Transitioners’ Digest (March-April 2015) Social Change & the Arts
By rob hopkins 1st May 2015
To celebrate the launch of Lucy Neal‘s awesome book Playing for Time, we dedicated the last 2 months to our theme of Social Change and the Arts. And what a packed month it’s been. We started with an interview with Lucy herself, talking about the intention behind the book. She told us:
“It struck me dramatically one day that Transition was a wholly creative process. It was inspiring people to work imaginatively, to re-think the future, to examine the art of the possible, whilst looking straight at the challenges faced”.
Editor Rob Hopkins, in his framing piece, sang the praises of the Brixton £10 note (the one with David Bowie on) as an example of the power of the arts in Transition. We heard about ‘Craftivism’, people using handcrafts as a way of raising awareness around issues, through our chat with Sarah Corbett of the Craftivist Collective.
We popped along to meet Matt Harvey, Thomas Hewitt Jones and Chloe Uden, the team behind the forthcoming ‘SWIMBY: The Musical’ and asked them how the project is progressing:
We talked to Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey, who work together as ‘Ackroyd and Harvey’, about their work which they frame as being a “creative response to climate change”. They do amazing stuff with chlorophyl and ice. At the other end of the activist spectrum we found Isabelle Frémeaux and John Jordan, and their Laboratory of the Insurrectionary Imagination. “What we think is vitally important”, they told us, “is to bring artists and activists together not to show the world but to transform it directly. Not to make images of politics, but to make politics artistic”.
We heard how Transition Victoria, alongside other groups, had used slapstick as a tool for looking at group dynamics and challenges in Transition. Artist Anne-Marie Culhane talked to us about her practice, telling us “it’s about magic, and it’s about change”. You’ll never think about fruit tree planting projects in the same way again. Nor will the idea of the sole artist working in a non-collaborative way ever feel quite so appealing.
We talked to Ruth Ben Tovim about her work with Encounters Arts, and her assertion that ‘Transition is a participatory arts practice’. When asked what her advice might be for a Transition group wondering how to involve the Arts in its work, she said:
“The Arts or creativity can get a bit marginalised in Transition: “oh, it can make a nice poster, or it can make an event be nice, or it’s illustrating something”. That’s a tiny usage of it. It’s something around if there’s a challenge, if there’s an area, if there’s a sense of bringing a community together, if there’s an issue, actually doing it creatively and maybe working with an artist can get you miles. That would be my message – find some artists to work with and trust your own creativity at the same time”.
Sarah Woods and Fern Smith told us about their work in Wales with Emergence and with the report they recently produced called Culture Shift. Much of their work sets out to address the question “what does a successful artist look like at a time of global change?” Many people involved in Transition will have met Filipa Pimentel, Transition Network’s International Hubs Co-ordinator. You may also have seen her knitting. She knits in Transition meetings, but also in high-powered meetings in the European Union. We asked her why, and how it changes what happens in those meetings.
Lastly we talked to Mandy Barnett about how she integrates the Arts into the work she does with her Transition group in Kendal in Cumbria, as well as the idea of a ‘cultural return on investment’. Asked for her advice on how Transition groups might weave the Arts into what they do she said:
“Find the people locally who are creative and they might not be where you’d expect. They might not be creative in their work, they might be privately creative. Don’t make it too arty. Make it around fun. Make sure ordinary people can get involved who don’t think that they are artists. All just respect each other”.
I did feel that to do this theme’s Digest justice I should have handstitched it, or laid it out in twigs in a forest, or filmed myself standing in a beautiful river holding an apple or something. Sadly I didn’t have enough time to do anything like that, so I will return to my most common medium, the blog. Lucy offers her own reflection on this month’s theme here. For me there was something about Ruth Ben Tovim’s assertion that Transition “is a participatory arts practice” that really resonated.
Before Transition I was a fine artist, keeping sketchbooks, taking inspiration from different sources, trying to improve my observation skills. Doing Transition is just an extension of that for me. My blog is my sketchbook, and Transition is very much an evolving process, a creative process, a participatory, collaborative process. It’s a very useful insight for me. I hope you have found insight in this theme too.
Our next theme will be REconomy.