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Guest Blog: Change Festival 2021

Tuesday 12 October 2021

How Can The Arts Inspire Climate Action?  Tell Different Stories. Becky Burchell, curator of the Change Festival, explains all.

The climate crisis accelerated this year, with an onslaught of extreme weather events around the world. From wildfires, to flooding to heatwaves, it is now impossible to ignore the urgent need to rapidly change the way we live on earth. So why is there still so much climate apathy?  

Perhaps it is because we are not motivated by statistics, by graphs of carbon levels, or maps of rising sea levels; but we are moved by stories. We seek out the stories that we relate to and help us make sense of our place in the world. So What would happen if we told different stories, through our arts, our culture and our media? Would this help us to see the climate crisis through a different lens? And to help us find our own place in the story of our future?

I created CHANGE Festival in 2019 to bring together narratives that aim to inspire audiences to rise up to the climate crisis. Taking place again this year at Warwick Arts Centre 5th-7th November, we won't be bombarding audiences with science, data or climate jargon, but instead will be offering a broad programme of music, theatre, cabaret, family shows, discussions and workshops. With over 20 events across the weekend, the theme for this year’s festival is ‘rise up’ and audiences will be invited to consider what personally motivates them to become active, rather than apathetic.

It’s common to feel overwhelmed by the scale of what’s happening to our climate and feel that anything we do will be insignificant. But going to see a theatre show, which tells the story of a quiet, nature loving scientist whose observations changed the course of history, is both inspiring and moving and reminds us that ordinary people have power too.

The scientist I'm talking about is Rachel Carson, writer of ‘Silent Spring’, a book which charted the devastating effects of chemicals on the natural world, and whose core message was the foundation of the environmental movement: “Man is part of nature: his war against nature is a war against himself.” Carson’s story as a reluctant pioneer has been captured in a compelling new theatre show called Nevergreen, premiering at CHANGE Festival on Sunday 7th November, produced by The Wonderful.

My favourite phrase is ‘hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up’. One of the reasons I created CHANGE Festival was to celebrate people who were actually DOING things to make the world a better place. People with their elbows deep in action. People who chose to go against the status quo and lay a new path ahead. Through their dogged determination, passion and vision, they are the true heroes of our time. Through a series of discussions, workshops and even a live podcast over the festival weekend, audiences will be able to hear from some of these visionaries, including Satish Kumar and Jonathon Porritt.

The festival programme also reminds audiences that our youngest citizens are deeply concerned about their future and gives a platform for these voices to be heard. Children growing up in this moment understand that the climate and our natural world is in crisis and it’s normal that they want to talk about it. As a mother, I know how important it is to listen; not only to young people’s concerns, but also their ideas, hopes and dreams. This sentiment is captured in two more new shows coming to CHANGE Festival: I stand for what I stand on by Strike a Light on Sunday 7th November and Oh, The Things We’re For by Innosanto Nagara and Orchestra for the Earth on Saturday 6th November. Both events give the stage to young activists, sharing their passions and fears. I stand for what I stand on explores the reality of being a teenager and growing up in the shadow of the climate emergency, while Oh, The Things We’re For combines Beethoven’s Septet with a stirring poem and imagery by Innosanto Nagara to celebrate children’s commitment to social and environmental justice.  

But there is another side to the ‘rise up’ call to action that CHANGE Festival is rallying: an acknowledgement that to act to protect our natural world, we have to respect it. So the programme is also an invitation to audiences to become in deeper connection with the non-human world. Cosmo Sheldrake, unique singer, songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist makes music inspired by and often incorporating field recordings and natural soundscapes. He will be performing at CHANGE Festival on Friday 5th November, sharing tracks from his 2020 album ‘Wake Up Calls’, which is comprised of recordings of endangered birds.

So if you are feeling lost and hopeless in the face of the climate crisis then what better tonic than coming to an arts festival, surrounded by other people who care as much as you do? And it will beat reading another news article about heat waves, that’s for sure.

Browse the whole festival

Taking place between 5-7 November 2021