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Report Launch: Culture and Climate Justice in South Africa

Artists and Cultural Organisations Are Leading the Way on Climate Justice in South Africa

Today our latest report, authored by Sholeh Johnston, with be launched at the South African Cultural Observatory Conference (SACO) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

​Towards a Regenerative Culture: The Role of South African Arts, Culture and Creativity in Climate Justice and Environmental Sustainability draws together research and interviews conducted with over 30 artists, cultural organisations and policy makers across South Africa in 2017.

​​Representing a broad spectrum of activity, including the visual arts, dance, theatre, music, festivals, craft, design and architecture, the report demonstrates how the arts and culture are responding to urgent and interdependent environmental and social challenges - not only reducing impacts but making a net positive contribution to ecosystem health, and supporting the implementation of national policy objectives.

Key findings include:

  • A diverse and expert community of artists, creative practitioners and cultural organisations from across the cultural and creative industries are already engaging with issues related to climate justice, providing grassroots leadership to close the gap between national policy objectives and implementation.

  • Artistic and cultural projects related to climate justice often deliver on social outcomes too, including social cohesion and economic empowerment.

  • Funding for projects is limited, with many artists self-funding their initiatives over and above official support from a variety of South Africa and international grants.

  • The sector’s impact on climate justice could be strengthened and scaled up with strategic coordination and investment.

It was produced in collaboration with the National Arts Council of South Africa and the Vrystaat Arts Festival as an outcome of several years of partnership and exchange with Julie's Bicycle, the global leader on creative climate action. It was produced during a Clore Leadership secondment supported by Arts Council England.

> Read the report below or download it directly

Professor Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice Chancellor, University of the Free State said:

The Culture and Climate Justice: Towards a Regenerative Culture in South Africa report is an outcome of a visit in 2016 by the CEO of Julie's Bicycle, Alison Tickell, supported by the Programme for Innovation in Artform Development (PIAD), an initiative of the University of the Free State and the Vrystaat Arts Festival, funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation.

At the 2016 PIAD Forum on Arts and the Environment where Ms Tickell was the keynote, a scoping document was suggested to map the state of the arts and environmental activism in South Africa. Sholeh Johnston took on the mantel of this research and developed a considerable document with a broad scope of practices currently taking place in the country.

I am incredibly proud to have the University of the Free state, through the PIAD, involved in this ground-breaking scoping document – a first for South Africa. We have now completed the first step in an ongoing process thanks to her contribution.

Rosemary Mangope, CEO of the National Arts Council of South Africa said:

South Africa’s transition to an environmentally sustainable, climate-change resilient, low-carbon economy is currently in its first phase (2014-2019). This phase is a piloting and investing phase which focuses on the creation of a framework for implementing the transition to an environmentally sustainable, low-carbon economy. It includes unblocking regulatory constraints, data collection and establishment of baseline information, and indicators testing some of the concepts and ideas to determine if these can be scaled up. The NAC is proud to have hosted Environmental Sustainability Specialist, Ms Sholeh Johnston (from May to June 2017) to conduct a study on what is on the ground needing scaling up, among others. There is a need to identify creative intersections between the arts and the environment.

Change is dependent on us. We need to become individuals who are willing to stand up and say it is time for less talk and more action. This is our planet and we are its destroyers. Making the role of culture in meeting environmental and social challenges in South Africa visible is a significant step. The cultural sector, key strategic organisations and funders like the NAC need to support the efforts of brave expert community of artists, creative practitioners and cultural organisations from across the cultural and creative industries who are already engaging with issues related to climate justice and providing grassroots leadership to close the gap between national policy objectives and implementation.

Annalize Dedekind, Chair of the Vrystaat Arts Festival said:

That the arts play a major role in shaping communities is not headline news. But this report underlines this fact even more, because it is in our theatres, with a palet and paintbrush in hand, writing or reading a book, listening to music or bringing creative people from different perspectives together that we can change mind-sets. From an arts festival point of view we see this everyday - how the arts help break-down walls and changes our sense of self for the better. What better tool then do we have to bring about change on very important issues such as sustaining the environment than through the arts in all its varied forms.

Alison Tickell, CEO of the Julie’s Bicycle said:

At Julie's Bicycle we've seen time and time again that connecting creative climate practitioners to like-minded peers, and making their inspirational work visible, is one of the most powerful catalysts for scaling up change. This report is an important step towards gaining recognition for the arts and culture as critical stakeholders in the global climate response, and revealing the impact and potential that South African artists and cultural organisations wield. The time for action is now, and the recommendations in this report provide a way forward.

Sholeh Johnston, research lead, said:

“South Africa is already experiencing severe effects of a changing climate – drought, water scarcity and crop failure amongst other challenges. The transition to climate resilience demands mass participation, distributed leadership and shifts in consciousness and behaviour: this report demonstrates the critical role of culture in that shift. It’s easy to overlook individual artists and organisations working at a local level for change, but their combined impact in this big-picture narrative is impossible to ignore. Imagine what would be possible if their commitment, creativity and expertise could be amplified with strategic support?”

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