Call to action
This is not just another manifesto preaching to the choir. We know that large parts of the cultural and creative sectors are committed to fight against greenhouse gas emissions, ecological warfare and mass extinction. But the time is over for gloom and doom.
Instead, our focus must be both clear and broad: How can we move beyond (self-)reflection to activate our artistic intelligences, creative techniques and capabilities to address not just isolated societal and environmental challenges but also to respond to multiple, overlapping and entangled crises. The appreciation of complexity is common to both the arts and sciences: we need the dynamics between them to become transparent once again.
There are no pre-ordained strategies, toolkits or recipes for how to proceed. We must accept that the conditions of change have themselves changed. But we can draw from disparate experiences and expertise, different perspectives and the desire to embody and enact change. Once again in times of crisis, the arts become relevant when they contribute with their wisdom, capability, freedom and privilege to question all that exists; they matter when they propose radically new forms of value and new models of valorization — models that are generative and adaptive rather than extractive.
Therefore, we call on everyone, individually and collectively, to mobilize and contribute all that we can — most of all, our collective intelligence, our mutual learning and our shared creativity.
This begins with transforming the institutions of the cultural and creative sectors themselves to cut their emissions. But this is is not an end in itself, it will lay the grounds for supporting these institutions as laboratories to imagine just and fair transitions, to claim ownership of the green transformation and to push for climate neutral cities and regions.
Our imagination of the challenges we face is still ruled by archaic representations of technological systems and by the traditional discourse of innovation, which in turn is dominated by a belief in outdated economic paradigms and technological salvation rather than notions of fairness, justice or solidarity. But we now need radically different concepts and narratives for innovation, ones that decolonize our understanding of what the “new” is and how we can initiate and appreciate it. We need pragmatic conceptual blueprints for the future that are co-created and stress-tested by us all.
Cyclical approaches have become familiar in material terms, from recycling to co-generation; abstracting them into the field of aesthetics can also lay the basis for a much-needed update to how we understand entertainment — one that is rewarding and responsive to societal challenges in equal measure.
To have fun and enjoy beauty does not mean we must close our eyes, escaping and ignoring the complex problems we face. On the contrary, without being deeply affected, without pleasure and joy, we will not find the purpose or the confidence needed to enter today's battles or experience the power of working together across borders and boundaries.
Too often, the arts and culture are reduced to embellishment, illustration and decoration, as if they are merely an indulgence reserved for those who can afford it. Even worse, these traditional views now also serve to greenwash 'business as usual'. This is an outmoded inversion of their true potential:
The arts, culture and creativity are the engine of change.
When meeting and talking to our colleagues in Ukraine, we are deeply moved by the hardship they are going through. But in their fortitude we also see an astonishing new confidence, one that valorizes the potential of every person to creatively, constructively and strategically work toward goals deemed impossible just days ago.
In this situation, we must activate— by all means available and by any means necessary — the foundations of a new ethics and aesthetics, an axiological shift that centers on the question of how we come together in response to, or even in anticipation of, the rising challenges of forced and unforced mobility, alienation and displacement in the age of climate crises, societal transformations, and large-scale transitions.
Ultimately, the battle for actionable futures is not about the mythologies of fossil corporations or nation states, no matter how hard they try to rebrand their occupation, exploitation and gentrification strategies. It lies, instead, in recognizing and realizing anew the capacities of art and culture to create new forms of value and to re-create sustainable ways of enjoying them — in communities that do not exist yet because they are still in the process of becoming.