We were delighted to work with Toni Hankinson over the summer to develop an eco-reminders workshop and as part of her MA at UWE. She did some fantastic work with us supported by Kaleider and also worked with a number of other arts organisations to explore the role of the arts in relation to our response to climate change.
Here is an outline of the work she did with us written by her, and also some of her conclusions drawn from all of the projects she undertook.
If you would like to get in touch with Toni about her work, please email her
Art and Energy is a creative production company founded in 2018 and based in Exeter. Led by Chloe Uden, the company is made up of a small team of freelance producers with a vision of transforming cities with beautiful green technology, using ‘solar PV to enhance spaces with sustainable energy installations that local people want to live with’ (Uden, 2018). To achieve this the organisation develops and provides creative learning programmes designed to help participants use solar panels as an art material; they question ‘to what extent people can learn about energy through creativity and sharing?’.
Working with Chloe during my university work placement I was able to assist in creating a brief for a short series of workshops, and to take the role of Producer and Facilitator throughout the project. The workshops were to be designed to test an idea of Uden’s, something she had identified through her earlier research and work in the energy industry, that people could be empowered to act on energy related sustainability issues by coming together to create a personal eco-reminder. The project set out to answer the following two questions
➔ Can people learn about energy through creativity and sharing?
➔ Can people produce beautiful eco-reminders that they want to live with?
An eco-reminder is an addition to the home that helps to change everyday habits by reminding the inhabitants to perform a certain action. Often a visual addition to a light switch or thermostat to prompt turning off a light or turn down the heating, Chloe was keen to take the idea a little further, creating a space for people to discuss what’s important about energy for them and creating a more personalised eco-reminder for the home. Together we settled on the eco-reminder being a lampshade – it was easy enough to create in one session, and provided a blank canvas for the participants to add their own personal energy related imagery.
I started the project by researching and connecting with others in the area with similar activities or goals. Art and Energy were based in Exeter, while I was working and producing the workshops in Bristol, so Art and Energy’s existing network was not entirely relevant for this particular project. Once I had established connections with network of creative sustainability actors local to Bristol, the workshops were advertised online, and through the newsletters of groups and individuals with similar goals. The offering was carefully considered so as not to put people off attending and set correct expectations – i.e to ensure it was marketed as a creative experience not solely an energy education project. Participants took part in a 3.5 hour workshop where they were invited to share their own experiences with energy, the facilitated discussion was used as a starting point for creating images through illustration or collage onto a fabric panel, which was then crafted into a lampshade.
I employed participatory facilitation techniques in holding the workshop, structuring the time, and space, to allow small groups to form and discuss energy, before returning to a larger group to share any interesting observations, thoughts, or information. I set out to design a space where social learning could take place, arranging tables in a fashion that enabled conversation, and encouraging sharing and discussion throughout.
The discussion was a very enjoyable part of the workshop, the conversation was varied and everyone was able to contribute experiences, facts, stories, and hopes and ideas for the future. Some common threads included:
- The future of energy generation and the effect on our children
- Pollution and concerns regarding waste and recycling
- Feeling unable to act as a single person
- Getting energy from others (friends, family, neighbours)
- Being connected (to the energy system, to each other, to the internet of things)
- The cost of energy and being ‘green’ (and how that leaves some unable to change even when willing)
- The value of having local knowledge and know-how
Most participants produced a lampshade in the workshop. The workshops were open to anyone, with participants attending having mixed creative abilities. Of the 9 participants, 5 indicated they would use the lampshades at home, the others would not, indicating they enjoyed the activity but did not like the results enough aesthetically to display them at home. As such only half of the participants lampshades will act as eco-reminders.
Evaluation & Observation
The results of the energy survey statements (before the workshop)
‘I know how much energy my home uses’ and ‘I would be confident in knowing what improvements I can make to my home to reduce its energy consumption’ were varied, with responses ranging from 1 to 10 on the scale (1 being disagree and 10 being agree).
The majority of responses on the evaluation (after the workshop) to the statements ‘I feel more knowledgeable about energy…’ and ‘I will make changes to the way that I use energy following this workshop’ were 8, 9 or 10 – somewhat agree or agree.
This indicated that workshops were able to offer valuable learning and knowledge to those taking part regardless of their previous energy knowledge. The feedback showed the discussion was especially enjoyable, with participants commenting that it ‘works because everyone gets involved’ and that the format ‘made discussing energy fun’ and noting that they ‘will go away with new knowledge to implement changes in day to day life’.
Overall participants were glad for the opportunity to spend time discussing energy in an interesting way. Many remarked that they found the session positive and noticed that the conversation about energy continued easily as they were crafting. The majority of participants agreed that they enjoyed the workshop, finding it ‘relaxed’, ‘friendly’, ‘informative’ and ‘totally different to normal adult recreation’. Most also remarked that they would not have attended had the workshop been purely energy focussed (i.e. without the creative element), despite valuing the time they were given to discuss energy related issues.
In considering the case studies and my own experimentation I have developed a framework for producing a participatory art project with a sustainable goal:
Keeping art at the forefront of the offering is key in creating an accessible, easy entry point to sustainable issues. Hoffman-Fishman’s comment on The Wave is exemplary here: “Arts stimulate the senses, it is a mode of communication that is accessible to everybody, you shouldn’t need words, you can feel what the goal of the project is.” Art should be involved in every stage, invite artists to design the process, involve them in network building and in connecting communities, let them facilitate, and encourage them to connect and collaborate.
Think local and global. Understanding the issues affecting the local community creates a relatable project, participants can connect to something that mirrors or comments their lived experience. Make links with those actors already making moves within the community to tackle sustainability challenges. Build a network that you can support and who can support you, be open to collaboration and sharing and create a dialogue. Cast a wider net when looking at process, look to other communities around the world with similar issues – what are they doing to navigate their problems? Do they have a creative solution in place? And what methods are they using to connect and engage and inspire the residents?
Consider your goals, what impact do you want to make and how can it be measured in a way that doesn’t affect the overall project? Understanding the existing goals of actors in the community can help inform your goals, get a picture of where the community are in their sustainability transition, do they already have projects in place or are you coming to them with a completely new concept? Adjust your goals according to your timeframe.
Where possible: ➔ continue to work with your community, ongoing projects allow for a bigger impact and make your network of actors stronger than starting afresh with each project. ➔ or repeat the project again elsewhere, building on the successes or failures of the previous iteration. An iterative process allows for the development better project design, increasing the effectiveness of the engagement and the impact you’re able to have.
Seek to enact the following qualities in leading a project: ➔ Be open and honest in your intentions ➔ Be passionate, seek to inspire others ➔ Be creative ➔ Be curious, always seek new ways of working, doing and creating ➔ Be responsive, adapt to the needs of those you are working with ➔ Be responsible, to others, to the environment, to yourself
In conclusion, participatory arts can play an important role in sustainability transition, to stay open and accessible arts need to be at the front of the offering. It is this, placing the creative elements at the forefront, that make these projects such powerful tools in the transition to a more sustainable earth. In being creative the projects have the ability to engage everyone they are easily understood and have the capacity to inspire innovative thinking and behavioural change. They can turn anyone into an activist for their community. In taking on this task of sustainability transitions we need to be conscious of our responsibility – to keep the project open and inclusive, to connect and inspire others, and to consider the impact we have in the work that we do.