There’s a growing set of movements towards system change for a more regenerative and ecocentric economy. There’s the Circular Economy (production and disposal in a cycle to eliminate waste and externalities), the Sacred Economy (slower, careful and more ethical than extractive capitalism), the Blue Economy (wealth and wellbeing through radical sustainable innovation), and the Regenerative Economy (perhaps an umbrella for all radical green approaches, foregrounding the regeneration of the biosphere). There is Transition, Commons movements, digital currencies and much more. An emphasis on economic alternatives is pragmatic and helpful, especially if combined with efforts to shift the underlying cultural paradigms that lead us to consume, pollute and compete.
Arts and heritage organisations can take proactive action to encourage innovation to change technologies, products, ideas and habits in society so that we reduce consumption and generate rather than deplete ‘biosphere capital’. What could this look like? You could commission artists and designers, show exhibitions of new designs, sell innovative merchandise, set goals for participants on learning programmes, challenge audiences to take action after a performance, and much more. Here are some examples:
Supporting artists to make green designs covetable
An inspirational project is Little Sun, described as a work of art that works in life. Tate Modern helped artist Olafur Eliasson and engineer Frederik Ottesen launch their solar light in the form of a sun, by hosting the launch, a stall, ‘blackout’ nights in the gallery, an installation called Sunlight Graffiti and a show of 16 films. Similar events have since been held at other museums such as MOMA. What could you commission or co-design that could raise money for your organisation and/or a partner cause?
Robert Janes, author of Museums in a Troubled World advocates the ‘orthogonal museum’. This is a museum that breaks out of its box, turns sideways to look outwards and see the relevance of the environment and people. To illustrate it, he describes a movement of Ecomuseums which is a growing network in Canada, France, Iceland and Scandinavia of museums that display, teach and sell heritage and contemporary craft and design. What are the ways your organisation could break out from assumptions about what you are, in order to support radical change?
Biomimicry: From nature study to design
Thousands of museums and heritage organisations are involved in biodiversity and outdoor education. How can you extend the observation and conservation of nature into learning how designers are adopting and adapting the properties of animals and plants, and encouraging people to develop their own biophilic designs? Bjork is an example of an artist who created an album of songs and digital app that has led to an educational programme exploring biophilia. Resources include Bjork’s Biophilia and Biomimicry 3.8 How could you follow the principles or designs of nature to create designs, merchandise, or services that can help your organisation thrive?
You could develop commissions, partnerships or retail projects that use alternative economies. These are systems of exchanging value that either avoid money or standard currencies, or avoid using the most corrupt financial institutions. They include using Timebanks, local currencies, Bitcoin or Blockchain, co-operatives, gifting, volunteering and sharing of resources. What currency could you tap into?
Support and tap networks
You could explore ways of using digital technologies to increase people’s shared learning and resilience to find solutions to the crisis. With more unemployment and an ageing population, there is ‘cognitive surplus’ which you can tap into for ideas and support. Follow the example of digital projects that involve crowds in response to crises, for example, observation of impacts of climate change on ecosystems. Where is there cognitive surplus that you can tap to save you time and money, while also benefiting the people involved?
Run a creative workshop (e.g. with staff, friends, supporters, volunteers, students…) to find the best idea for an eco-social innovation that your organisation could design, commission, use or sell.
To inspire you, here are hundreds of ideas for ecological innovation which you might seek to commission, display, include in your narratives or sell in your shop: