This interview was conducted by Selva Ozelli
Tell us about CLIMARTE and the vision that lead to its establishment.
CLIMARTE was founded in 2010 on the belief that the climate crisis is a reflection of a deep cultural crisis and that artists are pretty great at shifting cultural boundaries.
Our combined experience (Guy Abrahams, Fiona Armstrong and myself) had already convinced us that art is humanity’s most powerful universal language.
Art can get under people’s ideological guards, can open hearts and minds to new ideas, new ways of perceiving and experiencing the world.
Because motivating us to take effective action on anything requires emotional engagement at a deep level, our aim was and remains to help people feel, with support and compassion, the full gravity of what is at stake. We know that art can do this.
In bringing together artists, scientists, academics and civil society, CLIMARTE initiates powerful collaborations with capacities to amplify public responses to the Climate Emergency in all its manifestations.
Everything that CLIMARTE does is informed by the science showing that we need to transition to zero emissions while drawing down legacy carbon as fast as humanly possible, before 2030.
In the context of the Climate Crisis, having expertly brought together a broad alliance of arts organisations, practitioners, artists, academics, administrators and audiences from across the creative sector, CLIMARTE has:
produced and presented three highly collaborative and socially engaged ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE festivals;
- commissioned three major Poster Projects (2016, 2019, 2022)
- commissioned the project TREE (2022) informed by the City of Melbourne’s ground-breaking Urban Forest map raising awareness and appreciation of the plight of Melbourne’s trees in a dangerously warming climate;
- initiated and operated the world’s first known Climate Emergency focussed gallery (Nov 2021 - Aug 2023) which during 20 months of operation worked with 16 creative producers and 215 artists to present 17 ground-breaking participatory exhibitions addressing interconnected and interdependent ecological impacts as well as effective, justice-based solutions to the Climate Emergency;
- additionally, the Gallery hosted 25 robust programs of public-facing events that delved into critical discourse between art, science and civil society; and
- in 2023 launched ongoing experimental public art projects Creative Constellations: Atlas of Radical Hope and CLIMARTE Window Reflections.
In the last couple of years is has also been wonderful to mentor numerous students, including two from the US who joined us for a month each as part of an international sustainability internship program.
CLIMARTE got started during a highly politically reactionary period in response to civil society led responses to increasing evidence of the Climate Emergency.
Australia is a mecca for both fossil fuels and the renewable industry. As a result, extremely well - ‘dark money’ - funded ‘culture wars’ feel particularly intense here. To be clear, these ‘culture wars’ are led by people aggressively seeking to prevent an energy transition to clean, safe and fair systems that will benefit everyone, the environments they live in and the global climate. Expressed another way, they are trying to maintain control over the access to energy—no matter how dirty and dangerous—to maximise personal wealth and power. Another way of contextualising it is Energy Democracy vs Fossil Fascism.
Like so many other places around the world, numerous neoliberal Atlas Network affiliated ’think tanks’ are based in Australia. They are in effect front groups for the fossil fuel industry (among other harmful industries) for whom facts threaten legitimacy and profits. And, at this stage they seem to have access to unlimited ‘dark money’ funding and power to spread disinformation and to manipulate public discourse and policies in ways that undermine most Australians now and in the future.
For instance, most Australians are still reeling from the recent defeat of our nation’s Referendum for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament which many observers believe was a direct result of intense interference by Atlas Network affiliated, so-called ‘think tanks’.
Witnessing our Indigenous people’s honest campaign for a greater say in the policies and programs that affect them be utterly overwhelmed with disinformation and fear mongering spread by shadowy political actors was absolutely devastating. Given that Traditional Owners are best placed to take legal challenges against ecodical projects proposed on their lands, and to demand better terms and conditions from extractive industries in general, the attacks on Australia’s democratic processes by the aggressive ‘Vote No to Division’ campaign make a lot more sense. Given that subsequent surveys have found that eighty per cent of Australians support improved reconciliation as well as formal truth-telling processes, this was undoubtedly Australia’s ‘Brexit moment’/‘Trumpian election’.
As such, representing concerned artists and creative workers, we believe we have an important role to play in calling out and countering the corrosive cultural influence of these so-called ‘think tanks’.
CLIMARTE was established during the lead up to the creation of Australia’s Clean Energy Act 2011. Operating from mid 2012 to mid 2014—as a complementary suite of 18 bills informed by independent experts—Australia’s Clean Energy laws were arguably the world’s most effective climate and environment protection laws at the time.
Not only did our emissions come down significantly and quickly but tens of thousands of new more sustainable jobs were created, and local economies that needed them most benefited from hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment in the clean energy sector.
Australia’s game-changing laws were the result of a transparent and accountable ‘Multiparty Climate Change Committee’, a Greens Party condition of support for the then Gillard Labour Government that was promising effective climate action. As has been well documented, Australia’s massively powerful transnational fossil fuel industry (and allies) reacted with hysterics, setting the country back decades during a critical decade. It’s also important to note that a large share of profits from mining Australia’s finite resources flow offshore.
