Phone Call to the World is a global collaborative project that explores climate change and environmental crises through multimedia art, research and participatory collaboration.
Groups of young people from three continents engaged with climate change issues that impact them at a local level, coming together to consider the wider global climate challenge. Using Phone Call to the World as a connective framework, young people from Scotland, South Africa, Palestine, India and England created diverse digital performance and multimedia works that inform, question, confront and make demands of its multiple audiences to make a difference to one of the most pressing issues of our time.
Recently we had an in-depth interview with the project team.
Q: How did you become involved in climate action?
Given that we work with young people and our homebase is in Glasgow, the host city for COP26, it was really a case of how can we not get involved in climate action. Our work is focused on young artists’ development, supporting them to make original work on themes and topics that matter to them and, as you might expect, climate change and climate justice were looming large as issues they wanted to explore. Scottish Youth Theatre’s first major project on the topic was in 2020 when our National Ensemble of 20 young artists from across Scotland created ‘Once You See the Smoke.’ Originally intended as a live touring piece, it was reimagined as a site-specific work for the digital realm when lockdown happened and was performed live from the company members’ different locations.
As a company we strive for pro-environment practices and, as our knowledge and awareness grows, we continue to work towards reducing our carbon footprint and instilling a green mindset in everyone who works with us.
Q: Can you tell us more about Phone Call to the World?
Phone Call to the World has spanned many artforms, inspired many breakaway projects and involved people from across the world.
- Young artists with Al-Harah Theater in Palestine held rich discussions on the economic and identity struggles of local farmers – learning about the heritage of Palestinian seeds and how these crops can be regenerated in the future.
- ARROWSA in Durban, South Africa found food provision and recycling were key to their project, and so began designing and cultivating a Vegetable and Cultural Garden on the site of a local high school.
- Gorse Hill Studios from Manchester organised participatory workshops and various small-scale, local activist events to begin inspiring community engagement and raising their awareness of climate change issues.
- In Scotland, young people from across the country collaborated in multiple strands of the project, interrogating ecological arts practice, digital theatre-making and their own understanding of both individual and communal ecological living.
- In response to the lack of sustainability policies with governmental agendas, the young people from South Roots International (Western Cape) engaged in lake cleaning, participatory workshops on Indigenous knowledge systems and land stewardship, and began planting trees while on their musical production tour through five of South Africa’s provinces.
- And young people from Study Hall Education Foundation (Lucknow, India) combatted the absence of climate change conversations in local communities through creative workshops, developed learning in schools, public interventions, pledge making and Ecobrick building.
The project became a catalyst for young people from around the world to strike up conversations with older generations about climate justice – encompassing people and places at different knowledge points – to come together and witness how these issues intersect with international perspectives and experiences. In the Scottish Borders, young people from Borders Youth Theatre presenting their work were engaged in a heated intergenerational debate about the ownership of land and where responsibilities lie. Students from Study Hall Educational Foundation took to the streets to ask passers-by where they think waste comes from and who is accountable for cleaning it. Furthermore, while on tour, participants from South Roots International were surprised to come across communities who weren’t aware of climate change as something that is happening. All these experiences became an opportunity for shared learning and connection between people. And so, throughout all of this, our aim was to listen and learn – to begin to understand the divergent narratives that climate change and its devastating effects exist as – and give the opportunity for audiences experiencing the artwork thereafter to do the same.
The challenge then was how we presented these meaningful connections that were sewn throughout the project and how we were able to forefront the many young voices, geographies and contexts that were involved through their artworks: encouraging the intersections that began to flourish while retaining the autonomy of each piece and where it came from.
This came together at the Phone Call to the World Interactive Exhibition, which assembled work from all the partners and young people that had been involved in the project so far. The scale of how we initially envisaged an end sharing of the work evolved throughout the year, as content and collaborations continued to grow. We knew we needed to find a way that communicated each of the partners’ distinct project journeys, while existing as an accessible space for audiences to witness and engage with the stories as they unfolded. What resulted was a 2-week interactive exhibition and programme of events at CCA Glasgow during COP26. Through film, audio work, performance, storyboards and participatory elements throughout the space, the exhibition became a sort of testimony from all the young people involved; asserting how they encounter the world they live in and how they demand climate justice. It acted as a space of engagement and transition, where the magnitude of global extinction is met at a local and urgent level.
Q: Can you tell us what you and the participants have learned so far?
The range of learning has been as diverse as all the people taking part, so it is difficult to reduce this to one or two main points. The organisations from South Africa connected with a national park to learn about different plant and animal species that are becoming endangered as a result of climate change. They also hosted a series of webinars presenting environmental practice with various researchers, activists and artists. Al-Harah Theater organised workshops with the Palestine Heirloom Seeds Library to learn about the fertilisation of foreign crops and their own agricultural heritage. Therefore, very specific learning has emerged from each project’s development and who they have worked with.
As we mentioned, a lot of the learning that can be taken from the project concerns differing contexts, how this affects our actions and the act of building collaborative bridges as a result. However, as things culminated at the Interactive Exhibition in November, we noticed a few distinct and unplanned themes threading throughout all the work.
Phone Call to the World came at a time of such uncertainty for a lot of young people across the world. It became a catalyst for discussion and enquiry; connecting to land, rediscovering nature and reclaiming their own cultural heritage. Whether that be teaching each other about sustainable hygiene products, coding model robots used for seed distribution, learning about the agricultural, political and historical contexts of their local environment, or writing songs about climate change; themes of hope thread through all the actions the young people were taking – genuinely considering what impact it had on their own lives as well as the lives of others.
We look forward to reflecting more on this overall learning with our partners during the evaluative process of the project.
Q: How can we get involved?
There are many ways to engage with Phone Call to the World, even now.
#MyCallToTheWorld was a public engagement campaign which gathered young people's testimonies voicing what they want to change for the future of the world. Through submitting an environmental ‘proposal for the future’, bespoke #MyCallToTheWorld digital posters were created for each statement, which were then animated to react to a voice recording from each participant. The statements varied in their concerns; from the health of the Earth’s forests and seas to practical advice towards change through both governmental and individual action.
These statements were broadcast on digital billboards across Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Perth at the end of September 2021. The campaign was then further developed during the Phone Call to the World Interactive Exhibition at CCA Glasgow during COP26. Visitors to the exhibition had the opportunity to write their own environmental statements and install them in the space for the remainder of the exhibition, allowing people to visit and read through the diverse proposals themselves. When the exhibition closed, those statements were gathered and generated into digital posters, each of which were then uploaded to the #MyCallToTheWorld virtual gallery, which you can visit here: http://mycalltotheworld.online/
All works created throughout Phone Call to the World are also on display on the project’s Interactive Media Map. You can access the map from anywhere in the world via: http://bit.ly/phonecalltotheworld
You can also visit the Phone Call to the World project website, tracking the progress of the project in line with each partner organisation. Here you will also find the Phone Call to the World Resources Library – an index of educational and research materials addressing climate change, initially compiled by Explorathon at the start of the project. This has since been extended with resources made by some of the young participants of the project, including writing, research papers, PowerPoint presentations and short videos. You can visit the website by using the URL: https://phonecalltotheworld.org/