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SESSION REVIEW

A Workshop, a "Canvas", a New Language and New Ethics

Artists, activists and policymakers propose new ways the arts can be a catalyst for sustainability

The Fellows and staff of Session 561 | Beyond Green: The Arts as a Catalyst for Sustainability

The Fellows and staff of Session 561 | Beyond Green: The Arts as a Catalyst for Sustainability

Patrick Wilson | 01.03.2016

For five days, 58 participants from 28 different countries came together at Salzburg Global Seminar for the program: Beyond Green: The Arts as Catalyst for Sustainability. After intense and often contentious discussions, Fellows concluded the session with proposals for new ways the arts can be a catalyst for sustainability, ranging from a workshop and a "canvas" to a new language and new ethics.

Practitioners and thinkers, all committed to promoting social, economic, and environmental sustainability through the arts and cultural innovation, convened at Schloss Leopoldskron for a series of discussions and group work that aimed to foster innovative strategic approaches to achieve greater and longer-term impact in sustainability goals.

Over the course of the five-day program, daily sessions saw participants present successful projects they had worked on, as well as project failures and pitfalls, with the aim to help their peers see what areas can be improved upon or avoided in their own endeavors. Other panels focused on ways to improve the spreading of messages such as a presentation on the way the human brain retains memories and ideas, while another considered the role design has to play in advancing sustainability.

A major theme of the talks throughout the session was the power of the arts to both raise awareness of social injustices and to generate public engagement and bolder policymaking to help find solutions. The underprivileged and major events often can go under the radar of the general public, and the discussions encouraged those working in the arts to tell these stories and raise awareness.

Another key talking point was an attempt to redefine the term “development.” One Fellow felt the term development has become “poisonous” with many lamenting the way development has been focused for too long on economic growth rather than other aspects such as cultural growth. Fellows remarked that such a narrow-minded focus was not helping to achieve sustainable development as one Fellow said: “It’s a very one dimensional view for a multi-dimensional problem.” Stigmas of a narrowly focused economic development viewpoint were also discussed as one Fellow said: “Economy has become so hegemonic that people think if you’re not developed economically, you’re not developed in any other fields of life.” Fellows hoped to use the arts to help expand the term development by raising awareness of the developed cultures of developing countries and making culture a greater focus on development agendas.

Following the diverse input from the plenary discussions, the Fellows also convened in small groups to work together.

One group explored the role of the “creative industries” (an admittedly contentious term), with many calling for the shift in consumer behaviors to think about responsible sourcing and fair labor practices, with key idea being moving from “extractivism” to “regenerativism.” This change of ideology encompasses a broad spectrum of issues from food systems and the fashion industry to health and social cohesion, and decentralized economies and the commons. The Fellows believed there needed to be a profound change with one Fellow remarking: “We need a new language and new ethics.”

Other groups, in addition to holding some in-depth and introspective discussions, put forward plans to develop new tools and approaches for future work and collaboration. One such proposal was a post-session follow-on workshop to expand and strengthen new alliances for sustainability. The group admitted that they needed intermediary characters outside of the art field to have greater impact on change, and sought to facilitate this through their workshops. 

Raising awareness and engaging the public was the focus of the second project proposal. The Fellows acknowledged a need for inclusive communication to engage stakeholders and the public by focusing on creative changemakers. The Fellows believed there was a lack of communication between sectors, and understanding how to approach and engage stakeholders is vital. To achieve this aim they proposed a “Creative Communication Canvas” tool (possibly an app or a website) that would enable effective communication, the ability to build relationships and create inclusivity amongst partners. The challenges facing the idea included the need for greater research and creating wording that can be globally understood as well as a broad scope in the concept. The Fellows intended to follow up after this Salzburg Global Seminar program by addressing these challenges, identifying partners by leveraging personal networks, and promoting cross-sector involvement.

With projects still in their early stages and huge tasks and questions facing the participants as they left, they took an African saying to heart: “Until the lion finds their storyteller, hunters will always be portrayed as the hero.” 


The Salzburg Global session Beyond Green: The Arts as a Catalyst for Sustainability is part of Salzburg Global’s long-running Culture and the Arts series. The session is supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, the Bush Foundation and Red Bull Amaphiko. More information on the session can be found here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/561

01.03.2016 Category: SALZBURG UPDATES, SALZBURG IN THE WORLD, IMAGINATION, SUSTAINABILITY, CULTURE
Patrick Wilson