Art Happenings

Women Dancing VI

Join us for the 6th Annual ‘Women Dancing’ to Patti Smith’s album ‘HORSES’

We invite all women who love moving, dancing and generally being alive to this radical act of celebratory activism to mark the Spring Equinox.

Sunday March 22nd 2020 at Dawn
Castell y Bere, Wales

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Rites of Passage in Nature

Space for Change 2020

A Rite of Passage in Nature including one overnight solo fast.

“A much-needed resource for people seeking change & growth.”

6th – 12th July
Spirit Horse, Mid Wales, UK

With Fern Smith & Philip Ralph, Artists & Wilderness Guides

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Rites of Passage in Nature

Vision Fast in Nature 2020

A Rite of Passage in Nature including a full four day & night solo fast.

Are you facing a turning point in your life? Looking for a ritual to mark a beginning, ending or transition from one life-stage to another? Are you wanting to undergo a rite of passage in nature?

7th – 16th August
Mid Wales, UK

With Fern Smith and Philip Ralph, Artists & Wilderness Guides

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Guided Group Retreats

Bardsey Time: The Enlli Equinox Retreat

A creative and contemplative guided group retreat.

Come, join us to consciously and creatively mark the 2020 Autumn Equinox, on Bardsey Island, Ynys Enlli in Welsh, located two miles off the coast of the Llyn Peninsular, North Wales.

19th – 26th September
Bardsey Island, North Wales, UK

With Fern Smith & Judith Mills

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Guided Group Retreats

Space for Change (2019)

Retreat. Rest. Reflect. Rejuvenate. Restore. Return.

Nant-y-Gwenill, Aberhosan, nr Machynlleth, mid Wales

We warmly invite you to join us for a unique retreat at our home in the beautiful, peaceful surroundings of the mid-Wales hills. A Space for Change is a pilot project by Emergence directors Fern Smith and Philip Ralph with eight affordable places to be part of a week of deep rest, reflection and inquiry.

As the world’s systems of balance, governance and climate spin ever more out of control, many of us are reflecting on where we are in our own lives and how we might change to meet and serve the demands of life on earth in the 21 st century. We want to offer a space to you if: you are at a point of change in your life; you are asking yourself deep questions about your role in this time of collapse; if you want to kickstart a period of transition; if you are blocked or stymied in your work/life/creativity.

We moved to this part of Wales from Swansea after a lifetime of work in the creative industries of theatre, film and television. We have both undergone deep processes of change and rejuvenation through immersing ourselves in diverse and myriad practices of ritual, rites of passage, spiritual inquiry, coaching, meditation, and facilitation. Now, we want to offer our home and ourselves as a resource and a haven, sharing our learnings in a co-created retreat space that will enable you to dig deep into your own personal inquiries around change, collapse, renewal and rebirth.

A Space for Change is a unique form of retreat. We will join together in the beautiful, peaceful environs of our home, Nant-y-Gwenill, an eco-converted farmhouse in the hills above Machynlleth in mid-Wales. We will live in community, cooking, eating, walking, reading and dreaming together. We will guide you through meditations, rituals, medicine walks and time alone in nature, all to enable you to deeply inquire into your own personal intentions towards your life and future. It is our hope that each
participant will leave us and return to the world re-invigorated with a fresh sense of purpose.

There are eight places available for this retreat, all of them at affordable rates. As experienced event organisers, we know that work of this kind is often priced too highly for the majority of people to take part. In this pilot project, we will share food and accommodation costs, and we will keep our teaching fees at a low level, in order to make it affordable to as broad a range of people as possible.

We are sending you this invitation as we know that you are deeply engaged in your own life process around questions of change, sustainability, and transformation. We hope that you will consider joining us for what promises to be a truly special week’s retreat.

To discuss further and to secure your place, please contact us – We look forward to welcoming you.

Leadership & Change Workshops

To The Moon & Back (2019)

Working with the Welsh Government & Natural Resources Wales & Partners

2nd& 3rdMay  & 15th& 16th May 2019

Fifty years ago, humanity did the impossible and flew to the moon and back.

Today, we collectively face the greatest challenge in our history – manmade climate change, biodiversity decline, and environmental degradation. Wales is leading the world in its commitment to protecting and enhancing the environment for today and for all future generations. But meeting this challenge – as with flying to the moon – is going to take new ways of thinking and working together that we haven’t even begun to imagine yet. 

Over two days together, using the Apollo lunar missions as one of many ‘lenses’, we: learn and practice the art of deep listening, both to ourselves and to others; we share stories, wisdom and experience; we study and practice Otto Scharmer’s ‘Theory-U’, a radical technology for managing and facilitating profound and lasting change on a personal, organisational and global level; and we collectively develop the skills of ‘learning by doing’, through co-production, collaboration and prototyping new ideas. 

Research & Practice

Who Do You Think You Are?

“Are you an artist? Are you a shape-shifter? Are you in transition? Are you welcoming or resisting change? Are you stepping into the unknown? Are you proceeding ‘as if,’ with no sense of certainty or security? If so I’d like to invite you to join me…”

‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ was an invitation to 7 artists who identify as female to participate in a 7-day immersive experience which explored identity, transformation and the power of ceremony. ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ was for artists at a point of transition, in a state of fluidity, flux, confusion, exhaustion or questioning.

‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ was guided by Fern Smith as part of her ‘Creative Wales’ year-long enquiry which included 4 residencies at 4 venues along the Welsh coastline. Each residency asked the question ‘Is the Artist in Residence?’ Each residency took a different form and extended a different invitation.

Throughout this, Fern’s third residency, she based herself in one of the iconic creative units designed by Heatherwick Studios at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ took inspiration from pan-cultural female ‘Rites of Passage’ specifically the three stages of: ‘Incubation’, ‘Metamorphosis’’ and ‘Emergence’. The projectwas also designed so as to work with the number 7. 7 artists who identify as female were invited to work for 7 days, 7 hours each day.

This creative enquiry involved working with personal stories and collective archetypal images, spending time alone in nature with opportunities for making pilgrimage, body-voice exploration, a day of fasting, times of feasting, space for attunement to universal energies, deep dialogue and self-generated ceremony. The ceremonial space we created together and alone was intended to mark a commitment, a severance, an Emergence into a new identity… This represented a space to be still, be resourced, be inspired. And an opportunity to connect to the mysterious, our own intuitive knowing and the deep well of creativity that is within each one of us.

