: Sustainable Culture, Part 1 [December, 2014]

[This is a slightly edited english translation of part one of a two part essay commissioned by Art Lab Gnesta / Green Lab in 2013. The essay’s full title is: “Sustainable Culture – Engaging with Environmental and Sustainability Issues as Arts and Culture Workers”. This part focuses on institutions and organisations, part one focuses on individual artists.]

As producers and distributors of culture-that is socially transmitted patterns of living-arts and culture workers have many opportunities to contribute to a better environment and a sustainable development. In this essay I will briefly account for how a number of arts organisations and artists work with environmental and sustainability issues. I will also give examples of how arts and culture workers can improve their practices with regard to the environment and to sustainability.

Four examples of arts organisations working with environmental and sustainability issues are Wanås Art in Wanås in Skåne in Sweden, Grizedale Arts in the Lake District in England, Kultivator in Dyestad on Öland in Sweden, and Campo Adentro in Spain.

Wanås Konst is an exhibition space and sculpture garden at Wanås in the countryside in Skåne. In conjunction with the exhibition “Footprints” in 2009 Wanås Konst became members of “Svanen klubben”, an environmental certification provided for Swedish cultural institutions. For the organisation, this entailed switching from conventional to green electricity, investments in cleaner vehicles and transition to producing eco-labeled printed matter. During the Footprints exhibition Wanås Konst also encouraged visitors to use public transport by lowering the entrance fee for those who traveled to Wanås by train and bus, and as an art work in the exhibition Henrik Håkansson fenced in a 2500 square meter area in the sculpture park. The area now constitutes a nature reserve that for the foreseeable future can develop without human involvement. Since previously there is an ecological and CO2-certified farm adjacent to Wanås Konst that supply local food to the café at Wanås.

Foraging for mushrooms with Grizedale Arts

[Foraging for Mushrooms with Grizedale Arts, 2011. Photo: Erik Sjödin]

Grizedale Arts–located just outside the tourist resort Coniston in the spectacular Lake District in England–strives to operate in a local context and from there address global cultural changes. Grizedale Arts can jokingly, but also seriously, be described as a reformatory for dysfunctional contemporary artists. For example they offer a reorientation award intended to encourage artists to move from traditional contemporary art towards “something more useful”. Local food and crafts are central to Grizedale Arts and visiting artists are expected to engage in collective cooking and in managing Grizedale Arts’ livestock and cultivations. Working for a better environment and sustainable development by strengthening local communities is a major part of Grizedale Arts’ activities. The premise being that artists can play important roles in this work, but that their efforts are not always directed to where they are most needed.

Kultivator is an art and agriculture collective who on their farm on Öland provides a venue which “points out the parallels between provision production
and art practice”. Kultivator conducts ecologically certified milk production and are very familiar with the difficulties of making ends meet both in a small-scale organic farming and in artistic activities. Through activism and do-it-yourself strategies Kultivator calls for resistance against exploitation of common resources and technology driven by commercial interests (e.g, patenting of crops, land grabbing, genetically modified organisms and large-scale industrial agriculture).

Interspecies workshop with Campo Adentro

[Interspecies workshop with Campo Adentro, 2013. Photo: Courtesy of Campo Adentro]

Campo Adentro, finally, is a project that aims to support culture in the Spanish countryside. Through a residence programs, exhibitions and conferences Campo Adentro create conditions for artists, farmers, academics and others to meet. Campo Adentro works from an agro-ecological perspective, where agriculture is the starting point for the development of ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable communities. In contrast to much traditional nature management, the individual is from an agro-ecological perspective not in conflict with nature. “Nature? There was never any of that back in my day.” is a quote from a Spanish shepherd which exemplifies Campo Adentro’s approach. Campo Adentro is keen to highlight the cultural and biological diversity that is lost when people leave rural areas and when small farms are replaced with industrial agriculture and large monocultures. In Spain the most biodiverse areas are low-intensity used meadows, pastures and grazed woodlands.

Together Wanås Konst, Grizedale Arts, Kultivator and Campo Adentro represent several common contemporary ideas about a sustainable future: A life closer to nature, an increased focus on organic local food and local crafts, as well as resistance to increased industrialisation and large corporations. A contrasting perspective is provided by those who British science writer and environmental journalist Fred Pierce calls “environmental modernists”. Environmental modernists are aware of the environmental problems that industrialisation has brought with it; mass extinction of species, dwindling resources and climate change that threatens to change our habitats faster than we can adapt. However, unlike many other environmentalists, environmental modernists believe that the solution to the problems are new technology, and often controversial technologies such as biotechnology, nanotechnology and nuclear power. Environmental modernists also see no problem in people moving from the countryside into cities. On the contrary, they believe that urbanisation, despite growing populations, open up for large areas outside of cities to be re-wilded and protected as nature reserves. The environmental modernists perspective is present within the arts and cultural world especially in the sector where art, technology, and science come together, such as at Ars Electronica in Linz in Austria and the Science Gallery in Dublin, Ireland.