The Library of Creative Sustainability is an initiative from Creative Carbon Scotland, a charity working on the role of arts and culture in achieving Scotland’s essential transformational change for a sustainable future.

We hope that this article will inspire you and give you hope while we continue to be in covid-19 lockdown!

Why is it useful for creativity and sustainability to collaborate?

One answer might be that some of the most intransigent issues for environmentalists fall into areas where the arts traditionally thrive. It can be difficult to engage a wider audience. It can be hard to gain commitment on a more personal level. New problems can arise that don’t have a clear or systematic solution. Outcomes can be unpredictable. Environmental issues involve hotly contested disputes that can feel unresolvable.

Communication, engagement, creative thinking, unpredictability and contradiction are all areas where artists are thoroughly used to working. For their part, artists can benefit enormously from working in collaboration with environmental organisations, gaining knowledge, resources, inspiration, and audiences. As a result, an increasing number of projects with sustainability goals are choosing to collaborate with artists, embedding them deeply into planning and decision making.

The process of collaboration

The process of collaboration can be difficult, especially between people coming from wildly different fields, but it creates the potential for new successes that neither party could accomplish on their own. The Library of Creative Sustainability is a freely accessible online resource that brings together case studies of some of the most successful projects of this kind, giving detailed descriptions as well as tips and advice for anyone considering embarking on similar work. The aim is to provide information to allow us to overcome the potential difficulties that come with this kind of collaboration and reap the rewards.

The Library of Creative Sustainability continues to develop, and we welcome suggestions for new projects to research, particularly those that concern issues or contexts not yet covered by the articles already present. For a flavour, below are two examples drawn from the Library that engage differently with the issue of greenspace.

Cuningar Loop

Cuningar Loop was a Forestry and Land Scotland project to redevelop a derelict site into an urban forest park with benefits for biodiversity, urban green corridors, and the wellbeing of residents. The project included two artists-in-residence who worked closely with the local community, running activities and producing work that responded to the history of the site.

The two artists, Rob Mulholland and James Winnett, were appointed before the start of the project and were in residence throughout. They had substantial freedom to work as they saw fit and most of the outcomes of their work were not pre-defined. Although they both produced permanent sculptures for the park, they both saw the more important aspect of their role as working with local residents, organising workshops, learning about what people wanted from the site, and spreading the word about what was planned.

Creative activities were used as a means of drawing out debate about the history of the area and its potential future. Their position as artists allowed them to relate to residents in informal or creative contexts that would not be possible for others.

The site is now heavily used and has enjoyed extremely low levels of vandalism or graffiti. The park was felt by many to respond actively to the needs of people living in the area, rather than being imposed from outside, and the conversations instigated by the artists – permanently integrated into the park through the sculptures inspired by these conversations – were an important part of this.

Dundee Urban Orchard

Dundee Urban Orchard is a collaborative project that supports the planting of small-scale orchards across the city of Dundee, especially in economically deprived areas. Alongside the creation of orchards, the project has included participatory events, workshops and arts exhibitions with an emphasis on community involvement.

Initiated by artists Jonathan Baxter and Sarah Gittens, the project aims to better connect people with their food and promotes a triple bottom line approach to food sustainability by accounting for social, environmental and economic sustainability within an urban context. The artists saw their role as providing a creative means of responding to an issue and did not seek for their work to be interpreted as art in the traditional sense.

Community involvement and empowerment play an integral role in the project, as all orchards are designed and maintained collaboratively. Connections were formed with local community groups, who were encouraged to take ownership of the project, ensuring its long-term continuity.

Workshops organised by the artists combined training in how to set up and manage the orchards with creative activities such as screen printing. Similarly, many of the orchard sites include murals or mosaics and the artists produced distinctive prints that promoted the orchards. The result was to make the project’s aesthetic and pragmatic goals became inseparable, binding together specific practical work with contributions towards a broader culture shift.

Get in touch

The Library of Creative Sustainability is an initiative from Creative Carbon Scotland, a charity working on the role of arts and culture in achieving Scotland’s essential transformational change for a sustainable future. The Culture/SHIFT programme is all about facilitating the kind of work detailed in the Library. If this article has piqued your interest, get in touch.