Venue: Heatherwick Creative Unit, Aberystwyth Arts Centre
Dates: Monday 6th – Sunday 12th November 2017

Who Do You Think You Are? Was an exploration and intervention, which represented part of Fern Smith’s Creative Wales journey made possible with support from The Arts Council of Wales.

Excerpt from Invitation to Artists:

“Who Do You Think You Are? is the most edgy thing I’d done to date… I’ve been a theatre maker and performer for 25 years with Volcano Theatre, then a curator, commissioner and documenter of socially and ecologically engaged art with Emergence. I’m also a celebrant, coach and cranio-sacral therapist. What is my art-form? What is yours? I’ve put this invite out to find 7 artists who trust me enough to travel into unknown territory with me. 7 artists who want to give themselves time and space to explore new forms, connect to the source of their deep creativity and spend time in ceremony alone and with others. I am actively questioning the practice of art-making in life and society – its form and its function. I am asking myself questions like: ‘How do we live in the world as artists, as change-makers, as agents of creativity, in service of all life forms on this planet at this great time of instability and uncertainty?’ I have a desire to bring the practice of art closer to the art of living, to connect to the future as it emerges.
Would you like to join me?”


7 Conversations Before The End Of Time: Re-enactments and New Dialogues

Over the course of one week at Small World, Artist in Residence and 2017 Creative Wales Award Recipient, Fern Smith re-enacted a series of ‘Dialogues on Art, Life & Spiritual Renewal’. These dialogues originally published 25 years ago in the ground-breaking book ‘Conversations Before the End of Time’ by American author Suzi Gablik are as relevant today as ever. These profound and intimate dialogues with artists, writers and philosophers address the central questions of the meaning and purpose of art in an age of accelerating social change, environmental crisis and spiritual uncertainty.

Over the past five years Fern has been in correspondence with the book’s author, this was one of the catalysts for inspiring the development of ‘Emergence.’ Fern’s developing relationship with Gablik, now in her 80’s, culminated in a recent invitation to visit her at her home in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Over two days in July 2017, Fern sat with Suzi speaking with her about her work and fascination with the ‘art of dialogue’. This lead to an idea, with the author’s permission to ‘restage’ some of the original published dialogues with invited artists local to Cardigan whose work connects with environmental, social and spiritual ideas.

7 dialogues were re-staged over 7 days. This was a creative collaboration with ‘the art of dialogue’ at its very heart. Members of the public were invited to witness, participate in their own dialogues and share their own insights and reflections.

“How do we live at a time of decline, maybe even collapse and what role does art have?”

Date of project: 8th – 14th October 2017
Venue: Small World Theatre, Bath House Road, Cardigan.

Daily Schedule
Sunday 8thOctober 2pm

Guest Artist: Sean Vicary, Artist and 2017 Creative Wales Award Recipient
Venue: Small World’s Dance Studio
Conversation: ‘Creating The Space For A Miracle’.
Sean Vicary is Suzi Gablik
Fern Smith is David Plante

Monday 9thOctober 7.30pm

Guest Artist: Debbie Rees of Vegetable Agenda
Venue: Small World’s Kitchen
Conversation: ‘Viewing The World As Process’.
Debbie Rees is Suzi Gablik
Fern Smith is Carolyn Merchant

Tuesday 10thOctober 7.30pm

Guest Artist: Jess Allen, dancer and Ecological performance maker
Venue: Small World’s Dance Studio
Conversation: ‘Adrift On The Fickle Seas Of The Art World’.
Jess Allen plays Suzi Gablik
Fern Smith is Laurie Zuckerman

Thursday 12thOctober 12pm

Guest Artist: Avi Allen of Capel Y Graig
Venue: Small World’s Kitchen
Conversation: ‘Making Art About Centipedes’.
Avi Allen is Suzi Gablik
Fern Smith is Christopher Manes

Friday 13thOctober 7.30pm

Guest Artist: Simon Whitehead, Movement Artist
Venue: Small World’s Dance Studio
Conversation: ‘What Is Art For?’
Simon Whitehead is Suzi Gablik
Fern Smith is Ellen Dissanayake

Saturday 14thOctober 7.30pm

Guest Artist: Ruth Jones of Holy Haitus
Venue: Small World’s Dance Studio
Conversation: ‘The Liminal Zones Of The Soul’
Ruth Jones is Suzi Gablik
Fern Smith is Thomas Moore

Sunday 15thOctober 2pm

Guest Artist: Ann Shrosbree of Small World Theatre
Venue: Small World’s Dance Studio
Conversation: ‘Ten Thousand Artists Not One Master’.
Ann Shrosbree is Suzi Gablik
Fern Smith is Satish Kumar

6pmScreening of episode of ‘Being An Earth Pilgrim’ the landmark documentary series about Satish Kumar produced by Emergence.

‘7 Conversations Before the End of Time’ formed part of Fern Smith’s Creative Wales Explorations and Interventions. A recording of the conversations and reflections upon them can be found below under the ‘Documents’ section.

COParty (22) Swansea

The world leaders came together in October 2017 at COP 22 in Marakech. To show our support for the process and keep the engagement with climate issues going on at a local level we organised COParty (22) Swansea.


Being an Earth Pilgrim

Being an Earth Pilgrim is a landmark documentary series of six, hour-long conversations that chronicle and celebrate the life and work of teacher, peace activist and leader, Satish Kumar.


COP 1, 2 & 3 Swansea

In November and December 2015 Emergence organised three events that represented a creative local response to the historic Paris climate talks: COP21.

Research & Practice

Culture Shifters

‘Culture Shifters: Artists Making Change’ tells three stories of how artists in different parts of Wales are leading on regeneration, sustainability and social activism.

Image credits: Mr & Mrs Clark (“Smash It Up” project)

The three case studies chosen are representative of the kinds of socially engaged projects being undertaken by artists working in Wales and further afield. They are ‘Mr & Mrs Clark’s Smash It Up’ ‘Oriel Wrecsam & The Shepherd’s Hut Project’ and ‘Vetch Veg’.

