Harnessing the power of the arts for change

“What arts can do is create a climate where action becomes necessary,” says festival director Guy Abrahams of the ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE festival which opened in Victoria, Australia, on 19 April 2017. In The Sustainable Hour on 94.7 The Pulse, he explained about the festival’s aims and intentions – and he told about an exhibition and its related events in Geelong. More info below.

“Climate change should not just be something that we see graphs or numbers about. We want it to be one of the things we talk about in the same way as we talk about the road toll, or we talk about the housing crisis. This is something which should be part of our everyday discussion. Getting it into the creative culture of our society is one way we start that happening.”
Guy Abrahams, festival director and co-founder of Climarte – in The Sustainable Hour

Radio interview with Guy Abrahams


Mik: So, Tony and Rusty, here in this country, we have a federal government which apparently thinks – still – that wind turbines are utterly offensive and everything we heard when Tony Abbott was the King of Coal – and you know what, sometimes when I open the radio I think it is a bit ‘utterly offensive’ too to have to listen to these artists coming with all these songs – it is like they live in this bubble with blinders on… they are all singing about ‘Oh aren’t we having a good time’ and ‘Oh I’m in love’ and ‘happy happy’ and everything – and that’s fine in a way, of course, but it seems to me artists are so much looking at their own belly button, looking at themselves. So I’m excited to see, then, that here is a festival coming – it started last week – called ‘Art + Climate = Change’, meaning that artists are getting involved in the climate change aspects. And we have the CEO of the festival with us in The Sustainable Hour today. Welcome, Guy!”

Guy Abrahams: “Great to be here, thanks for having me on.”

“Guy, how is it going and what’s happening and what are the big stories from ‘Art+Climate=Change’?”

“This is second iterations of the festival which first started in 2015 and this year, what’s been really amazing is how enthusiastic embraced the festival has been by the cultural community of Melbourne and regional Victoria. We got over 32 rated exhibitions at leading museums and galleries in Melbourne and Geelong, Shepparton, various places around Victoria.

And you know, when we came with the festival first time around we had to explain to people what we were doing and why were they doing it. This time people absolutely get it. There is a clear desire on the part of the curators and directors – and of course of the many artists who participate – to have some sort of impact – to use their own responses to climate change, to sustainability, to the very issues that you were talking about in your introduction there, and get that message out there.”

“The thing is, climate change is something that people connect with something sad – in the sense that it is something about the extinction of animals, it is something we can’t do anything about, you feel a bit hopeless, that sort of thing – but you are saying that the artists are getting a bit excited now about entering that space?”

“Absolutely! And the scientists are excited about the artists being involved, because you know, for 20 or 30 years, the scientists have been telling us what is going on, and for 20 or 30 years, we have been just basically ignoring them. There was an article which just came out in March in the very prestigious [scientific] journal called Nature Climate Change, and it is a whole article on the role of the arts in bringing these issues to people’s attention, and one of the artists they interviewed said this, she said: ‘When you influence culture, change happens.’

I think that is the core of what we are trying to do. We are looking at our broad culture, not only our creative and artistic culture, but our broad culture. With climate change… We want the positives that can inspire us to treat our environment and each other in a more sustainable and just way, and also to be aware of the negative. But we want that to be a normal discussion. Not something that just the politicians are talking about. Or not talking about. Not just something that we see graphs or numbers about. We want it to be one of the things we talk about in the same way as we talk about the road toll, or we talk about housing crisis. This is something which should be part of our everyday discussions. And I think by getting it into the culture, the creative culture of our society, that is one way we start that happening.”

[The interview continues… listen on the player above]

Guy Abrahams: harnessing the power of the arts for change

Guy Abrahams believes in harnessing the power of the arts for change. The former lawyer co-founded CLIMARTE in 2010 with Fiona Armstrong and Deborah Hart, and as CEO has guided the independent, not-for-profit organisation to become a worldwide leader in climate change-focused arts.

“Growing up, I was lucky to be surrounded by beauty and mystery in artworks and nature. I want the same for my children and for theirs in turn,” says Guy.

His appreciation for the arts and the natural world was encouraged in his upbringing, with his mother Christine pursuing a career in the arts. Guy’s own involvement in the visual arts and environment sectors spans more than 30 years, and he has seen first-hand the undeniable impact that art has on people’s opinions, outlooks and actions.

In 1994 Guy left the legal world to become director of Christine Abrahams Gallery, one of Australia’s leading contemporary art galleries – a position he held for 22 years. He has held numerous arts positions including President of the Australian Commercial Galleries Association and has been on the board of organisations including the Melbourne Art Fair and the National Gallery of Victoria Art Foundation. He is currently Chair of the City of Melbourne Art & Heritage Collection Panel and a valuer for the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program.

