Creative Dundee

Blog: Creativity Makes Change Possible

Identity created by Tommy Perman. Illustration by Evie Grace Caldwell.

In this reflective blog, Claire Dufour—Creative Climate Producer and project lead for CULTIVATE—shares some of the highlights and challenges about the pilot project.

CULTIVATE is a regional leadership programme for Creative Practitioners and Local Communities to collaboratively engage, create and produce locally relevant work, with a climate and social justice lens, across the Tay region.

In this post Claire reflects on the milestones, hurdles, surprises and new connections being made along the way. She shares more about the programme’s ambition, process and how the learnings will help shape what comes next.

Since taking on the role of Creative Climate Producer and launching CULTIVATE in May 2021, I’ve found it tricky to describe what we do in a few words, as this pilot project encompasses multiple aspects, strengths and unknowns.

The main ambition of CULTIVATE is to explore new ways of embedding creativity at the core of grass-roots collaborative action for climate justice… ok, but, what does this really mean?

Creative Carbon Scotland along with other major cultural institutions have recently campaigned with this unified message that climate action needs culture. They say the following, which also helpfully explains our own starting point pretty accurately: 

“Climate action needs culture. People come together in cultural spaces to explore, learn and think differently, to think collectively. Big cultural spaces can help us think bigger. Small community spaces provide practical knowledge and resources for local adaptation and resilience.”

Culture brings people together in communities, through making, sharing and playing with others; in time and place, these shared moments create much-needed community spaces to imagine possible futures—whilst creativity acts as a springboard for sharing and growing the skills, knowledge and confidence to change things.

In thinking these big topics through (often loaded with jargon), my own developing definition of climate justice is making sure that everyone, regardless of their background and identity, should have full and democratic access to the information, spaces and resources that are available, as well as having equal opportunities to develop the knowledge, skills and networks—to take action against climate change or adapt their ways of living and sharing.

Claire Dufour, CULTIVATE’s producer, talking at the first in Culture Collective’s winter 2021 events series, about how locally-led, place-specific, creative projects can make a difference in our thinking about the future.

The pressure placed on individuals to do their bit for climate change can feel daunting though, especially as those most impacted are those doing the least harm—and in many ways, they are not fully aware how they are already doing their bit. Add on top the other critical issues which communities are facing, like rising living costs, increasing flooding potential, experiencing discrimination, job insecurities, health inequalities, rural isolation, and this can all feel overwhelming.

So, what can a programme like CULTIVATE bring or support within communities? How can we make the topic less overwhelming, yet more relevant, embedded, sustainable and regenerative? What might success look like?

Will we find definitive, satisfying answers? Probably not. I think we’ll actually have more questions as we go forward, however our focus is to find ways to be comfortable with the unknowns, whilst exploring what can be achieved collectively, on a community level, and refining our process as we go.

Dr Rebecca Wade, who’s part of the CULTIVATE Community Steering Group, gave a talk, at Creative Dundee’s Pecha Kucha Night Vol 28, about cross-disciplines collaboration and how it can deliver multiple benefits for our planet and communities.

Working in partnership with six Community Partners across the Tay region, partners have played a central role in enabling the commissioned Creative Practitioners to better understand the local challenges and opportunities. Each Community Partner Link has developed close relationships with the Creative Practitioners, connecting them with communities to build on activities already happening locally.

Each Creative Practitioner brings a very distinct set of excellent skills and experiences to the communities they are engaging with, within their local settings (rural/urban) and with the different types of Community Partners (ranging from community hubs and gardens, to an outdoor museum, and a town shop). Whilst this is a recovery project, it’s sometimes easy to forget that we are very much still in the pandemic and factors like Storm Arwen have again added layers of unexpected complexity! 

The Practitioners have been engaging with communities on diverse activities, and over the next few months we’ll be hearing more from them. Working with groups on the fringes, from people facing poverty stigma to rurally isolated communities, the Practitioners have facilitated engaging and creative space for people to come together and imagine the future collectively–whether it’s been through: creating and strengthening networks of support and sharing; giving people a safe space to voice their fears and hopes; restoring communication and understanding between generations; helping communities visualise concrete and practical solutions; or simply reconnecting people with nature–all these community activities have something in common, they remind us that bright futures are possible if collective actions are taken.

You can read more about each Creative Practitioner’s journey so far here:

We believe that these localised approaches can and will have multiple benefits, like improving the quality of life for people, helping young people develop their capabilities, improving the build and natural environment for wide community use, and involving communities in action, not simply talking about it.

Most importantly, communities locally are already doing incredible work, so we want to celebrate this and communicate these stories of collective action. With the complex, hyper-localised lives we are all living, one thing I am sure of is culture’s ability to be that powerful, collaborative space, which helps us be comfortable in the deep unknown and make change possible!

Fraser Stewart, who’s part of the CULTIVATE Community Steering Group, gives us an example of solidarity and hope within collective action.

CULTIVATE is a pilot project, which engages communities with Climate Justice through creativity and peer-education. We’ll be sharing more insights into each of our first six Creative Practitioner commissions over the coming weeks.

Creative Dundee is part of Culture Collective, a network of 26 participatory arts projects, shaped by local communities alongside artists and creative organisations. Funded by Scottish Government emergency COVID-19 funds through Creative Scotland.

The Culture Collective programme has the potential to place creative practice right at the heart of a just transition, and help shape the future of local cultural life, which will impact massively the way we embrace creativity and culture in Scotland.

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