‘Culture Shifters’ is a response to an invitation from the Arts Council of Wales to document arts development projects where creativity has been used to generate broader societal change impacts in line with the work of the Enterprise and Regeneration Team. Sian Tomos Director of Enterprise and Regeneration says, “we want to use these case studies to raise interest in and enthusiasm for the role of artists in promoting social change.”

Throughout Spring 2016, a selection of people involved in each of the art projects were interviewed. In order to tell each story in as direct and immediate way as possible, I have assembled verbatim transcripts of each of the interviews. Further resources and reading including websites of the projects and artists involved can be found at the back.

Read the report HERE


The Gower Harvest Walk & Talk

The Harvest Walk & Talk on 27th September 2015 marked the ‘turning of the year’ on Gower celebrating the traditional seasonal festival of Harvest and a significant local landmark and Neolithic burial chamber – Arthur’s Stone.


Station to the Sea Peace Walk & Talk

The Peace Walk & Talk was designed to mark the 75th anniversary of the first bombs dropped on Swansea during World War 2 on June 27th 1940.


The Walk That Reconnects 2014

Walking the 56km of The Gower Way for four days, inspired by Joanna Macy’s change and empowerment process ‘The Work That Reconnects’.

Research & Practice

Culture Shift / Newid Diwylliant

“Culture Shift/ Newid Diwylliant” is a strategic document commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales that gives a glimpse of the many pioneering sustainable arts initiatives currently operating across Wales. It situates these initiatives within the context of a UK wide paradigm shift happening within the arts whose core principle is to support the creation a sustainable future.

Research & Practice

Creu Cymru Emergence

Emergence collaborates with Creu Cymru to integrate sustainability into the management and infrastructure of Wales’ venues and arts centres.


Talking About Emergence

Key contributors to Emergence discuss the ideas and inspiration which led to their involvement with the project.


Retracing Our Steps 2013

Emergence revisits the 2012 Land Journey North route with a small group of participants inviting reflection on personal and professional developments since the last journey, and continuing the dialogue with the land begun in 2012.


Emergence at World Stage Design Festival

Emergence curates a day of events, film shows, discussions as part of the biennial WSD Festival held at Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff.


Doin’ Dirt Time

Emergence presents Suzi Gablik’s “Doin Dirt Time”, a performed transcript of an interview with two artists who decide to stop making art and start living it as a creative response to the ecological crisis. Performed at arts and ecological gatherings during 2013.


Bringing It All Back Home

Emergence hosts a smaller Summit back at home in Swansea. Contributions from Lucy Neal, Gary Anderson and the One-Eyed-Man.


The Summit 2012 – Artist Commissions

Emergence commissioned artists thanks to Arts Council Wales: Sarah Woods & Richard Gott, Ansuman Biswas, Fern Thomas & Owen Griffiths, Ben Stammers, Culture Colony, Simon Whitehead and Touchstone Collaborations.

Simon Whitehead
Sarah Woods & Richard Gott
Fern Thomas & Owen Griffiths
Touchstone Collaborations
Ben Stammers
Ansuman Biswas
Pete Telfer

Simon Whitehead

Simon Whitehead was invited to design and curate the Emergence Land Journey.

The original brief:
To design 2 practical walking routes for the delegates to be agreed with the mountain leaders and Emergence team. Simon will also agree the ‘shape and content’ for each walking day with the Emergence team. He will also make contact with a ‘visitor’ for each day of the walk for both routes and agree an ‘intervention / offering’ with each of them. Simon will also produce documentation relating to this for the Emergence website, printed matter etc. Simon was also asked to design and produce literature for 2 walks which can be walked by others in future. The walks could be publicized in leaflets or other literature for to complement other forthcoming events or as a ‘stand alone’ experience.

A preamble…
The shape of the routes came whilst walking in a small studio and thinking about the land north and south of the Dovey. I was walking the form of an ellipse. It had a certain momentum and offered openings and uncertainties, whilst keeping its integrity…I kept walking.

The approach to this brief therefore became more choreographic in its intentions than it was cartographic. The Land Journey for me began as a dance and continued so throughout the physical project.

Whilst using the template of the ellipse with which to navigate and devise the routes it became obvious to me that whilst the form was changed in its exchange with the nature of the terrain and available pathways, it still offered a circularity of experience, retaining these uncertainties and openings. The openings were used as themes to introduce new and sometimes surprising elements, including the arrival and disappearance of ‘visitors’, who offered different narratives of the places the walkers passed through.

The elliptical designs therefore offered up gaps to let people and chaos in, and a commitment to offer something incomplete, an open-endedness. There was also a built in ambivalence in these designs, which enabled me to avoid a process of choice based on any preconceived subjective or aesthetic notion of ‘beauty’, guide- book convention or former experience of the places these routes passed through. The designs anticipated that the walking and navigation of the routes on the ground would involve a process of improvisation and the inevitability of contingencies. It invited walkers to collaborate on finding solutions, best routes and to make decisions on ‘the hoof’.

‘The ellipses are imperfect and in places incomplete, they now resemble the shape of a pair of kidneys in this body of mid Wales, the larger one to the South. The routes as they stand therefore invite the walkers to improvise their own completions and become involved in a process of collective decision- making. This will happen each day, with the intention to provoke a collaborative process within each group and the landscape itself. I imagine the decisions will be based on identifying options of terrain and duration and consensus by which the group share their desires and indicators of their physical capacities and orientations at that time.’ Diary, July.

As it was, I walked each route before the Land journey began for real. Sometimes I walked just the beginning and end, sometimes the whole route…usually alone, sometimes with a friend.
Each time I got lost, had to find the path on the ground again, most times I had to adjust my route in the face of closed paths, pipelines, road building, ambiguity of the map etc. I also experienced certain places that I knew differently, because I was not walking the obvious route, I liked how the ellipse was revealing the landscape to me in different, non-linear ways. Like the grammatical form, the ways occasionally seemed to trail off into silence and uncertainty.
The routes through the land, like the walkers themselves were dynamic entities…they embodied change and the uncertainty of the future. I guess the mountain guides are trained to face uncertainty and to decode the uncertain into meaningful routes…

Sarah Woods and Richard Gott

The Roadless Trip

An urgent and irresistible invitation to imagine and create a positive future, The Roadless Trip is a very human and often hilarious journey through time. Mixing performance, film, audience interaction and the frenzy of the popular gameshow, this moving and funny production received a standing ovation on its first outing at the Emergence Summit at the Centre for Alternative Technology in 2012.

