RCS marks Earth Day with celebration of power of art to help save planet

RCS marks Earth Day with celebration of power of art to help save planet

Published: April 21, 2023

From a spectacular concert featuring young musicians accompanied by dramatic NASA footage to a golden shipping container that sparked meaningful moments of connection between Glasgow and the world … these are just two of the creative projects captured in a new digital publication that demonstrates the power of art in tackling the climate crisis.

What Can Art Do? Making Performance in Times of Crisis, unveiled ahead of Earth Day on Saturday 22 April, encapsulates the socially responsible artistic practices that run through the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Download the Publication

The publication archives and showcases the work created by the RCS community and its partners before, during and beyond the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow

Key themes include art as climate action, performance as a space to hold intimacy, grief and care, and how creative practices can encourage a sense of connection, community and collaboration, which feels vital as we face the challenges of climate change.

The publication acts as a legacy and a ‘living’ document, with a sustainable initiatives and resources collection to continue the conversation and for the seeds of new ideas to emerge.

Dr Laura Bissell, Athenaeum Research Fellow, lecturer in Contemporary Performance Practice, and co-chair of the Sustainability Committee at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said: “The ambition of this publication is to archive the works that were created during COP26 and to capture the spirit, strengths and challenges of these projects.

“It aims to reflect on the conversations that were had and the questions that remain. We hope that this will provide some sense of the legacy of the at times frenzied activities of these weeks, and, importantly, collate the green resources presented during the festival into one accessible document.

“COP26 is over, but the challenges we face continue, and this publication invites the conversation to develop, and new ideas to emerge.”

Some of the key projects in the publication include

© Ingrid Mur

Climate Portals Festival

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Climate Portals Festival came to life during COP26 as a way of engaging people in Glasgow and across the world in intimate acts of connection, creation and conversation exploring climate crisis.

The festival, funded by the British Council Creative Commissions and the Global Challenges Research Fund, consisted of two main events. There was the Climate Portals project, which existed outside the Renfrew Street campus in the form of a ten-foot-tall shipping container, provided by creative partner Shared_Studios, and equipped with the technology to connect performers and people in Glasgow to small audiences in other portals across the world.

The accompanying Climate Cafés saw members of the RCS community coming together to enjoy talks by climate-engaged artists and leaders, as well as sharing ideas, activities and conversations over tea and biscuits.

The Climate Portals Festival brought together RCS and three creative partners who helped to make the festival a reality: Shared_Studios, Scottish Ballet and HarrisonParrott. The festival would not have been possible without its global partners in Bamako, Erbil, Gaza, Nakivale, Mexico City, and Kigali, with whom Glasgow had the chance to connect with during COP26.

Coorie Doon at the Climate Portal

Songwriting project Coorie Doon explored the process and impact of writing music with individuals and families, to create a song for (and often with) their child. It was an initiative of Chamber Music Scotland in partnership with Dr Rachel Drury, lecturer in Music Psychology in the Arts and lecturer in Learning and Teaching in the Arts at RCS and has had five other iterations before this one.

This latest iteration, in partnership with RCS, saw an artistic team collaborating with individuals and families from around the world to create new music and spoken word centred around the theme ‘a world for our children’.

The theme was the basis for discussion around environmental and social issues inherent in society and culture and encouraged reflection about the world we want to leave for the next generation, with the songs a musical response to these reflections. A short film was created to capture the project.

“All of us were forced into considering our own positionality as humans within our art form, our society, our country and as a member of a much wider global community,” said Dr Rachel Drury.

“It was such a privilege to be able to have such open and frank conversations with people through the portal that we would otherwise never have met. The stories we heard were so rich and affecting.”

Vital Signs of the Planet © Jassy Earl

Concerts for Change

RCS students were selected to perform and showcase their work to a global audience as part of the cultural programme surrounding the COP26 climate change conference.

An ensemble of emerging artists took to the stage at Glasgow Science Centre in a creative collaboration that blended music and film inspired by the climate crisis.

The performance featured classical guitarists Tim Beattie, Finlay Hay, Dominika Dawidowska, and Leonard Rannallo who performed 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 were performed alongside a newly commissioned film, inspired by the music, created by Rosslyn McCormick and Rhona McCalman, RCS filmmaking students.

The concert was part of COP26’s Green Zone, managed by the UK Government, to offer a platform for the public, youth groups, civil society, academia, artists and business to have their voices heard through events, exhibitions, workshops and talks to promote dialogue, awareness, education and commitments.

