Covid: Can the humanities lead the green recovery from the pandemic?

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As the arts and culture sector attempts to get over the devastating impact of the pandemic, some creatives are making eye-catching attempts to stop another crisis – this one environmental.

The likes of artists and musicians certainly have the facility to influence others’ behaviour. and a few of them are finding that climate action is really making their work more marketable too.

But other organisations face an uncertain future thanks to Covid – with some struggling to return to business in the least.

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In June 2020, many creatives signed a letter calling for a green recovery from Covid. it had been organised by Julie’s Bicycle (JB), a non-profit organisation performing on sustainability within the creative industries. Founder Alison Tickell believes momentum has been building over the last year.

“Many people working in culture are forced to require an outing of the day-to-day and reflect on the large stuff,” she says. “And there’s no bigger stuff than the environmental crisis.”

Festival waste within the spotlight
Nearly five million people camp at UK music festivals annually, producing nearly 26,000 tonnes of waste, consistent with the 2020 Show Must continue the report.

Wide Awake may be a new one-day festival that will debut in south London’s Brockwell Park in September with a climate-conscious “positive policy”. This includes promises to use biofuel and eco-toilets, to bury no waste in landfills, and a ban on single-use plastics, a thought adopted by similar festivals.

“We’ve created a template,” says director Marcus Weedon. “Ideally it’s something that other festivals and native authorities would start using in time.” His other events within the park – Mighty Hoopla and Cross the Tracks – are going to be governed by an equivalent policy.

The team will report back afterwards to spot any areas for improvement. “We want to be very open,” adds Jeff Boardman, who works on the projects’ sustainability.

“We haven’t got the answers on everything. But we’re certain that we will find them with people .”

Galleries reconnecting with nature
Globally the visual arts – including galleries and their visitors – account for a few 70 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per annum, consistent with an estimate by Julie’s Bicycle. But many UK galleries and museums are promoting environmental messages as they emerge from Covid.

In 2019 the Hepworth Wakefield gallery started transforming vacant land into a replacement public garden. some time past it had no idea just how important the finished green space would become for local people during coronavirus lockdowns when indoor socialising was banned.

“We wanted to nurture not only the bottom, the plants, and therefore the ecosystem – but also a sense of community,” explains Katy Merrington, who holds the distinctive title of Cultural Gardener.

She says her work demonstrates to others the worth of taking care of the environment because the country gradually gets back to business.

“We’ve seen with the pandemic that care is that the most precious thing we’d like. It’s something that’s not always celebrated. But here, people can see the volunteers and me caring for a garden. and that I think that creates them feel a touch cared for too.

Tate Modern is another gallery encouraging visitors to reconnect with nature this summer. An installation named Beuys’ Acorns by the artists Ackroyd & Harvey has seen 100 oak saplings planted on the terrace there.

Two years ago, the Tate galleries declared a climate emergency and pledged to chop their carbon footprint by 10% by 2023. that focus has already been reached, says Tate Modern director Francis Morris, adding that the cut should be considered alongside a previous 40% reduction since 2007.

She argues the pandemic helped hasten decisions along. “The system cracked, our budgets were slashed and our activity levels reduced, so we fast-forwarded a number of these pretty radical changes.”

Morris explains that Tate Modern’s post-Covid plans include changing between blockbuster exhibitions at a slower speed and doing more to maximise the art it already owns.

“Ideas about reusing, recycling and repairing are so relevant to a permanent collection,” she says.

Pedal-powered performances
Top performance venues are often energy-hungry buildings. But the Southbank Centre recently ran a whole production featuring its resident London Sinfonietta orchestra using only cycle power.

The show’s soloist, Jessica Aszodi, was among of group of cyclists who pedalled their way through the new show Houses Slide, generating electricity for the stage lights and amps.

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