To watch a short film about The Roadless Trip see our Video page in Resources.

Owen Griffiths and Fern Thomas

Store (for future)

For their work for the Emergence Summit Owen and Fern participated in the Land Journey, capturing images and sounds as the walkers move through the changing (outer and inner) landscapes and terrain. When they reached CAT and for the duration of the conference the artists created a base in the darkened subterranean Food Store where participants were invited to enter into a process where they were able to share thoughts and reflections on their experiences and responses to Emergence, and to the wider context in which we all gathered.

The recorded exchanges in the Food Store were woven together with the filmed images and captured sounds from the Land Journey to create an alternative document of the Emergence Summit which exists as an artwork in itself, offering an imaginative space for entering into the thoughts and images shared and highlighting the important questions to carry forward.

The video work is available to view online on our Resources Video page.

Touchstone Collaborations

Food of the Land Journey

Food of the Land is a socially-engaged culinary arts practice, regenerating a multi-cultural and artisan gastronomy of the United Kingdom.

Ecological artists Miche Fabre Lewin and Flora Gathorne-Hardy of Touchstone Collaborations were commissioned to curate the food for the five day Land Journey. Food of the Land integrates the land journey with the food, and brought alive, every day and every mouthful, Emergence’s practical commitment to a low carbon future and life in balance with nature.

For Emergence’s Land Journey, the ‘deepened dialogue with our environment’ was nurtured by feeding walkers with energy sustaining and nourishing, seasonal foods which were sourced as locally as possible – from CAT‘s food garden, within Wales, and where necessary from small-scale, pioneering growers and artisan producers in the United Kingdom. As well as being a living connection to the land, the food revitalised our bodies, enlivened our thinking, and was sustainable for the planet. For Food of the Land we worked with Daphne Lambert, nutritionist-chef, who has trained marathon runners, and pioneered Living Nutrition – a seasonal course in sustainable nutrition. Food of the Land was a convivial intervention through awakening food. It contributed to envisioning and nurturing an embodied food experience that inspired radical change. In this way it formed an integral part the living artwork of Emergence Summit.

Ben Stammers

Land Journey Intervention

Ben appeared a number of times to the walkers on the land journey (North and South). His appearances were glimpsed ‘at the edge’ rather than at the centre of vision. His appearances were mostly in and around eater – the sea or the river as close-up or at a distance encounters. he has created a series of images and words which are the legacy of his appearances.

He speaks here about his intention….

I was asked by Simon Whitehead and Fern Smith to be one of the commissioned artists for the event, and specifically to respond to the Land Journey element of Emergence 2012.

Since taking on the commission I’ve been thinking about the concept of hope – what it could mean, and if and how it could be embodied. I’ve been thinking about it in relation to the image of the human figure and the landscape, and in terms of my own practice as a live artist.

Firstly in an abstract way, I’ve been trying to think about hope as distinct from expectation, or blind faith, or irrational courage… and about how it seems to only acquire meaning in really adverse circumstances, when it could be taken for foolishness. When evidence about people’s capacity to act cooperatively for a better future (on global issues such as climate change – see 2012 Rio Summit for example) suggests that acceptance of defeat is the rational response, is hope a noble stand, or just a stubborn denial of an unpalatable truth? Can an action be both hopeful and forlorn?

Taking inspiration from unexpected wildlife encounters, when you suddenly glimpse part of another world, another way of living, I’ve been imagining actions to be seen by the walkers on the Land Journey that are unannounced, and either fleeting, or distant, or in some way not fully explained. Could there be an action that will be in relation to the walkers’ own purposeful journey but different from / tangential to it, suggesting the possibility of other ways of inhabiting the terrain, other journeys happening alongside their own?

The flooding in Wales this summer, combined with general awareness of sea-level rise, have made me think about water as an elemental force that confronts people… Does hope consist in a courageous but forlorn resistance to the flow, or could it be in acceptance of change – a kind of abandonment or acquiescence to nature? Can hope on a species level lie in embracing a capacity to improvise within changing environments – in being adaptive, flexible, amphibious? What might that mean in terms of the body?

With some of these questions in mind, Simon Whitehead and I visited parts of the routes that both the North and South Land Journeyers will be taking around the river Dyfi. We talked about the logistical possibilities of particular settings, as well as how particular actions might fit within the daily / weekly schedule of the walk, and what resonance there might be with other interventions planned as part of the journey. We agreed that it might make an interesting connection for the 2 groups to have had an encounter in or around the Dyfi – one on the first day (North route), and one on the last day (South route) of their walks. We also discussed the possibility of other actions that might be glimpsed on other parts of the routes, specifically in the contested inter-tidal zone along the coast, and / or lake margins.

Ansuman Biswas

Creating the Future Guest Artist

Ansuman was an integral part of the entire Emergence Summit and was involved as walker on the North route of the Land Journey and as contributor to the conference weaving his way through the entire score of the event. He is also composer/musician for the score of the film ‘Walking to the Summit’ {LINK}. The final part of his commission was presented one year after the end of the Summit, in Summer 2013 and relates to the impact and echo of the whole event. He has created an audible art piece {LINK} which can be downloaded here. It is in the spirit of the Land Journey, an invitation to walk and to listen, to connect the inner and outer worlds through which one travels….

Pete Telfer

Walking to the Summit

Pete Telfer was commissioned to make a documentary film for the Emergence Summit. Two versions were finally delivered, one feature length version of ‘Walking to the Summit’ shot in HD for Emergence and a slightly shorter version to represent Wales on the BBC digital arts platform ‘The Space’. You can view Walking to the Summit on our Resources video page.


The Summit 2012 – Creating the Future

If we cannot imagine a positive future, how can we create it? A Summit of arts, environment and sustainability at Wales’ pioneering sustainability hub the Centre for Alternative Technology.

