities for novel engagement and activism between citizens become possible. Additionally, both iterations of the Art+Climate=Change festivals have featured clear ways of taking action through providing information about green and ethical super-funds and companies as well as ways to participate in political movements among other actions. 

Exploring New Solidarities

Climarte generates opportunities to build and explore new solidarities between different communities in its program through fostering connections and dialogue. In building non-threatening and intellectually freeing spaces, the organisation creates a platform for marginalised groups as well as the ‘mainstream’ to interact and share ideas with each other – providing an escape from the power dynamics of the everyday. 

The 2017 Climarte event ‘Decolonising Climate Action’ accompanied the ‘Flow’ exhibition at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. ‘Flow’ invited participants and attendees “to bear witness to the ecological present while hearing the call of our common ecological future”3. ‘Decolonising Climate Change’ took place over the course of an afternoon, incorporating readings, a panel discussion and dance performance. The event brought together artists, activists and experts to discuss and respond to Indigenous knowledges shaping decolonised and intersectional responses to climate change pasts, presents and futures.

The spaces created at and by Climarte bring both artists and the general public to the table, providing them with a non-threatening space to work, think and talk through the implications of climate change. Fostering connections between members of the public, artists and scientists creates the potential for novel understandings, activism and engagement. As an organisation, Climarte re-figures the public not as consumers or voters, but instead as individuals and communities who feel climate change and who can in turn collaborate and engage in new forms of activism.

1 Abrahams, G, Johnson, B & Gellatly, K 2016 Art+Climate=Change, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne. 

2 https://climarte.org/artclimatechange-2017-announcement/

3 https://www.moreland.vic.gov.au/flow-exhibition