What are creative practitioners doing right now, to try to bring more sustainable futures into being? To answer this question, we asked our colleagues in CreaTures to nominate transformative projects. They surprised us by recommending a staggering 100 artworks, projects, people, festivals, organisations and books! We decided to analyse this collection of cases to find emerging patterns (adding a few extra cases ourselves, along the way). We identified 25 ways that creative practitioners are working towards change – but there are countless more.
What’s in a name?
Initially, we called these 25 ways of working transformative strategies, and this is the term that we use in our project reports (2.2, 2.3 and 2.4). However, when we presented our results back to creative practitioners, they found this term confusing. Instead, we settled on the idea of creative pathways to change.
What are creative pathways and how can I use them?
In sustainability science, a ‘pathway’ is a plan that helps us travel from where we are now, to a more sustainable future. This idea of a journey has been really important to us in the CreaTures project. In creative practice, the process is often just as important as the outcome. While we might travel with a destination in mind, we can also find meaning in the journey, and adapt our plans to fit each situation. Even when we follow a map, every journey is different. We can learn from creative practitioners how to facilitate journeys that are imaginative, surprising, moving, equitable and inclusive.
If today’s task is to travel towards better, more sustainable futures, then the 25 creative pathways contain insights for voyaging well together. Some techniques are tried and tested, and you might want to pick up and use them directly – adapting them to your own situation as a practitioner or researcher. In other cases, pathways are radically experimental, akin to one-off walks into the unknown. These provide inspiration to all of us, to take a leap into something completely new.
Since the creative pathways have bubbled up from specific examples, some take the form of big, broad observations while others provide specific insights. The pathways apply to people, practices, and organisations. We’ve created five headings to help you to navigate them:
- Imagining alternative futures in an embodied way
- Helping to create new forms of awareness that extend beyond individual human selves
- Building alternative systems
- Acting ethically and with care
- Making translations between groups
Read the full 25 pathways
Imagining alternative futures in an embodied way:
- Backcasting from better futures
Creative practitioners produce scenarios that aim to simulate everyday life in an alternative future, where the climate and biodiversity crises have been resolved. They invite people to have an immersive, sensory experience of a more sustainable way of life; and to reflect on what they would need to do now, to bring that future into being.
- Engaging speculative artefacts
Creative practitioners produce speculative artefacts and environments which project issues from the present into an imagined future, using sensory, physical prompts (such as objects or installations). These stories of dystopia, utopia (and everything in-between), invite people to consider the possible consequences of a particular issue.
- Fictional world-building
Writers create immersive fictional worlds that dramatise key sustainability challenges such as climate breakdown and biodiversity loss. Climate fiction, or ‘cli-fi’ is an emerging genre that makes use of this pathway. How do these stories influence collectively held imaginaries of the future?
- Playful, game-like formats
Some projects use playful, game-like formats to engage participants. Games and play are central to human learning, in childhood and beyond. ‘Serious’ games prompt people to bring a playful openness to serious eco-social issues, as they experience power dynamics and complex situations for themselves.
- Bodies as materials
Creative practitioners make use of human physical connections in eco-social works. Physical movement, touch and co-presence can boost trust and intimacy, helping people to imagine new kinds of relationships with each other, and with more-than-human animals, plants and ecosystems.
Helping to create new forms of awareness that extend beyond individual human selves:
- Role-playing as animals and plants
Creative practitioners produce experiences where people role-play as an animal or a plant. People de-centre their human selves and attempt to become an imagined other, building empathy and intimacy with more-than-human life-forms.
- Mindfulness in natural places
Creative practices allow people to mindfully bring attention to their own bodies and the environment around them in the present moment. In ‘natural’ places, such as forests, this is a way to tune in to more-than-human ecosystems.
- Collaborating with living materials
Some projects invite living materials to participate in the creative process, allowing human cells, plants and animals to become active agents. These help us to see beyond our preoccupation with the human, offering critiques of the way we live now, and opening up new relationships.
- Listening and making together
Creative practitioners gather people together in collective, hands-on material making processes. With careful facilitation, these can create spaces of contemplation in ourselves and encourage deep listening and intimate exchange with others.
