‘We need a reversal of the normal question. Rather than asking 'What is the arts doing to respond to climate emergency?', ask instead 'What does climate emergency do to art or to cultural production?'' — Discovery session participant

The British Council has commissioned this scoping research to shape and inform its longer-term Culture Responds to Global Challenges programme responding to climate action and sustainability in the arts. In addition, it supports the British Council’s active role as a knowledgeable contributor creating opportunities for international cultural relations around the climate crisis, one of the most urgent issues we face globally.

This report, developed by researchers at the University of the Arts London (UAL), seeks to map out what’s happening in this space across the British arts and cultural sectors. Thematically structured, it includes suggestions of best practice and links to practical resources for cultural organisations and activists across the world.

A key resource for us at the British Council as we consolidate and expand our arts and climate portfolio, we also hope the report will be more widely useful in igniting conversations, questioning paradigms, and pointing to new ways of working. 

The scoping research has highlighted eight key trends from across the UK:

1. Decarbonising arts and culture
In order to respond to global emissions targets, all sectors must radically decarbonise. The arts is no exception. Achieving measurable decarbonisation in the arts relies on calculating and quantifying emissions. Gathering and analysing this data is a crucial first step in the designing of interventions and wider transformation plans.

2. Long term mindsets and models
By its very nature sustainability requires a long term and multigenerational mindset. A transition to robust earth and equity centred models requires long-term oriented behaviours, mindsets and actions. This relies upon long-term, future-focused value frameworks, governance, economic, funding and programming models.

3. Whole systems change
Several initiatives place arts and culture in the context of wider systems change, recognising themselves as part of the problem. There is an acknowledgement of both the deep entanglement between arts and the very conditions of social and environmental injustice that have led to the current crises and the potential to effect change in these wider social, cultural, economic and planetary systems through the arts. Participants also reflected on both why and how we make art in climate crisis. These two questions inform and reinforce each other and if considered together, rather than separately, they can prompt fundamental and radical change within organisations. Some initiatives have reconsidered the premise of their existence in relation to climate action and sustainability.

4. Intersectional approaches
Several organisations and initiatives explicitly recognise that the climate and biodiversity emergencies are intertwined with social, racial, gender and other injustices.

5. Climate action in the arts as ‘situated practice’
The creative sector can prototype and socialise sustainable lifestyles through working within and for sectors that are experiencing or dealing with climate change and social concerns first-hand. ‘Situated practice’ can here be understood as creative response to immersion in specific geographical or professional settings. This approach is evident in multiple contexts where arts and artists act as observers, mentors, ideators, provocateurs or critical friends.

6. Creative sense-making for present and future
A wide range of the mapped initiatives assert the role of the arts in shifting cultural narratives around climate. This includes conveying information and interpreting scientific facts through artistic expression, creating emotional and imaginative responses to shift perspectives and inspire action. Artists and designers can help reframe the narrative of climate change from risk-reduction to imaginative exploration of new ways of being, encouraging hope, agency and action in individuals and communities.

7. Shifts in arts education, roles and skills
We are currently facing a three-fold misalignment between arts education and the climate specific roles and skills within the sector. On the one hand, the leading climate action curricula are equipping students with new skillsets required in response to the combined climate and social crisis. At the same time, the formal provision and recruitment for such roles are lagging behind the increasing demand across multiple segments of the sector.

8. Networked, open and distributive knowledge
Consortium approaches and networks have been vital to providing support and exchange, sharing best practice, and replicating approaches across multiple organisations. Many of these networks have co-authored tools and guidebooks for their members and the wider sector.

Hear more about the key findings from the research team.