The Emergence summit was really two events in one – a five day Land Journey and a conference held over three days. During the planning, our dream for the Emergence conference was to make something similar to an immersive sensory experience. We knew that the idea of the walk was novel but we also wanted to keep that creativity central to the conference. The title ‘Creating the Future’ was put forward and supported unanimously.

The challenge we set ourselves was to run an event which welcomed (as inspired by the economist E.F. Schumacher) ‘the heart, the head and the hands.’ The head is usually the part invited to conferences but as the mythologist Joseph Campbell has said, ‘the brain is a secondary organ – don’t let it run the show.’ We wanted to not only bring people from different sectors together to practice ‘dialogue and doing’ but -perhaps more radically – to put the heart front and centre.

Of course some absolutely see the relevance for one or two of these but not always the third – especially in so-called professional gatherings. Welcoming the heart without alienating, provoking or patronizing felt too important an opportunity to miss. One of our collaborators advised that perhaps if we could not envisage and risk failure then the event was destined to be too comfortable and predictable!

Fritjov Capra in his book ‘The Hidden Connections’ talks about how health and growth is maintained in a system – whether it be a single cell, the human body, an organization, country or planet. The system is continually being ‘disturbed,’ by new impulses or information. An adaptive system responds to the disturbance (or disturbing information) and uses it as an opportunity for learning and growth. If the disturbance is ignored, the system fails to learn, fails to develop and eventually dies. Those of us who worked on Emergence in any capacity certainly had many opportunities to be disturbed and then to learn or to die just a little.

Our conference design was consciously constructed with disturbance- or risk already built in. At every level our desire outstripped our resources and a small amount of people made these stretch as far as possible. Goodwill and the energy of helpers, collaborators and volunteers also made our resources go further. We were in a sense setting out to build community. This was perhaps the greatest experiment and challenge for the summit – the challenge to build community whether it be in the planning, walking half way up a mountain or in conference inside the beautifully designed eco-venue the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education at CAT.

Some challenges:
Creating balance between ‘light-touch’ and over managed facilitation.
Empowering young delegates to take a leadership role in the conference and ‘co-creating the future’ whilst also making them feel welcome without being patronized.
Finding a balance between making space for delegate led, emergent sessions and ‘leading from the podium.’
Inviting a mix of newbees and oldbees to the gathering an ensuring the event speaks to all of them…..and many many more.

‘The opportunities for learning and for failure were enormous. We should probably have never begun! We did it though, in the knowledge that we would not succeed all the time, we would not please everyone and that sometimes we might make some people very unhappy. Knowing this and facing this are different things. I’d say we were 100% successful, took 100% of risks, made 100% sure that we were accountable, accessible and authentic and made 100% of mistakes. Maybe there is a little leeway with these statistics but you get the picture.’ Fern Smith

Some headline statistics:
Number of presenters, workshop leaders and delegates at conference – 170.
Delegates’ backgrounds included the arts, economics, energy, planning, activism, strategy, politics, health, well being and personal development.
Fourteen workshops on a wide range of topics were organized at the conference, from death and dying to alternative currencies, storytelling and Zero Carbon Britain.
The distilled inspiration from each workshop was interpreted by young delegates who then gave back to the conference their words which spoke to ‘Creating the Future’
An opening and closing ceremony was devised and led by Dead Good Guides Sue Gill and John Fox.
Talks on energy, capitalism and systems theory were given by Paul Allen, Peter Harper, Robert Newman and Rupesh Shah
Chief Exectutive of Arts Council Wales, Nick Capaldi spoke about the role of the arts in a life-sustaining future
Leading self-organised spaces and future-oriented project dialogues in service of the planet were available to all delegates
Ten young delegates took leading roles addressing the conference throughout the weekend.


The Summit 2012 – Land Journey

A five-day Land Journey tracing two elliptical routes across mid-Wales, inviting a deepened dialogue, concentration and reflection on the things we take for granted.

Two elliptical walks across the beautiful and varied terrain of mid-Wales, facilitated to engage participants in a deepened dialogue with the land and their place within it. Curated and designed by artist Simon Whitehead, the five-day walk opened the 2012 Emergence Summit.

The plan to organise the Emergence Summit for 2012 was hatched in Summer 2011. Surprisingly this felt like relatively short notice to mount something of this scale especially as we had done nothing like it before. Following the success of the previous one day gatherings the event at Centre for Alternative Technology always had the potential to be more ambitious. Our thoughts were turning to the hosting of the Olympic Games in London in 2012. The vision of carrying a torch for a life-sustaining future inspired this new partnership project with CAT.

The decision to call this ‘a summit’ was a bold one especially for a small arts and sustainability project which had only been going for a year and had so far only organized a number of relatively small-scale events. As we began to dream and have conversations about what form this could take, an idea emerged to organise a land journey or pilgrimage to CAT prior to the gathering itself. CAT is such an extraordinary flagship to sustainability and we also wanted to celebrate the fact it was here in Wales at all! We knew that people might think that we were organising an event in the middle of nowhere – CAT of course is close to the old capital of Wales, Machynlleth. We thought we would make a feature of this by making the actual journey to the destination an integral part of the event itself. All of us on the team had had powerful experiences and worked on projects that involved making a strong connection to the land. This idea captured all of our imaginations and we felt that the Summit would not be complete without an element of the project which connected us to the ground on which we stood and the extraordinary landscape of mid Wales surrounding CAT. It soon transpired that we were now committed to organizing not one event but two in one; a conference and a land journey – and then not just one land journey but two!

The Land Journey therefore represented an integral part of the Emergence Summit. The term ‘summit’ accurately described what we thought we were organizing. The connection with both ideas and geography was not accidental – a summit is elevated, allowing for a birds-eye view, a place of wider vision and potentially of a brief respite from the journey where one can sit and reflect on the work done, effort already expended and the company in which one travels.

