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Carnival of Crisis: UAL demonstrates importance of creative education in response to climate and ecological emergency

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Running in parallel to #COP26, @UAL’s Carnival of Crisis demonstrates how creative education can and must respond to the climate and ecological emergency. 

A collaborative and student-led cultural programme to inspire and mobilise urgent action, the Carnival will infiltrate teaching curriculum to inspire next generation of climate activists.

The University of the Arts (UAL) Climate Emergency Network presents Carnival of Crisis: Mobilising Creative Action in the Age of Emergency. The event series runs parallel to the COP26 Climate Summit and reflects UAL’s commitment to tackling the climate emergency. This includes a bold pledge to achieve net zero by 2040 – 10 years ahead of the UK Government mandate – and placing climate justice as central to becoming a social purpose university.  

Carnival of Crisis features a series of events and workshops presented by UAL academics, students and partners, including several events in association with Glasgow School of Art, located in COP26’s host city. The events are dynamic and interactive, showcasing the innovative contributions being made by the creative sector, which is not recognised in the programme of the COP26 Climate Summit. Carnival is traditionally a time of apparent excess and exuberance which leads to a transformative period of reflection and renewal. Intended as an alternative summit to COP26, UAL’s Carnival of Crisis will lead to follow-ups on the ideas and collaborations formed during the month.

As well as public events, Carnival will infiltrate UAL’s teaching curriculum. Students across UAL’s six Colleges will showcase original projects addressing the climate emergency. These include an Architecture project involving over 100 students co-creating the Carnival Base Camp at Central Saint Martins; textile students at Chelsea College of Arts and Glasgow School of Art working with Professor Lucy Orta on Nexus Architecture; and students in MA Art & Science co-producing a series of conversations between scientists and artists.

Co-designed with students, Carnival of Crisis reflects a culture of student action and innovation at UAL in response to the climate emergency. Recent interventions include Webby Award-winning Climate Emergency Interactive, a dynamic learning tool co-developed by students and staff for learning about the climate emergency; and “robot fish”, a techno-ecology device designed to extract microplastics from water using ferrofluid, created by graduate Henry Parkin, winner of the Maison/0 This Earth Award.

James Purnell, President and Vice-Chancellor of UAL, comments:

“Carnival of Crisis demonstrates the vital role that creative education plays in building a sustainable future. We aim to embolden our students – the creative entrepreneurs of tomorrow – to develop solutions to the climate crisis through their work. That might be through engineering new materials using bio matter or challenging wasteful making practices. UAL is committed to embedding climate justice throughout our teaching and operations. The Carnival calls for colleagues in the creative education sector to follow suit.” 

Sustainability is already embedded in the UAL curriculum and across the university’s research and knowledge exchange activities. For example, the Centre for Circular Design is working to achieve a fully circular textiles economy by 2050; Central Saint Martins is playing a crucial role in Plastic Justice; and Pharma-Factory is exploring the use of plant biotechnology in manufacturing medical and veterinary products. The Centre for Sustainable Fashion is applying sustainable design to fashion as both artistic and business practice. This commitment is further outlined in UAL’s Education for Sustainability Transformation report.

UAL will unveil an ambitious new Climate Action Plan following COP26. Like Carnival of Crisis, it will confront climate justice: acknowledging the role of political-economic systems in accelerating climate change and its unequal impact on people around the world. It will address UAL’s commitments and pledges across four key strands: academic discourse and action learning; governance through purposeful policies; co-designing a climate justice movement; and ecosystem infrastructure.

The climax of Carnival will be the Parade for Climate Justice on 10 November. The event will take place at Chelsea College of Arts’ Parade Ground. The UAL community will be joined by Carnival partners, co-producers and contributors to demonstrate the collective power of the creative industries, cultural and education sectors in disrupting norms and tackling the crisis. Featuring installations and artworks such as Helen Storey’s Dress for Our Time, Lucy Orta’s Nexus Architecture and Antarctica World Passport, and Manifest Data Lab’s Climate Projections. There will be speeches from special guests, including high-profile speakers, students and UAL leadership.