The power of music, combined with dramatic footage from NASA and National Geographic, brought the impact of climate change over the last 20 years to the forefront for a powerful symphony concert at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall during COP26.

Vital Signs of the Planet brought together musicians from RCS and its Junior Conservatoire with internationally recognised conductor Emil de Cou, singer-songwriter Natasha Bedingfield and the Global Climate Uprising Festival.

Highlights included new footage of climate change from NASA and National Geographic, messages from the International Space Station and in-person testimony from young environmental partners from the most impacted areas of the world. The result was a symphonic spectacular, taking place right at the heart of the climate debate, fusing music, messages and cinematic visuals.

This was a special moment for global youth and the arts to speak for the planet in Glasgow at a vital time for the world. The unique occasion was delivered in partnership by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the Global Climate Uprising Festival and was supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

© Tim Morrozo

Etch Festival

The Etch Festival was the culmination of a year-long, student-led project which 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 festival was led by Jasmine Ong, a Bachelor of Education (Music) student.

“It was an honour to work on the Etch Festival alongside my fellow students and create art on such an important topic. It’s a critical time for the global community to consider our future actions on climate change and I’m very proud of the work we showcased to contribute to the discussion.

“This project would not have been possible without the dedication and artistry of the RCS student body.”

Two students plant herbs
© Robbie McFadzean

Welcome week for new and returning students

A series of ‘open hour’ sessions took place at the Climate Portal where students could drop in and then enjoy free Fairtrade and organic tea, coffee (from the ethical brand Grumpy Mule) and hot chocolate from the visiting Airstream coffee bar from Dunblane Coffee.

Also, during Welcome Week, in a fun and interactive activity, green-fingered students got to grips with four wooden planters outside the Climate Portal. The RCS Students’ Union helped students plant a variety of fast-growing herbs and salad leaves.

Feel Field installation

Using sounds, images and impressions of the natural world captured during a residency at Inshriach Bothy near Aviemore, artists Paria Goodarzi’s and Francisco Llinas-Casas’s Feel Field installation explored our sense of place and dislocation, of intimacy and distance from what we call the natural world and walking as a social and political act.

Feel Field was a partnership project between RCS, the University of Glasgow, the Bothy Project and Shared_Studios, and drew inspiration from the Walking Publics/Walking Arts research team. It formed part of the Dear Green Bothy programme, which creates spaces for researchers, artists, and communities to respond creatively and critically to the challenges of the ecological crisis.

What We Mean When We Talk About Change

An action research project led by Claire Lamont, Head of BA Performance in British Sign Language and English at RCS, began with a week-long exploration of the language used to communicate climate science.

The theatre and film artists involved in this process contributed to a short film, which reflected on how current climate change messaging risked excluding or alienating some communities. The film’s online premiere was followed by a discussion with the RCS creative team and Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Claire explored the content and communication of messages relating to climate change, notably around major events like COP26. Her research delved into the lack of collaboration and communication with non-English-speaking communities. Specifically, Claire’s process focused on the perspective and expertise of first language BSL users.

“There’s a whole spectrum of translation choices involved when we try to communicate climate change messages. It’s not just a matter of distributing summarised scientific information in English. The fact that these messages are urgent for our future survival just underlines the importance of connecting with – and listening to communities – who scientists and governments have maybe failed to bring on board so far.”

Watch What We Mean When We Talk About Change on Vimeo and use the password: climate

RCS Sustainability Committee

The RCS Sustainability Committee actively collaborates to embed sustainability into every aspect of our operations. It welcomes all suggestions from students and staff to further the sustainability of our campus and how we operate.

The committee reports to the Board of Governors through the Academic Board, with goals to increase awareness, visibility and accountability of sustainable practice across our community.

Sustainable performance-making practices are being considered over multiple disciplines and artforms with the long-term ambition of embedding sustainability within all of our performance-making processes. Production students and staff continue to pilot approaches from the Theatre Green Book and the Whittaker Library developed an ongoing project with Glasgow Seed Library to grow plants within the library to make it a greener space and to promote wellbeing.

The committee is exploring possibilities for developing overall efficiencies across the RCS estates including insulation, triple glazing and implementing solar panels.

The committee welcomes feedback and ideas from the RCS community. If you’re looking for an initiative or resource to aid you in an idea or just get more information on a green subject, but you don’t see something for you, reach out to sustainability@rcs.ac.uk

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