- Looking back in time
Looking back in time helps us to understand how things have changed – helping us to see the importance of everyday practices that we may not recognise on an everyday basis. Reflection can produce practical insights into what’s worked and what hasn’t, and it also allows us to release our emotions around what we haven’t been able to control.
Building alternative systems:
- Accountability for more-than-humans
Creative spaces incubate new practices and organisations using existing legal systems to design-in ecological regeneration and more-than-human rights. These take inspiration from the ‘rights-of-nature’ movement that seeks legal personhood for ecosystems.
- Prefigurative alternatives
In prefigurative projects, creative practitioners develop and grow alternative systems. Prefigurative projects model the change that they desire in every aspect of their organising.
- Activating communities
Creative practitioners and organisations are part of wider, multi-disciplinary collectives that work with community groups to collaboratively shape action towards more sustainable environments.
- Engaging with governing bodies
Creative spaces can be powerful incubators for campaigns, where alternatives to the status quo can be imagined and communicated to policymakers (and other governing bodies) in a compelling way. Less commonly, policymaking happens in creative spaces, where the unwritten rules of governing are suspended, allowing people to meet each other in a different way.
- Combining cultural production and eco-social action
Some organisations combine creative, cultural and environmental activities. Often, they explore a particular phenomenon (for example, debt) from a range of perspectives – adding new capacities to the organisation each time. In doing so, they nurture a diverse range of audience or participant groups.
- Working from a particular place
Working from particular places is a common strategy for many of the creative cases. Here the specific qualities and needs of a place are prioritised in an emergent process that allows for experimentation (where decision-making is taken step-by-step based on what has come before). This results in new connections and capacities between people in a particular place.
Acting ethically and with care:
- Embedding mutual care
Creative practitioners design processes in ways that embed care at every stage. This means living out an ethics of care in everyday relationships with collaborators, by acting supportively and fairly. It also means ensuring that care is taken with wider impacts, for example thinking carefully about the use of material resources.
- Transformative friendships
Transformative friendships occur when we allow ourselves to be changed by another person. Transformative friends hold us inside a community; they provide support and encouragement, and also constructive critique and tender accountability. They are often under-recognised outputs of creative work.
- Working towards inclusion
Creative practitioners and organisations develop new ways to connect with potential audiences that may not ordinarily feel included in cultural settings. This can mean opening up new spaces within organisations or institutions and inviting other groups to find a meaningful home there.
- Transformative pedagogy
A new wave of sustainability teaching uses creative practices to help people to understand the complexity of our planetary problems. Trans-disciplinary learning empowers people to imagine themselves as agents for change, and gives them skills to reflect on their own position and approach.
Making translations between groups:
- Bridging worldviews
Creative practitioners design processes that bring people with different worldviews and ways of knowing the world together. In some cases, creative organisations open themselves up to create platforms for exchange, and in other cases, creative practitioners are embedded in different organisations.
- Holding intercultural dialogues
Some creative projects recognise the diversity of human ways of life (beyond a dominant focus on global-Northern, or ‘Western’ worldviews). They increasingly host intercultural dialogues with groups whose ways of life are radically more in-tune with ecosystems. Indigenous groups for example, are protectors and stewards of ecosystems that we all depend on, and their voices need to be heard. These projects must recognise the oppression that minoritized groups continue to face.
- Collecting open resources
Creative organisations gather together open collections of practical and inspirational resources. These help to inform other creatives, but also researchers and policymakers. They help effective practices to travel and become embedded in new spaces.
- Translating to policy
Creative practitioners develop processes and artefacts for policymakers engaged in decision-making around eco-social issues. These help to bridge and translate community-level concerns with the challenges that policymakers face. For example, in making the best use of scare resources, or acting effectively within legislative frameworks.
- Creating new frames
Creative practitioners create new ways of thinking about sustainability challenges framing problems differently and often including a more holistic focus than technology-centric solutions. They seed these new ‘frames’ into existing institutions, asking these institutions to think differently.