Climate change communication training
Guy’s commitment to protecting our environment led him to complete his Masters of Environment at the University of Melbourne in 2009, before going on to receive training on climate change communication from then-US Vice President Al Gore.

Through CLIMARTE, Guy has focused his career on producing, promoting and facilitating arts events that advocate for immediate, effective, creative and inspired action on climate change.

“Now more than ever we need to find new ways to engender hope,” he said. “We need to find better ways of supporting our common humanity and preserve our global commons by appealing to the angels of our better nature. Culture can’t do this alone, but without culture we can’t create the hope or the way forward.”

Following the success of CLIMARTE’s inaugural festival in 2015, ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE returns in 2017 to unite organisations and individuals from around Australia and the world who are committed to protecting our future.

“ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2017 will help us feel the problems we are facing and embrace the solutions that are already here,” said Guy.

» artclimatechange.org

» The articles in Nature Climate Change, which Guy Abrahams referred to, are for subscribers only:

The visceral climate experience
“Representing climate change through music and the visual arts anchors it in our culture.” By Sonja van Renssen

Museums as catalysts for change
“An international coalition of museums could play a critical role in coordinating more effective public communication on and engagement with climate change.” By Morien Rees

EXIT, 2008-2015, View of the installation EXIT, Collection Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris
© Diller Scofidio + Renfro, with Mark Hansen, Laura Kurgan and Ben Rubin, in collaboration with Robert Gerard Pietrusko and Stewart Smith, Photo © Luc Boegly


In a time of increasing anxiety about globalisation and its impacts, the installation EXIT provides a vibrant representation of some of the processes which link us, sometimes inextricably, planet-wide. In this forum, a panel of experts will discuss EXIT and the issues it raises.

Wednesday 26 April, 6.45pm
Carillo Gantner theatre, Sidney Myer Asia Building
University of Melbourne
Free, more info

ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE exhibition in Geelong

‘Luminous relic’ presents a major collaborative painting and moving image work by Mandy Martin and Alexander Boynes, with a score by Tristen Parr.

Based on fieldwork around industrial Geelong, this urgent politically charged work examines the ongoing and cumulative effects of industry on landscapes, fragile ecosystems and human conditions.

A sense of intimate connection between industry, carbon emissions, the end of the fossil fuel era, and a lurid dawn heralding freak winds and, far across the ocean, a collapsing ice shelf, underlie the artistic response from each artist.

Mandy Martin paints the body of the Geelong industrial complex into an ice shelf. Her high key reflective surface allows time-lapse moving images of industrial Geelong by Alexander Boynes to play with the element of time in what appears to be a static moment. Tristen Parr’s score adds pathos and gravitas to the contemplative space and sublime proposition of Luminous relic.

The exhibition is on until 9 July 2017. It is complimented by an  In conversation event and  First Friday lecture.

» Read more on www.geelonggallery.org.au

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Discussion on ‘Luminous relic’ in relation to Geelong Refinery

In conversation — Mandy Martin, Alexander Boynes, Guy Abrahams, Bronwyn Johnson and Jason Smith
29 April 2017 from 2.00pm to 3.00pm
Free event

To celebrate Geelong Gallery’s participation in the ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2017 festival and the exhibition Luminous relic, join us for a dynamic conversation with exhibiting artists Mandy Martin and Alexander Boynes, co-founder and CEO of CLIMARTE Guy Abrahams, executive director of CLIMARTE Bronwyn Johnson and Geelong Gallery director Jason Smith.

This event will be a collaborative examination of the ongoing and cumulative effects of industry on landscapes, fragile ecosystems, human conditions, and remind us of the social and political agency of the artist. The panel will discuss arts capacity to creatively engage and inspire action on climate change through a discussion on ‘Luminous relic’, developed through fieldwork — drawing, filming, photography and performance — in Geelong, specifically in relation to the Geelong Refinery.

» Read more on www.geelonggallery.org.au

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Lecture about ‘Luminous relic’ and Mandy Martin

Geelong Gallery’s director, Jason Smith, will present an insightful lecture on exhibiting artist Mandy Martin.
2 June 2017 from 10.15am to 12.00pm
Cost: $12

Jason Smith explores Mandy Martin’s prominent career and her focus on conservation, the landscape and the social and political agency of the artist in relation to ‘Luminous relic’.

» Read more on www.geelonggallery.org.au

Geelong Refinery

» Centre for Climate Safety:
Refinery’s social license up for public discussion

“Art does not change the world. But it does change the people who change the world.”
~ François Matarasso

» The Guardian – 27 January 2015:
13 ways the arts and sport can inspire action on climate change
“Isn’t it time creative types and sports stars did more to tackle climate change? Our expert panel suggest how.”

The Sustainable Hour no 166

» This interview was a part of The Sustainable Hour on 26 April 2017