Meanwhile, the greater public’s awareness and understanding of the Climate Emergency has grown significantly since our catastrophic 2020 Bushfires, as well as the drastic increase in incidences of extreme weather here and seemingly everywhere. Yet most people are still generally unaware of the seriously exacerbating consequences of the lag effect resulting in much of the carbon pollution created two or more decades ago only presenting as impacts now as well as the cushioning of current impacts due to global dimming that is creating cooling effects of up to half a degree, particularly over cities.
An award-winning organisation, CLIMARTE is globally recognised for the quality, depth, and scope of its work enabling emotional engagement with climate threats, as well as the many powerful, readily available, equitable and affordable solutions. Over the years CLIMARTE has increasingly been credited with advancing climate crisis conversations in the Arts sector; conversations that were initially quite unwelcome due to our sector’s heavy reliance on funding from extractive and exploitative industries.
Australia now has increasingly diverse, climate literate and well organised civil society collaborating across all sectors its economy; people who are determined to transform Australia from a climate wrecker to a leading force addressing the Climate Emergency.
Please refer to our Strategic Plan for further details.
The Climate Quilt. Initiated by the late Mary Good, driven by Carol Ride from Psychology for a Safe Climate, and brought together by Jo Lane, The Climate Quilt is comprised of sewn squares of concern for our climate, our environment, and our future.
Tell us about CLIMARTE’s 2024 projects including COP29.
In addition to providing assistance with local shows, we currently have two quite ambitious projects on the go, the above-mentioned Creative Constellations: Atlas of Radical Hope and CLIMARTE Window Reflections.
Creative Constellations: Atlas of Radical Hope
In the context of the Climate Emergency, a Victoria state-wide project to make visible locally focused creative projects that intersect climate, culture and community in ways that boldly envision a fair, socially and ecologically sustainable future based on respect and reciprocity.
There will be an exhibition of 18 coinciding with National Sustainable Living Festival, commencing mid February 2024.
This project is a collaboration between CLIMARTE and the Cultural Gardeners, this project is funded by Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.
Funding permitting our intention is for the Creative Constellations project/map to grow to encompass all of Australia and beyond. We think it will be enormously inspiring to see how much positive cultural work is happening on the ground in local communities.
CLIMARTE Window Reflections
Our experience with the CLIMARTE Gallery’s prominent windows convinced us of how many passers-by really appreciate the sight of beautiful and prescient artwork in shopfronts. So, knowing the power of art to engage and inspire people, we are excited to be developing CLIMARTE Window Reflections, a pop-up concept to provide inclusive opportunities for artists, residents, local businesses and vacant shop owners to unite in calls for effective climate action while helping to revitalise our local public areas.
As soon as we announced the concept, we had about half a dozen career artists contact us to be involved and have been working with a pro bono trained lawyer to develop agreement templates to clarify roles and responsibilities. The local council and traders association are really enthusiastic about its possibilities too, so please stay tuned!
At this stage we have no direct plans for COP29 but of course are more than open to opportunities such as emerged thanks to our friend and colleague Daniella Conser for COP28.
Tell us about The Climate Quilt project.
A CLIMARTE and Psychology for a Safe Climate collaboration, The Climate Quilt was Initiated by the late Mary Good, driven by Carol Ride (founder and former Executive Director of Psychology for a Safe Climate), and brought together by artist Jo Lane, The Climate Quilt is comprised of sewn squares of concern for our climate, our environment, and our future. It was created by contributors of all ages and sewing experience, whose squares give agency to directly personal and worldwide distress and grief for the dire situation we find ourselves in.
This beautiful, sad, wild, colourful quilt—made entirely by hand, using repurposed materials and thread—is a work encompassing human love and care, scientific facts and predictions as well as abstract expressions of climate despair, rage and dread.
Detail of the Quilt has been featured in Spanish publishing house Edelvives’ Year 11 Arts & Crafts school book.
Tell us about CLIMARTE’s COP28 project.
We had no direct plans to be at COP28 but were absolutely thrilled that Daniella not only joined Australia’s delegation but chose to give presentations on CLIMARTE’s work. You can read more about Daniella’s COP28 (visit here, as well as her personal reflections here). With appropriate credits to Daniella and CLIMARTE, you are very welcome to republish this material.
Was CLIMARTE involved in the “Group of Friends of Culture-Based Climate Action” Launched at COP 28? (See https://www.tiredearth.com/articles/group-of-friends-of-culture-based-climate-action-launched-at-cop-28)
We were not aware of this initiative but have signed on, thank you for letting us know!
Which organizations, museums do CLIMARTE collaborate with?
Please see a list of more than 60 collaborators (independent galleries and groups) here.
How can environmental artists get involved with your organization?
Artists and creative workers can reach out to us via our website’s contact form. We also often hear from people via direct messages on our social media platforms also linked from our website - https://climarte.org.
Anything else you would like to add.
Huge thanks for your interest in CLIMARTE’s work and please let’s keep in touch!