We approached the Wales based artist Simon Whitehead with the request to create a concept and route for the Land Journey. Simon’s commission involved him creating two long distance walking routes starting and ending at CAT which delegates walked in the five days preceding the conference. Some words from Simon’s notebook…

Shape of the walks:
Ellipsis (plural ellipses; from the Greek: élleipsis, “omission” or “falling short”)
In linguistics an ellipsis can be used to indicate an unfinished thought or, at the end of a sentence, a trailing off into silence, When placed at the beginning or end of a sentence, the ellipsis can also inspire a feeling of melancholy or longing. The ellipsis calls for a slight pause in speech
Drawing 2 ellipses to the South and North of Afon Dovey I began to change their scale in relation to the different topographies and territories encountered and with the knowledge that these forms would contain the equivlalent of 5 days walking..
I then worked with available pathways and highways contained within each ellipse and the forms became altered and more collaborative with the shape and and geology…what emerged were 2 Kidney forms, one larger than the other..
Both routes are distinctively different, in ways reflecting the landscapes and cultures of the 2 areas. They also offer up choices and different constellations of endurance, rhythm and experience..

Some challenges:
Walkers walked across beautiful but sometimes unforgiving landscapes often in excess of what their body or equipment was capable of
Mountain Leaders were experienced at working with army recruits but had never led artists interested in sustainability
Feeding forty-five walkers local, ethical and nutritious food at campsites often fifteen miles away from the kitchen in which it was cooked
Managing expectations of those who wanted to make art more than walk and managing expectations of those who wanted to walk more than make art
Assessing and looking after personal safety of walkers in mountainous terrain

Some headline facts:
Dates of land journey; 1st – 6th September 2012
Number of people on land journey; 45
Number of visitors to land journey; 10
Two groups of walkers walked for five days and average of fourteen miles each day
One group walked from CAT out to the mountains and back to CAT in a northerly clockwise direction, the other in a southerly anti-clockwise direction
Each day there were ‘visitors’ and ‘happenings’ in the landscape by local people and invited artists encountered by the walkers without prior knowledge of them happening
Food artists Touchstone Collaboration created a kitchen from scratch at CAT preparing locally sourced, tasty and inventive food assisted by a small team of volunteers
A small support team looked after each route, bringing food, tents, rucksacs etc
A large bell tent was erected each day on each groups’ campsite for evening meetings and gatherings.
Each group was led by two Qualified Mountain leaders and one group facilitator.
Simon Whitehead, land artist and craniosacral therapist designed the routes and organized the creative visitations.
The two walking groups celebrated and feasted together at the start and end of their journey with a specially prepared meal at CAT.
The land journey finished on the evening prior to the arrival of the other one hundred and twenty or so conference delegates.


Case for Optimism

Emergence invites the Case for Optimism team to Swansea, creating spaces for cultural leaders and arts practitioners to deepen their creative response to global challenges.

A collaboration between Emergence and Case for Optimism at Volcano Theatre in Swansea. C4O is a programme of workshops for leaders in the field of arts and culture, to explore responses to the ongoing financial crisis, the end of the oil age and the challenge of climate change. The aim of the workshops is to engage practitioners in a much deeper conversation about the role of creativity, culture and art in the great transitions of our times.April 2011
Volcano Theatre, Swansea

A timely New Year 2012 phone call from Rhodri asking if Volcano would be interested in collaborating again on an Emergence activity became the opportunity to present ‘A Case for Optimism’ (C4O) in Swansea at Volcano’s High Street base. Funds had been set aside by Cynnal Cymru to support work which focused on attitude and behaviour change within the arts sector. Fern attended a C4O event in 2011 in London and as the team were looking for new platforms on which to present, this felt like a serendipitous opportunity.

C4O is a programme of workshops for leaders in the field of arts and culture, to explore responses to the ongoing financial crisis, the end of the oil age and the challenge of climate change. The aim of the workshops is to engage practitioners in a much deeper conversation about the role of creativity, culture and art in the great transitions of our times. C4O draws inspiration from the work of eco-psychologist, teacher and activist Joanna Macy. Macy’s work (The Work That Re-connects) has been developed and offered over a number of decades in the U.S and internationally. In turn it has inspired many in the field of deep ecology to take the work in different directions. All WTR projects share a recognizable structure which move through the spiral form and a number of distinct but interconnected stages; Gratitude, Honouring our Pain for the World, Seeing with New Eyes and Going Forth. C4O was developed by Teo Greenstreet, Hilary Jennings and Lucy Neal {LINKS} and has run a number of times in England and internationally. This was the first time C4O was presented in Wales.

Lucy Neal, one of the developers of C4O, had given a presentation in 2010 at Emergence Swansea called ‘Sustainable Ability’. It was evident that there was a much common ground between Emergence and what Lucy had been exploring since leaving her work as co-founder and director of the highly successful London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT). Early conversations and shared interest led to meetings with and invites from Lucy to a number of creative ecological gatherings. Fern had also recently trained as a facilitator of WTR with Jenny Mackewn and Chris Johnstone. C4O was also an opportunity to see how Macy’s work sat within a more professional arts context.

Emergence decided to run two separate C4O’s on alternate days, and funding enabled Emergence to make it free for invited participants. From previous experience the C4O team felt it was important to run these events with small groups with an optimum number of about 25 participants. An email invitation went out to as many South and West Wales arts practitioners as possible. Some had attended emergence gatherings previously, whilst others had not encountered the project. This was an opportunity for people to explore their own personal roles in the great transition as well as the collective role of the sector. Paul Allen, from Centre for Alternative Technology had given his ‘Zero Carbon Britain’ presentation at previous C4O’s. Emergence’s existing relationship with Lucy and Paul meant that running this event felt like a natural step and also enabled connections to be made with Teo Greenstreet and Hilary Jennings who both were invited to input into the Emergence Summit later that year.

C4O ran on two separate dates. April 2nd was aimed at theatre makers and venues, and 3rd April aimed at artists working in other disciplines. C4O as a structure enables a space for more heady information on climate change and resource use, but also daringly creates a framework for people to respond in more personal ways. The event is not about making ‘quick-fixes’, rather offers an opportunity to sit with often uncomfortable information and share how this impacts us and how it might inform our hopes and visions for a more positive future. In a professional setting, with its hierarchies and entrenched relationships, this is not always so easy to navigate or to experience. C4O is an event which inevitably brings up discomfort for many, especially those ‘do-ers’ amongst us who want to leap from statistics to a sustainable future without all the messy anxiety and incoherence which might lay between..

