A creative response to the climate crisis: RCS artists shine a light on the environmental emergency in new works

A creative response to the climate crisis: RCS artists shine a light on the environmental emergency in new works

Published: October 21, 2021

COP26 arrives in Glasgow at the end of this month and Royal Conservatoire of Scotland students, staff and graduates are using their art to shine a light on the climate crisis.

From world premieres of new music to autobiographical dance-theatre, here are some of the events that showcase our community’s creative response to climate change.


Dr Oliver Searle, Interim Head of Composition, will premiere a new work at a concert in Aberdeen today, inspired by coastal erosion and the geographic/environmental changes around the coast.

Written for Alex South, a clarinettist and RCS PhD student, From the Coast – which also features Katherine Wren on viola — investigates the effects of human intervention on recorded sound, reflecting our interactions with the wider world.

The sounds in question were recorded by Alex in a sea cave in Fife during a collaboration with researchers from the University of St Andrews. The resulting piece also draws on Oliver’s childhood memories from time spent living on the coast.

It’s at 1pm at The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen. Book tickets.

© Oliver Searle


Penny Chivas, a postgraduate student on RCS’s MEd Learning and Teaching in the Arts programme, will present Burnt Out, about Australian bushfires and climate change at Eden Court on November 3.

Weaving spoken word and movement, audiences will be taken through Australia’s fiery history through dance and sound — an autobiographical dance-theatre work from the daughter of an environmental geochemist, bringing together fact and personal account.

Burnt Out, which was also part of Citymoves’ Dance Live festival in Aberdeen, is described as ‘both an intimate personal story and a universal meditation on our changing climate’.

Book tickets.

© Brian Hartley


It’s Scotland’s portal to the world … a ten-foot, golden shipping container that will connect strangers across the globe through the universal language of the arts.

Based at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the converted container, with its life-sized screen and a livestream link, will bring Glaswegians face-to-face with people they’d never otherwise meet, who live thousands of miles away in locations like Rwanda, Uganda, Gaza and Iraq.

The only one of its kind in Scotland, the container is at the heart of the Climate Portals project, an ambitious arts collaboration between the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Shared_Studios, HarrisonParrott and Scottish Ballet.

Funded by the British Council as one of its Creative Commissions, the project is part of the cultural programme in the build-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), which is hosted in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12.

Climate Portals takes an inventive and intimate approach to the climate change debate, exploring the themes surrounding COP26 and providing a space for people from all walks of life to talk, spark ideas, share thoughts and experiences as if they’re in the same room.

The Climate Portals festival will run from October 25 to November 12 with two separate elements.

One strand is a portal-to-portal programme of events where Royal Conservatoire of Scotland students and staff will create work and performances to share with audiences who are based near the worldwide portals, staging everything from a mini-opera to a 12-hour music improvisation session. They’ll also take part in discussions to explore the role of the arts and artists in driving change. For this programme, the Glasgow portal will link to Erbil, Iraq; Mexico City, Mexico; Lagos, Nigeria; Gaza, Palestinian Territories; Kigali, Rwanda and Nakivale, Uganda.

There is a public strand to the festival where the container will throw open its doors in a series of open-hour connections where visitors can enjoy interesting and engaging conversations with people at portals in Rwanda, Uganda, Gaza, Iraq and Mexico.

During COP26, a daily Climate Café will also take place from 11am to 12pm around the portal to explore key themes related to the climate crisis. Each session will begin with an invited speaker, including experts in fashion, music, theatre and food production, which will be followed by informal discussions and accompanied by tea, coffee and home baking.

Public events also include:

Sally Charlton + Althea Young

November 5, 4-5pm / November 11, 2-3pm

Charlton and Young explore distance and phone calls as a form of time travel. This work explores to what degree our voices are us and if our voices are enough to transcend great distances to be with each other.

Laura Bissell + David Overend

November 11, time TBC / Supported by Edinburgh Futures Institute

Experience an audio walk down Hope Street (15mins) then to listen to an audio walk created in Mexico City on your return journey to the portal (15mins). You will then enter the portal to meet someone in Mexico City who has also listened to the sounds of both places.

Hope Street has been at the top of the list of Scotland’s most polluted streets for many years.

Hope Street is a microcosm: Abandonment, climate change, precarity.

And yet everywhere …

The buddleia, the birds,

The grasses poking through pavements, seeking the sunlight.

Walking down Hope Street takes us further than might be assumed.

All events must be pre-booked through Eventbrite.


