Making a better world calls on us to work towards positive cultural change – above and beyond the essential reduction of our carbon footprints. Cultural institutions and workers can lead a shift towards re-envisioning worlds, connecting with others and fulfilling lives through the finding of new meaning. This can lead a shift away from individualism, materialism and a focus on relentless consumption. We have a vital stake in transforming society to foster liveable futures.
At CreaTures and the Happy Museum Project, we believe that creative practices have great, and as yet untapped, power to support humankind in the urgent task of shifting cultures towards sustainability. Uniting our research (on the potential of creative practice and culture to respond to ecological crises), we invite you to consider our findings, share your practice and pool experiences for maximum influence.
We understand that we cannot simply design change, but suggest our work can support the conditions for change to emerge. Change is fractal: it happens at all points in the system — individual, institutional, community and beyond — and its impacts spread in many different ways, via museums, galleries, cultural and other public spaces.
We act together
We create work that brings people together with others in a place or locality. We bring people together in cultural and communal spaces to find new significance in the world. Building connections while working to make such spaces safe for honesty and sharing.
We explore the qualities of culture: experiential, exploratory, immersive, connective, thought-(and-feeling-)provoking, to make opportunities for encounters with something outside ourselves. We also work to enable encounters with ourselves and ourselves in relation to others - including other life forms and other ways of being. We learn about difference, we accept surprise, we lay the foundations for trust in unexpected places.
We stress the experiential
We create sensory experiences, using playfulness and making as central components. We make links between the here-and-now and the remote, complex and emergent systems that are affecting us all. We invite/prompt more-than-rational senses and responses, including those that engage with emotions, and we find paths for those emotions towards active hope. We communicate abstract concepts well, in part by linking these to experiences full of meaning.
We critique current ways of life by surfacing contradictions or defamiliarizing the everyday, and destabilize norms – particularly when our practices are aggregated. We make room to explore political, moral or ethical concerns and do not force solutions. We experiment, seeking our way and sharing the journey so that we grow and change with our partners and participants.
We look forward
We create opportunities/encounters oriented towards positive futures which:
- prompt people to imagine
- ignite new possibilities and dissolve limiting assumptions (generative)
- invite people to experience how the future could be (prefigurative)
- help people to understand how the future is influenced by the present (anticipatory)
- encourage people to think about possible futures (speculative)
We heed the words of John Schaar: ‘The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created – created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made. And the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.’
We are reflexive and reflective
We create support for people to move from recognizing serious issues to acting for change. We share and reflect on our own and others’ experiences, grounding them in everyday life and thinking realistically about capacity and capabilities.
We offer opportunities to reflect, to make sense of experience in one’s own terms, and hear the same (or different) from others. We establish space to explore and understand what matters to each person and why by engaging with different responses and perspectives.
We make time and place for individuals to reflect together on:
- Other people’s views and how they might differ from or complement our own impressions
- Our own thought processes and what we value
- How this relates to our worlds and what is salient to take away/act on
- What it might mean/require in terms of change
- Who we might want to collaborate (become friends, and allies) with
We know that careful and skilful facilitation is needed to enable people to give their attention without interruption or judgment, to practice equality and respect for others, to honour confidentiality, and to experience processes being practiced and adhered to. This builds trust in participation for us as both hosts and participants.
We build agency for change
We create conditions to enhance peoples’ sense of agency, rather than simply focusing on education or the presentation of facts. We know that being told or shown doesn’t engage individual or collective agency; it merely informs.
We contribute to creating a sense of agency by:
- Understanding the future is made not found
- Sensing through imagination and/or immersive, experiential activity how a different future might feel
- Reflecting with other people, particularly those who fuel our desire for better
- Discovering that others hold values similar to ours
We realize that the act of exploring positive, practical possibilities can, in itself, help people to find new meaning, feel more connected and experience greater agency.
This document, and the learning distilled within it, represents a snapshot in time, written as CreaTures ends in late 2022. Our learning continues and we hope to build on it, connecting and collaborating with what we believe is a growing field of practice and a newly defined genre of engagement. If this work resonates with you and you would like to be part of an ongoing exploration – please contact us by email:email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is also a low-volume discussion list of people interested in the intersections of art, technology, nature and culture you can join at: https://atnc.persona.co/.
Ann Light and Hilary Jennings
CreaTures and Happy Museum
More about the organisations responsible for this summary
CreaTures and Happy Museum draw this analysis from combined learning over ten years of commissioned projects and peer learning in museums across the UK and 20 experimental projects across Europe led by artists, designers, cultural cooperatives, activists, art and design researchers. The activity has covered a range of subject matter including heritage, land and resource use, planning, our relationship with nature, alternative economies, what constitutes sustainable and just futures and much more.
CreaTures – Creative Practices for Transformational Futures received 3 years of funding from EU Horizon 2020 to investigate the potential of creative practices to support positive eco-social change (a term that we use to signal an interlinked concern for ecological and social relations). The project conducted action research with practitioner partners to understand new paths to transformation CreaTures responds to current social and environmental challenges and the urgent need to find new, more sustainable and nourishing ways of living and being together on our shared planet. Ann Light has led the UK research node. https://creatures-eu.org/
The Happy Museum Project explores how the museum sector can respond to the challenge of creating a more sustainable future. It stimulates and supports museum practice that places wellbeing within an environmental and future-facing frame, rethinking the role that museums can play in creating more resilient people, places and planet. Through action research, academic research, peer networking and training it supports institutional and community wellbeing and resilience in the face of global challenges.
We are asked to account for carbon saved, not hearts and minds changed or worlds re-envisioned —– a great misunderstanding of what our cultural contribution is and could be.