So, the other night I got ready to watch a gig by a group called, Artists for a Just and Green Recovery. I got cosy in my dressing gown and slippers; mug of cocoa, (well, let’s be honest, it was a glass of something stronger) and settled down in front of the computer screen to be entertained by a brilliant variety of singers, musicians, comedians, performance poets and film makers from all over Scotland. They were talking, singing and making jokes about what I will call, the climate emergency. The event was part of 5 days of online activities, based around a global gathering for climate justice. Moved online, ‘the arts’, as a means of communicating stories and experiences of the climate crisis, featured prominently.
Protest, in art and song, is nothing new. I was reminded of this as I listened recently to a song sung by Siobhan Miller, Pound A Week Rise, Pickford (1962), The lyrics are about the struggles of miners to get a £1 a week pay rise. As a would-be poet all this got me thinking about the role of artists in these troubled times? Tayport is such a creative hub so I asked a few ‘arty’ friends for their thoughts, and I am grateful for their honest offerings. My friend, Julie said:
“My first thought is that artists should not feel obliged/duty-bound to promote any particular cause. The source of their creative activity is entirely personal, comes from whatever inspires. If commissioned to create for a cause, eg, environmental, and they can, want to, do that honestly…then great. Many do. I have no doubt that messages/info can be very powerfully and effectively presented to a (curious) audience by the various arts. The artist too would do well to really understand the issues.”
Before lockdown I was preparing a blog about a Dundee enterprise called, ScrapAntics, who, “recycle industry excess into art and design for use in celebration of community.” Their base is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of materials, and as an artist if you can’t afford to pay for the materials, you can do a swap. So, coming at it from this angle, I asked another friend, Ingrid, if she ever thought about how she sources her materials.
“I don’t automatically make a connection between climate change and my art materials. It is only when I have been in art classes that the subject comes more to the fore – the teacher may suggest using a certain type of glue which is more environmentally friendly. I feel a little embarrassed because I might not be aware necessarily that the glue I was using was in any way environmentally un-friendly. This is probably true for other art materials which perhaps have a more environmentally friendly equivalent which I should, as someone who cares about climate change, be using”.
‘Climate change is a failure of imagination’ – I first heard this expression from a young poet, Lea, a student at St Andrew who is happy to call herself an eco-activist and has just published a collection of poetry chronicling her thoughts, feelings and first-hand experiences of the climate emergency (listen to my interview with her on PLANT Voices podcast). For her climate justice and her art are inexorably linked: she is insistent that art and creativity can be used as a tool for change.
Of course, the art world is as diverse as any other sector of society, and so a variety of views is only to be expected. Personally, the more I am immersed in the complexities of climate change, I find my writing, reflects back these issues. As always, I would be really glad to hear your opinions on this and in the meantime, I’ll leave the final words to local writer, Frank, who says. “Whatever creative spirit I have thrives best when I keep my nose out of its business and leave it free to pick its own take-off point, flight path, landing.”