On November 10, RCS students will perform in A Response to Climate Change Dies Irae

at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

Starting with Galina Ustwolskaja’s Dies Irae, renowned violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja will lead a musicians’ reaction to a threatened world in this uniquely curated concert experience featuring the RSNO Chamber Ensemble, RCS vocal ensemble directed by Tim Dean and double bass and trombone students.

Book tickets.


On November 12, RCS guitarists and filmmakers will join forces to perform and showcase their work at Glasgow Science Centre in a creative collaboration that will blend music and film inspired by the climate crisis.

The performance, from 4-5pm, takes place at the Science Show Theatre. It will feature classical guitarists Tim Beattie, Finlay Hay, Dominika Dawidowska and Leonard Rannallo who will perform works by Leo Brouwer, Eddie McGuire and Philip Glass with each work purposely reflecting the constancy of change.

Leo Brouwer’s Cuban Landscape with Rain and Philip Glass’ Metamorphosis will be performed alongside a newly commissioned film, inspired by the music, created by Rosslyn McCormick and Rhona McCalman, students of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s film school.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland performance, titled Hope Springs Eternal – A Sonic Landscape, will be the culmination of a specially commissioned, year-long series, Hope Springs Eternal, which has seen students from across the conservatoire create new work inspired by landscape, nature and climate change.

Themes of adaptation, resilience and nature are also at the forefront of the series, a partnership between the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Artistic Planning team and Scotland House, Scotland’s international enterprise network.

Book tickets.

Read more on the Newsroom.


Art & The Climate Crisis: Actions for Change is a project led by artists Gudrun Soley Sigurdardottir and Eoin Mackenzie – both RCS Contemporary Performance Practice graduates — who are offering workshops in primary and secondary schools in East Dunbartonshire, along with continuing professional development for teachers on how to explore the climate crisis through art-making and performance practice.

Running until the end of COP26, it’s a collaboration between the BA Contemporary Performance Practice programme and East Dunbartonshire Council’s Climate Change and Sustainability Officer and Quality Improvement Officer. 

The project encourages students and teachers to use artistic actions as a way of reconnecting with their environments and examines how art can be used to create conversations across the school — and the surrounding community — about the climate crisis.


© Robert McFadzean

ETCH Festival is the culmination of a year-long, student-led project which has used the COP26 summit as inspiration to create a collaborative arts festival around the theme of climate change.

Funded by the RCS Diversity Fund and initiated by the RCS Students’ Union, the ETCH Festival has a clear vision – to nurture versatile and socially responsible young talents who will push the boundaries and launch careers.

Student artists have worked together, across disciplines, to create projects which collectively celebrate the Earth, grieve for past and future loss, and educate one another on what must be done next. These involve original works, imbuing old pieces with new messages, as well as community outreach efforts to make our platform more accessible.

The diverse group of creators have also engaged in exciting collaborations with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Shared_Studios’ Climate Portal and Lateral North’s After the Pandemic series.

Together they have created exciting new performances and work including a Chamber Music Showcase, filmed in Cunigar Loop, Amazonic, an exploratory journey of original works from our dance and composition students and a Storytelling and Song series.

The participants have also been involved in community outreach work, bringing art into schools to inspire the next generation.

ETCH will premiere new work throughout COP26 digitally and you can watch on the RCS Green Room and on RCS social channels.


Students, staff and graduates of the Contemporary Performance Practice programme are creating works for Climate Portals, a British Council-supported arts exchange between RCS, Shared_Studios, HarrisonParrott and Scottish Ballet as part of a full programme of RCS events.

Dr Laura Bissell, Interim Head of Contemporary Performance Practice and Dr Sarah Hopfinger, CPP lecturer, are co-authoring an article with four CPP graduates – Sally Charlton, Sinéad Hargan, Anya Sirina and Althea Young – who are creating work for Climate Portals. 

Themes of precarity, grievability and the role of art-making in times of climate crisis will be explored in the article, which will offer creative-critical reflections on the performance activity generated in response to the COP26 and Climate Portals project. 

Main image: Burnt Out by Penny Chivas © Brian Hartley

You might also be interested in reading


Towards a Sustainable RCS

From creative conversations to workshops and sharing of practice, sustainability took centre stage at RCS’s Staff Development Day. RCS’s vision is to nurture a sustainable community that supports and celebrates inclusive art-making, from grassroots to world-leading performance and production. Staff from across the institution gathered to explore learning and teaching approaches alongside operational activities which

Sustainability Prize win for sound artist Jaime Díaz

Sound artist and doctoral candidate Jaime Díaz, also known as J, received the award for their submission, Songs Without Words for the End of the F*cking World. The piece was commissioned and written for Dr Sarah Watts who premiered it in Glasgow on February 2023. “This piece explores sort of imagined landscapes for the end