Professor Carole Collet, Professor in Design for Sustainable Futures and Director of Maison/0 , said:

“Science has done its job; we have the data and clear targets to reduce our carbon and biodiversity footprints. So now it is up to us to use the power of our creativity to shape a culture where ecological abundance is integral to what we do. This Carnival of Crisis is designed to uplift our agency and stimulate our creativity towards a future we can all be proud of as Earth citizens.” 

Jeremy Till, Head of Central Saint Martins and Pro-Vice Chancellor of UAL, said:

“The climate emergency demands systemic change, and this in turn needs new ways of thinking about the future. Creative practice should be at the heart of reimagining, designing and making these new worlds.” 

Dr Nicky Ryan, Dean of Design at London College of Communication, said:

“As academics we are citizens who enjoy the huge privilege of being able to educate and empower future generations through our teaching and research. As such, we must take every opportunity at the individual, institutional and societal level to act and advocate for a more equitable, healthy and sustainable planet.” 

Professor Helen Storey MBE, Professor of Fashion and Science at Centre for Sustainable Fashion, London College of Fashion, said:

“To act upon the climate emergency, we continue to need the ultimate in human ingenuity, our capacity to love, resilience and will – While the endeavour of science has been to show us all that is, all that is possible; it is the power found in art and culture that galvanises our ability to co-imagine the living of a future, that enables and honours all forms of life – we do not deserve to be here, if we aim for anything less.” 

Professor Becky Earley, Co-Founder of Centre for Circular Design, said:

“Circular design gives us the framework for eliminating waste and toxins, reducing resource use, making things last longer and working together on new, socially equitable models for a just transition. Few realise just how powerful this way of working can be; designers lead by building the bridges between us all.” 

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Professor Ramia Mazé, Professor in Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability at London College of Communication, said:

“Design today is expanding upwards in government and upstream in policymaking processes, and design also works on behalf of communities and activists. These multiple influences of design entail a significant role – and power – of design in shaping society. This power comes with responsibility: we must shape and use design towards a more sustainable and more just society.” 

Climate Emergency Roundtable: Culture as Cornerstone

3 November, 4 November

Speakers: James Purnell, Allan Atlee, Nicky Ryan, Ramia Mazé, Becky Earley, Dilys Williams, Jeremy Till, Naresh Ramchandani, Helen Storey, and more

In response to the COP26 Climate Summit, experts from the HEI and Cultural sectors and guests from other fields will discuss three topics: curriculum transformation, culture as the fourth pillar of sustainable development, and trans-disciplinarity. Panellists will respond to questions from members of UAL and Glasgow School of Art. They will be drawn together in a final session focused on action.

Forest Talks

21 October, 11 November, 25 November

Speakers: Farhana Yamin, Joy Mulandi

The Forest Talks will explore forests and those trying to protect them over three sessions, including a live broadcast from COP26 in Glasgow on 11 November. Hosted by Farhana Yamin, Climate Lawyer, IPCC Author and Justice Activist, and Joy Mulandi, Architect and M ARCH: Architecture alumni.

Challenging Times 

20 October, 27 October, 3 November 

Speakers: Jacob V Joyce, Teresa Cisneros, Nichol Keene, Janine Francois 

This series of online talks from the Culture and Enterprise Programme at Central Saint Martins focuses on how the climate emergency intersects with issues of race.

Artists, curators, filmmakers, writers, scientists, academics, and students come together to discuss events which are framing and shaping curatorial and cultural practices and interventions.

Colour of the Climate Crisis

From 1 November

A ground-breaking virtual exhibition in collaboration with Pentagram’s environmental campaigning wing Do the Green Thing. Students of colour will be showing alongside established artists and designers of colour from around the world, exploring the relationship between race and climate justice.

Parade for Climate Justice: What will you bring?

Wed 10 November

The climax of the Carnival, taking place at Chelsea College of Arts’ Parade Ground opposite Tate Britain. With talks from special guests, students and UAL leadership, experience performances and collective activations. Come together as a community for a chance to connect with others in the name of climate justice and in a spirit of unity and solidarity.

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