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Arts and creativity

Transition Victoria's ‘Shuffle Bus’ (Canada, BC). Photo - Denise Dunn


A Transition process without play and creativity would miss out on a vital way of reaching, touching and engaging people.


Creating fiction can help people imagine a future reality. Transition Town Tooting, together with other London Transition groups, created an ‘Energy Descent Plan in Two Hours’ show based on the idea of the fictional ‘Transition Town Anywhere’. Members of the public were asked to improvise and pretend they were residents of the town...

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Value the power of the arts and creativity to change our sense of what is possible in the world. Be big, bold and celebratory.

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with input from Lucy Neal

The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution. Paul Cezanne

History has remembered the kings and warriors, because they destroyed; Art has remembered the people, because they created. William Morris

Transition revolves around our imaginations. We can bring a different reality closer by first imagining it. The arts are a brilliant way to build confidence in creating new stories to live by. Our initiatives start to come alive with possibilities – many surprising and unexpected.

Humans are capable of a unique trick, creating realities by first imagining them, by experiencing them in their minds . . . As soon as we sense the possibility of a more desirable world, we begin behaving differently, as though that world is starting to come into existence, as though, in our mind’s eye, we are already there. The dream becomes an invisible force which pulls us forward. By this process it begins to come true. The act of imagining somehow makes it real . . . And what is possible in art becomes thinkable in life. Brian Eno

By feeding people’s imaginations, the arts create common ground between us, tapping into relationships, place and meaning. At a time when people can narrow their thinking and be fearful of change, the arts create pleasurable shared experiences and space to rehearse new ideas. They generate empathy and a sense of belonging. They build bridges across generations, cultures and different sectors of society. They can carry all that is resonant about a Transition initiative – lifting spirits, whilst making space for loss.

Here are some ways in which the arts have been included in initiatives:

Art is a lie that makes us realise truth. Picasso

Creating fiction can help people imagine a future reality. Transition Town Tooting, together with other London Transition groups, created an ‘Energy Descent Plan in Two Hours’ show based on the idea of the fictional ‘Transition Town Anywhere’. Members of the public were asked to improvise and pretend they were residents of the town. They rehearsed the ‘12 Steps’ of Transition using interactive activities, film, large props and a three-minute unleashing with cake, exploding confetti and the town’s ‘very recently elected mayor’ (a member of the audience), and first performed the show at the LIFT Festival on London’s South Bank in 2008. By the end the audience had created a huge book – the rudimentary Energy Descent Action Plan for ‘Transition Town Anywhere’. The show was also performed at the 2009 Transition Network conference, and was a huge success.

[Insert pic: Ing 2.5 - Caption: The ‘Energy Descent Plan in Two Hours’ show, from the 2009 Transition Network conference, Battersea Arts Centre.]

Sometimes the arts raise awareness directly: Transition Town Shaftesbury was part of the ‘Tipping Point’ eco-circus, which used music, crafts and clowning to communicate climate change to a young audience.[i]  

Transition in Action: The Trashcatchers’ Carnival

[insert pics: trashcatchers 3, trashcatchers2] [whichever not used in Ch 7 – captions given there]

Traffic on Tooting High Street came to a stop when the Tooting Trashcatchers Carnival came to town! In July 2010 0ver 800 participants from local schools, community groups and clubs took part in this unique carnival made almost entirely from household rubbish. Over 1 million plastic bottles and shopping bags, half a million crisp packets, half a tonne of renewable willow and half a tonne of other recycled materials were collected over a six-month period to create this extravaganza.

Organisers of the carnival were jubilant that it had gone so smoothly and according to plan. Lucy Neal, Co-Chair of Transition Town Tooting, speaking to ITV London Tonight news said: “Individually we may seem insignificant, but when we connect up in a community, we are very strong, we can make a huge difference. We are thrilled at how well it’s come together and amazed at the support we have received from the people of Tooting.”

Some of the more amusing floats were the cycle-powered living rooms transporting some of the elders of the community. Sitting comfortably on her recycled armchair, Jaya Patel, born-and-bred Tooting resident, said: “The best bit about this carnival is that it’s bought the whole community together from all sections, young and old, from all ethnic backgrounds.” The South London Swimming Club had a cycle-powered float with swimmers, iceberg and sea made entirely out of plastic bags and bottles. The swimmers themselves came dressed as the colourful doors of their changing rooms at the Tooting Lido.

The Lady of Tooting, a six-metre-high animatronic creation, told the story of Tooting on her crinoline Victorian dress decorated with over 170 faces of the ladies of Tooting. Antonia Field-Smith, a Tooting resident, said: “It was great to see Tooting High Street without traffic and to be able to walk down the road without worrying about getting run over. I loved it, what a fantastic event.”
Steven Cooper of the Metropolitan Police thought the carnival was a wonderful idea and one that he would like to see happen again the following year. The grand finale at Fishponds Playing Fields, with a shared picnic followed by dancing and music performed by local schoolchildren, was a fitting end to a spectacular day.

Above all the arts can be used for their collaborative potential and ‘shared doing’. The act of creating something new with others makes a safe space that helps people feel better and happier.

Good design aids outreach. Often there will be a good designer in your team. If you don’t have one, you could approach a local college that teaches design, or try, a collective of socially-minded designers, who might be able to suggest someone to help you.

Many Transition initiatives form their own arts group as a basis for the work of the organisation. Transition Town Totnes Arts Group has a web page, and Transition Town Romsey’s Arts Group have secured some funding for supporting the role of the arts in their initiative. Transition Town Oswestry runs a project called Footfall, which includes art by local children that is then displayed in local empty shops.

[i] You can watch a film of the Eco-Circus at