“Something we created in response to a complete lack of space to really reflect on how the arts and culture have a creative response to make that takes on board the world that we’re in that brings the elephants into the room – big ones like”

Research & Practice

Emergence Document

Launch event at the Wales Millennium Centre for the bilingual Emergence Eginiad report. Arresting ideas, practical advice and useful contacts from the 20 pioneering talks featured at the Emergence conferences in 2010/11.

‘Emergence has worked from the ground up…it has been a creative catalyst’. Louise Wright, British Council Wales
Emergence launches a legacy document after three conferences in Wales.September 21st 2011

The original intention after the conferences in CardiffSwansea and Caernarfon was to finish with a similar event at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth. As many organisations were facing an uncertain future in the light of new policies and investment reviews from Welsh GovernmentCynnal Cymru included, the timing was difficult to commit to the intended event. Originally this seemed a blow as the energy behind and interest in the project was becoming more palpable. We decided therefore with the support of our funders to redirect our grant not into another event but into creating a publication. In retrospect this seems like we were trusting in emergent design rather than allowing a prescriptive plan to lead us! The talks at the conferences were such a valuable resource it felt an important step in the process to make these as widely available as possible. We had already filmed each of the talks and began to put them online, however it seemed essential to collect these extraordinary presentations together in one place. This meant that the whole story of the three conferences as it had unfolded – from context, through interconnectivity to resilience – could be told.

Fern met many people since the beginning of Emergence who voiced that storytellers have a great role to play in the transition to a more sustainable society. Transition Town’s project ‘Tales to Sustain’ and Dark Mountain’s work are two examples of the power of story at this uncertain time. The story of industrial progress of continual growth and the creation of wealth through increased commodity consumption is just that – a story. This story however has become the dominant paradigm and has shaped the world in which we live and is the reason we find ourselves in our current global predicament. There are other stories and it is high time to hear them.

The power that drives Emergence is the story that it is hearing, collecting and re-telling. The Emergence document became the next piece of work – the next project, a homage to the storyteller.
With the help of the original speakers, we began the work of editing the talks into a distilled, readable version that retained the power, accessibility and immediacy of the spoken word. This was a more complex undertaking than we had originally thought. We wanted to keep the talks fresh, the use of language personal to each speaker whilst at the same time create a coherent document which would make sense to those not at the live event.

Hearing the right words at the right moment in our life is a crucial precursor of change. Sometime we hear but do not listen – or is it that we listen and do not hear? The spoken word can move us in a way that the written cannot. Perhaps the vibrations enter our bodies and literally ‘move us’ to act. How to retain this power in the literary form?

The publication of the document became another marker in the unfolding story of emergence. We decided to shine a spotlight on it by using its launch as another opportunity to gather people together and continue the conversation.

The Wales Millennium Centre offered us their venue in return for the opportunity of sharing with guests how sustainability is being incorporated as a core organising principle into the management and practices of this iconic building. This created a focus for the event and encouraged us to organise a low-carbon infrastructure seminar. After the speeches and supportive words of encouragement from John Griffiths (Minister for Environment and Sustainability at the Welsh Government), Louise Wright (British Council Wales), and Nick Capaldi (Chief Exec Arts Council Wales) this is what we got our collective teeth into.

The example of what was happening at WMC (and how it had significantly reduced emissions and running costs) and a presentation from Catherine Langabeer at Julies Bicycle galvanized those present into action. Representatives from some of the major companies, arts organisations and venues in Wales were present in the room. This was clearly one of those eureka moments when people begin to see exactly what difference can be made by a small committed group of individuals. The power of information sharing and collective action was at the heart of the discussions. Deborah Keyser from the Welsh venue network Creu Cymru and Lori Frater from BRASS (Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society) were also in the room and were the inspiration behind what was to become one of successful early project outcomes of this first phase of the Emergence project – Emergence Creu Cymru.


Caernarfon Conference – Resilience

The third Emergence conference from the Volcano & Sustain Wales partnership held in March 2011 at Galeri, Carnarvon.

‘What art does clearly is engage with our emotions; it connects to the emotions and
the spirit and can build images of the future that can both frighten and inspire’. Jean Boulton.

21st March 2011
Galeri, Caernarfon

The third Emergence event in Galeri, Caernarfon followed hot on the heels of the second on 21st March 2011. Arranging another event so soon after the Swansea conference on ‘Interconnectivity’ was in some ways foolhardy as it greatly stretched our energy and resources. However the speedy turnaround also meant that the narrative could really continue to develop. The intention of Caernarfon ‘Resilience’ was to focus on activism, however it was also important that the three conferences had space and flexibility to develop organically.
We were interested in trying to unpick the often unhelpful word ‘sustainability’, whilst at the same time trying to find ways to define the concept of emergence and casting ourselves forward into the future. It might be argued that in order to kick-start the conversation around the role of the arts in co-creating a sustainable future we should have one conversation in all three places – Cardiff, Swansea and Caernarfon. This conversation could then be repeated in as many different places as possible. This would be one strategy but instead we chose with each event to develop the narrative.

Each conference was a learning process for everyone involved and each influenced the nature, form and content of the next. These three events could in some way be said to illustrate emergent learning. Emergence was not then and is not still an organization – it is a focus, a spotlight, a roof or umbrella, under which to collect and converse.

Emergence had organised two events in South Wales and had not provided simultaneous translation (largely due to funds) at either, so it became crucial to create an event which put both English and Welsh on the same footing. At this stage we began to think about bilingualism within the context of sustainability, what it might mean and what opportunities it might offer us to think differently about the subject. In the shadow of the knowledge of species extinction the loss of language is yet another example of how our planet is becoming less rich in diversity. As we began to consider biodiversity and emergence it became evident that resilience develops in a system as a consequence of increased diversity. In this way bilingualism had a deep-rooted meaning for the project. The emergent theme of ‘resilience’ appeared to arise out of the first and second event of its own accord. We began to look for speakers local to North Wales and from farther afield who could speak to this theme and interpret it in their own ways.

Although the smallest of the events run so far, it was one of the most exciting. The mix of science and art was central to the event, as was the marrying of Welsh and English and the synthesis of utopian dreaming with down-to-earth projects.


