Why a new approach to climate adaptation strategic development involving artists is needed

Lesley Anne Rose

Lesley Anne Rose

Embedded Artist

10 May, 2019

Lesley Anne is an embedded artist working in the Glasgow Clyde City Region with Climate Ready Clyde & Creative Carbon Scotland.


If we can shift the story, we can change the world – Chris Jordon, artist and photographer

Patrick Reinsborough co-founder of the Centre for Story-Based Strategy, claims that the only thing to date that gives the story of climate change urgency is fear and that fear often leads to inertia rather than action. This story is rarely articulated by those at risk, is usually told through data rather than narratives and emphasizes consequences rather than solutions. All of which can lead to those who are seeking to be inspired to take action, feeling overwhelmed and disempowered instead.

Through inviting artists to work with them, non-arts institutions, national bodies and local authorities can introduce different ways of thinking and creative perspectives into strategic development. All of which can ensure that inspiration to take action is not lost in translation when communicating the urgency of, and solutions to, the climate crisis.

Embedded Artists

My question is, how do you change the culture, and what do artists know that can contribute to this? – Frances Whitehead

Working with artists in this way is nothing new. Civic artist Frances Whitehead whose work integrates arts and sustainability, coined the term ‘Embedded Artist’. According to Frances’ manifesto What do Artists Know? an artist is used to working with complexity and contradiction and naturally thinks laterally. Her work, and those of other ‘Embedded Artists’, traverse sector boundaries engaging artists with engineers, architects, designers and city officials. Examples include the work of David Harding in helping to build Glenrothes New Town and the Artist Placement Group in the 1960s to Mary’s Miss’s City as Living Laboratory.

Climate Ready Clyde Embedded Artist

The Glasgow City Region faces numerous climate change challenges. Adapting to these challenges is easier, cheaper and more effective when we do it together – Climate Ready Clyde

It’s a privilege and a challenge to be following in the footsteps of tried and tested Embedded Artists and to be working in this role with Climate Ready Clyde, a cross-sector initiative funded by the Scottish Government and member organisations (local authorities, energy and transport companies, higher education institutions) to create a shared vision, strategy and action plan for an adapting Glasgow City region. A region emerging from a history of heavy manufacturing and shipbuilding that covers a third of Scotland by population and economic output. The work of developing the vision, strategy and action plan for Climate Ready Clyde is implemented on behalf of the board by Sniffer – knowledge brokers for a resilient Scotland and secretariat of Climate Ready Clyde. Although connected with the board, the Embedded Artist post is tasked with working closely with the secretariat.

Unusually there is no expectation of the Embedded Artist with Climate Ready Clyde to produce any creative work. The emphasis instead is on contributing to planning, decision-making and problem solving.  It’s first steps for this post. But, following a warm and engaged welcome from the Climate Ready Clyde board, positive ones. Working with Sniffer a plan of focus for the Embedded Artist is taking shape and includes contributing to:

  • refreshing the vision of Climate Ready Clyde
  • assisting with strategy development by working with Sniffer to undertake workshops with communities in flood disadvantaged areas
  • inputting into the look, feel, platform etc for the strategy and action plan
  • inputting into the development of an Exemplar Project for the Clyde Valley region that reflects the ambitions and vision of the strategy

The thinking behind focusing on these areas include an ambition to adopt a process of communication that is as much about listening as it is about sharing information. In doing so enable the voices of those at risk to have their say and be considered co-visionaries of alternatives and co-authors of the strategy and action plan to transform vision into reality. Also to draw on community and individual stories to bring life and a face to the wider narratives of the impacts of the climate crisis in the region and the data that supports it.

Cultural Adaptations

Gus Speth a leading environmental scientist and the first advisor to a US president on climate change, has reframed the top environmental problems as ‘selfishness, greed and apathy’ and goes on to say that in order to deal with these ‘we need a spiritual and cultural transformation and we scientists don’t know how to do that’ – Lucy Neal

The Embedded Artist post within Climate Ready Clyde is facilitated by Creative Carbon Scotland who connect arts with sustainability and believe that the practices of artists of all disciplines have a role to play in the transformation to a more sustainable Scotland. It forms one of four Embedded Artist posts each working within a different EU country as part of the Cultural Adaptations project, co-funded by the European Union’s Creative Europe programme with match-funding from the Scottish Government.

Lead by Creative Carbon Scotland, Cultural Adaptations seeks to find creative, innovative and place-based responses to climate change impacts, equipping cultural organisations and cities with the knowledge and skills they need.

Leading cultural organisations in the Glasgow, Ghent, Gothenburg and Dublin city regions are paired with municipal sustainability partners to drive change by embedding artists in strategic processes, co-create advice for cultural organisations adapting their business models to climate predictions, host transnational knowledge-sharing, develop resources to widen the impact of the project and enable international replication. The project will host an international conference in Scotland in autumn 2020, to explore and analyse the outputs and share learning. The project will culminate with the launch of easily usable toolkits to support cultural organisations to develop their own climate adaptation strategies and adaptation organisations to develop Embedded Artist-type projects.

The ability of an Embedded Artist to encourage creative approaches to thinking and communication beyond economic considerations was acknowledged during workshop sessions at Cultural Adaptations Glasgow, the first in the project’s transnational meetings in each partner country (a full report, images and video interviews were recently published). However, a wider role was also discussed as one that included witnessing, documenting and introducing people centered provocation to climate adaptation.

A good strategy presents hope and is one that the public, communities, individuals and companies buy into as agents of change. In a week in which the UK parliament declared a climate change emergency and the Scottish government committed to going greener, faster, the job of an artist, embedded or otherwise, to foster solidarity, contribute to and communicate visions of alternatives and the empowered steps we need to take to realise them, is more pressing and important than ever.

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