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Where climate change meets culture – creative inspiration & networking

How can climate protection and sustainability be integrated into cultural life? How can the creative scene contribute to this? A workshop with Julie’s Bicycle offers some ideas.

© Sebastian Becker

At the latest, climate change and its consequences are likely to become anchored in public awareness at the point when everyday conversation comes to be dominated by persistent heatwaves and sudden changes in weather. Nevertheless, just a third of people are really talking about it, and so it is all the more important for climate protection to become a socially acceptable topic of conversation and a self-evident sphere of activity – including in the cultural and creative scene. With the aims of providing valuable stimuli for this discussion, supporting networks and preparing a healthy breeding ground for projects, ecce issued invitations to a workshop on 9 October 2018. This was also an opportunity to exchange experiences with the British environmental organisation Julie’s Bicycle  as well as various project managers from the region.

Inspiration & follow-up – in order to translate possibilities into Action

As the winner of the special prize for climate protection as part of the NICE Award 2016 , Julie’s Bicycle has already earned a reputation among local actors. For over 12 years, the team has been supporting cities, institutions and companies as they make the cultural change towards climate-friendly business practices. In the process, it has built up a wealth of wide-ranging experience that is readily understood with the aid of best practice models and can therefore be implemented in a form that is appropriate to the respective circumstances. To enable participants to derive the maximum benefit from this knowledge, workshop leaders Catherine Bottrill and Claire Buckley divided the day into two interconnecting phases: “inspiration” and “follow-up”. In the first section, the two speakers provided comprehensive insights into past and current projects, thereby demonstrating the myriad ways in which climate protection and sustainable practices can be implemented into cultural life. Aside from the climate-related objectives, this created an initial awareness of the wealth of possibilities and positive effects. In the second part, the participants then had the chance to take on an active role, gathering existing approaches and ideas, which they then followed up with a view to meeting the defined objectives. The resulting concepts may go on to provide the initial spark for future projects.

Best practice in many respects – insights into the Julie’s Bicycle projects

The extracts from the Julie’s Bicycle portfolio are genuinely impressive: among other things, the charity has assisted Arts Council England  with drawing up an environmental programme, prepared what are known as “Green Guides” in collaboration with the Mayor of London’s Culture Office, developed a new policy for the Amsterdam Dance Event  and helped various festivals, such as the BRIT Awards , achieve significant reductions in their carbon footprint. However, the real flagship project, which also provided the impetus for this workshop, took place in Manchester. There, Julie’s Bicycle has set up a network of 27 cultural organisations that, by joining forces, have been able to achieve huge savings in terms of emissions and energy consumption. They did this with the aid of numerous initiatives encouraging people to reflect on sustainability, which is vital for achieving a widespread impact in the long term. Particularly in view of its versatility and diversification, this project therefore represents an attractive model – including for the Ruhr region.

Identifying & exploiting synergies – projects from the Ruhr Region

However, Catherine and Claire were here to do more than just present their own projects. Through a series of short presentations, the initiatives participating in the day’s proceedings illustrated the wealth of promising inspirations and synergies on offer in the region. Chief among them, with around 380 projects across the state, is the KlimaExpo.NRW , whose work was briefly outlined by managing director Dr Heinrich Dornbusch at the start of the day. Later came a description of the approaches of Creative.Quarter Lohberg  – a district in the town of Dinslaken whose ambitious aim is to set itself up on a completely carbon-neutral basis. Dortmund’s Die Urbanisten  provided insights into so-called “aquaponics” as a promising basis for urban gardening, and Judith Schanz of the Folkwang University of the Arts drew on the Digimat  project to demonstrate how awareness of sustainable consumption and upcycling can be boosted at the local level. The Regionalverband.Ruhr (Ruhr Regional Association)  drew attention to the Climate Challenge, which runs until the end of the year, and workshop leader Claire Buckley explained the sustainable orientation of the Juicy Beats  festival in Dortmund as well as other events. Attendees therefore received many points of reference, allowing them to devise options of their own after enjoying a group lunch.

Where are we now? Where do we want to go? How can we get there?

After that, it was time for the part involving active participation: at seven creative climate trend stations, the participants first made a note of the status quo in small teams so that they could then formulate specific objectives for the year 2022 in the next step. In addition to numerous milestones, this already produced a number of ideas for events and inter-urban collaborations – including in the form of a joint festival in 2020. Above all, the concept of a “network” was at the heart of most of the thought experiments, because the question of implementation in the last stage ¬– if not sooner – will create a need for cooperation by numerous actors. This applies not only to planning and execution but also to the groundwork involved in persuading neighbours and key decision-makers. At the same time, the effort will be worthwhile: the possibilities devised by the group range from campaigns such as a Green Walk to the establishment of creative spaces for collaboration and even the development and reinforcement of sustainably oriented business models. After around three hours of creative work, the participants had put together an astonishing range of ideas, some of which will hopefully be implemented in the coming years.

The next step: space & support for forward-looking Projects

The workshop is undoubtedly only a first step and is therefore also vitally important, especially in terms of its symbolic meaning. After all, synergies are now in place, there is a lot of work to do, and opportunities exist for support – not least as part of the Creative.Quarters Ruhr  programme, which takes a positive view of artistic project ideas themed around climate change. In any case, the participants can now take valuable stimuli home with them – as well as a few business cards so that they can join forces again in the future.