Why arts and culture matter in an emergency

Culture convenes

Culture gives space to articulate our place and survival in the web of life.

In studies of systemic interconnectedness, the energy and resilience of a system are where connections and links are the strongest; participation, diversity, plurality and variability the greatest.

Through its convening powers, culture brings people together across differences of generation, heritage, gender, class and working expertise to find commonality: all perspectives can be drawn on to create the future we want to live in. Celebratory social spaces allow us to to look backwards and forwards in time, where our collective knowledge, intuition and a sense of wonder at what is possible come together.

Culture renews and transforms

The arts have a tradition of sparking cultural change and ‘speaking differently’: disrupting the status quo and creating emergent space for new ideas to engage people at an imaginative level. Drawing on metaphor and abstraction, cultural activities tap into intrinsic values of connection, story, place and meaning. Science and technology alone cannot play the role of interpreting the existential crisis we face or shifting the destructive values that underpin the need for change. Culture explores the fierce poetry of the heart; the pain of what we are losing and a yearning for the restoration and celebration of life.

Culture, literally, ‘tills’ (cultivates) the soil of a society, creating conditions for renewal and change, ready to plant something anew: systemic changes in land use, energy, finance, food and community resilience, reimagining the world the way we would like it to be.

Culture builds capacities for action

Participation is key to many of today’s cultural and arts practices; building creative skills, lost crafts, and learning through doing and engaging. Drawing on patterns of belonging, empathy, kindness, stewardship, re-skilling, alternatives to 'limitless' growth, culture energises people’s courage and capacities for action to respond collectively to challenges faced.

Play and creativity extends the range of possibilities we draw on and negates the cortisol-inducing effects of fear: a necessity for collaboration and survival. Non-competitive ways of working open up space to rehearse new realities of living within ecological limits, shaping our new ways of being human on Earth; our relationships to non-humans, seasons and cycles and knowing oneself as part of nature.

Culture lets us learn

Public debate and policy does not yet honour the role the arts and culture play in accelerating and nurturing societal change at a time of climate and ecological emergency. How societies change is connected directly to how people learn, across differences, with others, and how knowledge that we’re part of a larger web of life on Earth, becomes embodied into our behaviour.

A more viable future can be reimagined. Being bold, active players in this great reimagining is why and how culture matters.

Culture is seen very broadly to include:

  • Arts (theatre, music, visual art, literature, live art, film, dance, comedy, public art, outdoor arts, street arts, carnival arts, environmental arts etc.)
  • Design (craft, architecture, place-making, fashion, ecological design, product design, graphics etc.)
  • Museums (of science, natural history, art, history, industry, politics, eco-museums etc.)
  • Heritage (historic buildings, botanic gardens, landscape trusts, historic towns, archaeology, heritage crafts etc.)
  • Archives and Libraries (public libraries, specialist libraries, civic archives etc.)
  • Intangible heritage (indigenous and diaspora groups, faith organisations, sacred and healing practices, physical culture etc.)
  • Creative industries (digital, games, media, advertising & PR, publishing etc.)
  • Learning & education (teachers, facilitators, researchers, lecturers, Public Engagement with science and research etc.)
  • Wellbeing and participatory practice (arts for health, therapists, socially engaged practitioners, disability arts etc.)

The form to express interest in declaring does not ask you to define an area of cultural practice.

See the What to do next section for a list of inspiring arts and culture organisations leading the way in responding to environmental and social challenges.