Culture in the time of a Climate Emergency: Unpacking the Green Arts Conference 2019

The past year has seen a huge upsurge in climate change awareness as the defining issue of our era. From declarations of climate emergency by local and central governments to massive protests, marches, and occupations by members of the public, the climate crisis has consistently grabbed headlines. We have also felt the effects of climate change through extreme weather events, heatwaves and wildfires.

Here, Creative Carbon Scotland tells us about their recent Green Arts Conference, which explored how organisations from the creative and cultural sector can respond to these issues.

Hosting the Green Arts Conference During Scotland’s Climate Week

The fifth annual Green Arts Conference took place in Edinburgh on Tuesday 8 October 2019, showcasing how and why Scotland’s cultural sector is responding to our current climate and environmental crisis.

The conference took place during Scotland’s Climate Week (7-13 October 2019, a week of focused climate action that provides organisations from across the public, private and third sectors with the opportunity to celebrate and demonstrate what they’re doing already to tackle the climate emergency and to step up and start doing more to save our world.

The full-day event gathered 160 members of the cultural sector as a Green Arts community committed to reducing the sector’s environmental impact and understanding our crucial role in creating a more sustainable Scotland.

Culture in the time of a Climate Emergency

In the lead-up to the conference, the conversations and actions on climate change at a civic and political level had broadened and deepened significantly. From the series Blue Planet 2, to the activist work of Extinction Rebellion, from the Scottish Government declaring a climate emergency, to the Scottish Parliament passing a new Climate Change Bill committing us to net-zero emissions in a little over 25 years. Things are changing.

There are opportunities to increase awareness, prioritisation and inclusion by considering the environmental and social dimension of changes simultaneously- Creative Carbon Scotland

The term ‘climate emergency’ is now known globally, with cities, regions and nations around the world declaring a state of climate emergency. Conference attendees from across theatre, music, dance, visual art, literature, heritage, design, screen and the voluntary and community arts were encouraged to use the content and network of the day to identify how their organisation would respond to the climate emergency.

Key Themes and Takeaways

Climate change is also a social justice issue

A particular focus of this year’s Green Art Conference was the intersection of Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion with climate change impacts and responses. Musician Simon Gall, opened the conference by drawing links between the middle-class identity of the climate movement and the demographics of those in society who are traditionally most engaged in cultural pursuits.

He explained how re-orienting ourselves towards the idea of cultural democracy (where relevance to society is paramount and all can participate without a defined, dominant ‘culture’) would align with the change we need to equitably address climate impacts.

Later in the day, this was further explored through a session entitled ‘Equal, Diverse, Inclusive…and Green?’ with The Travelling Gallery and Birds of Paradise Theatre talking about widening access and inclusivity, whilst also trying to consider their environmental impact.

Climate change impacts will affect marginalised groups more quickly and more severely. For example, challenges around reaching rural audiences sometimes conflict with pressures to reduce travel-based emissions, and the public backlash against single use plastic negatively impacting those who need certain plastic for health reasons.

However, there are also opportunities to increase awareness, prioritisation and inclusion by considering the environmental and social dimension of changes simultaneously.

We need to anticipate and adapt to climate change

Adaptation to warmer summers, wetter winters and more intense storms was a strong theme in discussions with Green Arts community members.

In a workshop designed to anticipate, identify and manage the risks that a changing physical environment might bring, Grid Iron, The National Galleries of Scotland and Paragon Music shared their experiences and expectations for the future.

We can learn from each other

Knowledge sharing from Scottish cultural organisations and artists already making positive changes is a key focus for the Green Arts Conference.

In 2019 contributors included: Dundee Rep and Scottish Dance Theatre, The Stove, An Lanntair, Cryptic, Scottish Ensemble, Festivals Edinburgh, artists from Extinction Rebellion, and literature researcher Rebecca Jones.

We need to practice what we preach

At Creative Carbon Scotland, we aim to practise what we preach and demonstrate how to work more sustainably across all our work. As part of our efforts specifically for the conference this year:

  • we chose a location highly accessible via public transport (as transport emissions are one of the biggest contributors to the cultural sector’s carbon footprint)
  • we made all catering vegetarian and vegan (as reduced meat consumption is a key way to reduce one’s personal footprint)
  • we produced a digital programme and used reusable crockery, cutlery, glassware and whiteboards (as prioritising reuse over recycling and disposal is a more valued use of our resources).

The full 2019 conference report will be published in early November. The next Green Arts Conference will take place in early October 2020 in Glasgow.

Become part of Scotland’s Green Arts Community

The Green Arts Conference brings together the Green Champions and the networks and organisations that support them. It is the annual event for members of the Green Arts Initiative. The initiative is a year-round community of practice, free to join and focused on sharing resources and experiences to help the sector.

More information can be found at

Images courtesy of Creative Carbon Scotland

This article was published on 18 Oct 2019