Swansea Conference – Connection

The conversation continued in January 2011 at Taliesin Arts Centre in Swansea attracting arts practitioners from Swansea and beyond.

‘If you really want to experience emergence you have to just trust, trust in your heart, trust in people, trust in the universe’ – Satish Kumar

January 31st 2011
Volcano Theatre, Swansea

The response to the first Emergence conference was so positive, momentum and energy around the project had begun to gear up for the next event in Swansea on January 31st 2011. The application for funding from Arts Council Wales had been successful giving the project the go-ahead and confidence to organise both the Swansea and Caernarfon events. It was always the idea to organise three one-day conferences representing a trilogy, where discussion around sustainability would become increasingly deeper and more rounded.

The first conference in Cardiff got the conversation started. The event focused on infrastructure, carbon emissions, and introduced the idea that the arts could have a pivotal role in the challenge of how we get from here to there – from a world which uses three times the current available resources to a ‘One Planet Wales’ or a ‘Zero Carbon Britain’. Cardiff was about laying out the stall and defining the territory, the focus now moved towards values that underpin sustainable thinking.

The name Emergence implies something which happens when a system develops or responds to changes in an adaptive and holistic manner. There is a sense that the system is ‘networked up’, all parts communicating and creating information feedback loops enabling it to learn and to grow. A networked system has emergent properties including an ability to constantly respond and adapt to new conditions. These ideas were central to how Emergence developed as a project from the very beginning. Emergence was a learning entity responding to new dynamics and was dependent on growing new relationships. The notion of an interconnected whole was something which inspired the next event in Swansea.

The theme ‘interconnectedness’ was chosen in order to examine what might support the development of a sustainable arts sector, society or planet. It was time to look at the values that drive and inspire us; the values or behaviour which are responsible for species to adapt and respond to change or threat. All of the speakers chosen were asked in some way to respond to this theme.

Satish Kumar was invited to speak about Emergence and, for many people, is a living embodiment of the concept. Satish, his work at Schumacher CollegeResurgence Magazine and his involvement with the Schumacher Institute has been one of the inspirations behind the entire Emergence project. For many, he articulates why so many are drawn to work in this area. He touches on something very deep-rooted and speaks about interconnection with a combination of poetic power and philosophical precision. Other speakers were from Transition NetworkPeople UnitedArts Admin; and Meta Theater. Alan Dix as ‘artist in residence’ gave a genuinely funny and moving example of ‘Pecha Kucha’, subverting the formality of the typical powerpoint format.

The world café model was used again to create a space for delegates to come together. This time it offered the opportunity to go into the natural world and explore a question of mutual curiosity. Many projects and collaborations were dreamt up from just that one conversation.



Cardiff Conference – Context

The pioneer Emergence conference at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. The arts sector in Wales came together to share ideas, ask questions and get practical tools for more sustainable practice.

“Are we anywhere near the sort of carbon descent that science demands?” Paul Allen

Emergence launches with a conference in Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, October 2010.

October, 2010
Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

October 2010 felt the right time to launch Emergence. There was a sense of momentum after the survey, support from British Council Wales and a very positive meeting with Arts Council of Wales, so any delay would have lost valuable time.

At this stage Emergence had not yet secured funding. The first event in Cardiff relied greatly on the goodwill of contributors and the faith of the organisers, Fern Smith & Rhodri Thomas. Paul Allen (CAT) and Alison Tickell (Julies Bicycle) gave their time for free as did John McGrath (National Theatre Wales). James Tyson the then theatre programmer also gave Emergence the use of the venue Chapter Arts Centre gratis.

Many fingers were crossed that there would be sufficient take-up to make the event possible. As an arts-led event, Emergence gave what available funds there were to contributing artists who received small honoraria and expenses for taking part. This was done to show a conscious exception to the historical expectation that artists give their time for free. Paul Emmanuel who had just been awarded Welsh Artist of the Year exhibited his ‘sheep fleece paintings’ and Martin Powell a young poet who had recently made a splash at the Resurgence Festival gave impassioned readings of his work. This set a precedent in that all Emergence gatherings should honour the creative space, presence and contribution of art.

This first Emergence event was ‘Setting the Context’, looking at where we were, what was known and what was already developing. Emergence was influenced by the presence of the new strategy ‘One Wales: One Planet’, so for this conference it was important to hear from the Welsh Government on this potentially ground-breaking policy document. ‘One Wales: One Planet’ called for Wales to use ‘it’s fair share of resources’ as opposed to the three planet’s worth of resources currently used globally. Huw Charles’ presentation became the reference point for the rest of the conference and attendees were keen to actively engage with the strategy.

This was a signal that art does have to engage – to make itself relevant, visible and active in sustainability. Paul Allen, the leading figure behind the Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero Carbon Britain report – an ambitious and impeccably-researched practical report which focuses on ‘powering up’ renewable energy/sustainable initiatives and powering down wasteful ways of living/exploitative production methods. Paul’s presentation was a magnificent success. There was a real sense of people being enormously affected by the information he was presenting in terms of the scale of climate change and resource depletion. This information was truly landing and making a palpable impact on those in the room. Alison Tickell from Julie’s Bicycle made a likewise positive impression with an empowering presentation on tools enabling artists to practically address the sustainability agenda.

The day was largely a typical conference format but had an informality and energy and for some a surprising honesty and openness in conversations which began to unfold as the day went on. The afternoon ended with a session based on ‘world café’ conversations led by Jenny MacKewn. Delegates were invited to flow between small groups taking questions and information with them from table to table, cross-pollinating information gathered. Important questions were raised – what inspires us, what sustains us and what is each of us doing in our own practices to further the agenda? A good place to start. Emergence was encouraged by the amount of people who came, the conversations – their honesty and openness throughout the day. Arts practitioners can sometimes not necessarily be the most open and welcoming – often there is a hierarchy and entrenched power inequalities between the funded and the not, presenters and makers, freelancers and companies. Anecdotally the nature of the interactions at Emergence was more trusting, vulnerable and open than might typically be the case. Attendees were speaking about something that noone had the answer to and everyone was searching and trying to make sense of the issues in their own way. A good beginning…