Guided Group Retreats

Bardsey Time 2022: Ynys Enlli Equinox Retreat

A guided group retreat consciously marking the Equinox.

Come, join us to consciously and creatively mark the 2022 Autumn Equinox, on Bardsey Island, Ynys Enlli in Welsh, located two miles off the coast of the Llyn Peninsular, North Wales.

17th – 24th September 2022
Bardsey Island, North Wales, UK

With Fern Smith & Judith Mills

More information

Rites of Passage in Nature

A Space for Change 2021

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

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

July 10th – 17th 2021
Nant-y-Gwenill, near Machynlleth, mid-Wales

With Fern Smith & Philip Ralph, Artists & Wilderness Guides

More information

Leadership & Change Workshops

November Council on White Privilege 2020

An Online Emergence Workshop

Join us for a self-organised RitualArtworK.

Saturday 21st November 10am – 5pm.

Online on Zoom.

More information

Rites of Passage in Nature

Summer Solstice Vision Fast in Nature 2021

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?

June 17th – 26th 2021
Dyfi Valley, Mid Wales, UK

With Fern Smith and Philip Ralph, Artists & Wilderness Guides

More information

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

Download information


Women Holding Vigil 2020

An invitation to participate in a DIY,
Women’s Summer Solstice Ritual

Friday 19th June 9.21pm to Saturday 20th June 4.43am

Invitation to Make Vigil

This is a vigil which involves keeping watch through the dark hours of the night to witness the sunrising at dawn on the Mid-Summer Solstice. We begin our vigil at sunset on mid-Summer’s Eve (19th June) and end on the morning of the 2020 Summer Solstice (20th June).

This is a vigil to honour the dark as well as celebrate the light.

The Summer Solstice is the time of mid-Summer representing the longest day and shortest night in the Northern Hemisphere (the shortest in the Southern) before the days get shorter and we move towards Winter and the entire cycle begins again.

The length of the vigil is roughly 7 hours. The invitation is to mark this time in a conscious and creative way on your own or with others, by crafting your own vigil or ceremony. This could be simple, this could be elaborate.

You might hold vigil for a loved one, the whole world, for a dream or for an idea.

Vigil: c. 1200, “eve of a religious festival” (an occasion for devotional watching or observance), from Anglo-French and Old French vigile “watch, guard; eve of a holy day” (12c.), from Latin vigilia “a watch, watchfulness,” from vigil “watchful, awake, on the watch, alert. Meaning “watch kept on a festival eve” in English from late 14c.; general sense of “occasion of keeping awake for some purpose” is recorded from 1711.

What is it you will mark as you sit in the darkness and wait for the light to come?

Why Now?

We are living through a time of fear, uncertainty, grief, anger and desperation. At this time, many of us have also witnessed countless instances and moments of joy, resilience, human integrity and natural beauty.

I believe ritual is ‘the art of arts’ and is a practice we have in our bones to which we can all connect in our own unique way. Some might call it prayer, art, self-generated ceremony or believe it to be a kind of ‘sacred activism.’

Ritual can connect us to our own sense of soul, spirit or self, to the earth and to the energies and potential of these times.

It asks that we connect to the deepest part of ourselves as well as to what we love and cherish in the world. We might call this connection to Wisdom, Beauty, Art, Universal Energy, Spirit or God. For me, it can be as simple as a conscious, intentional act of witnessing, marking and noticing. It involves opening myself to ‘what is present’ whether this feels like a celebration or a mourning.

I do this work as a creative human being and an artist and not as a follower of any particular lineage or tradition. I’m interested in the art of living and believe that every single human being is an artist. What might it look like to practice living as an art? It’s different for all of us and involves connecting to a deep sense of purpose or calling, even if it risks sometimes taking us to a place of questioning, feeling lost or a hanging out with ideas of failure.

This work doesn’t have to be done ‘at scale’ to be effective.

Small ritual acts of kindness, loyalty and devotion can have great power. I believe that especially at times like this, offering gratitude and marking the cycles of life, honouring the elements and all beings, can be an immense though invisible force for change.

Practical Things & Schedule

Contact me by email and let me know you are interested. Send me a line or two about yourself and why you are called to be part of this. These words will be included in the final artwork I will put together which will be available for sharing so make sure you are ok with this.

Friday 19th June: Online meet 5pm-7pm BST.

As many of us doing this as possible will meet online via Zoom on the afternoon of Friday 19th June. (I will send you an invitation once I’ve heard from you). We will share a little about ourselves and what we are marking and what we might plan to do. The sharing of our intentions can be very powerful and this can act as a wider ‘witnessing’ of what we are doing individually and together. You don’t have to join the online meet to participate in the vigil. This is completely your choice.

Sunset June 19th – Sunrise June 20th: Vigil

We all mark this time making vigil in our own way. You might do this inside, you might do this outside. Make sure you are safe and can obey social distancing and any Covid-19 regulations in place where you are.

Monday 21st June: Online meet 5pm-7pm BST.

As many of us who are able and interested, will re-connect online to share stories, words and reflections on each of our experiences.

Sunset & Sunrise Times

This website gives a general time in the UK of 21.21 for sunset on Friday 19th June and 04.43 for sunrise on Saturday 20th June

If you want more precise timings depending on your exact location go to and put in your nearest city.

What Happens Next?

Over the next 7 days (June 22nd to June 28th) you are invited to send me a paragraph and one photo/image (no more than one page of A4 for the words and the image together). Also, your name, a line about yourself and a weblink to your work if you like.

Over the next 7 days (29th June – 5th July) I will compile these all into an online document which will be shared amongst ourselves and also be available to share to a wider public. I shall do this in the form of a simple e-book on the publishing platform

The final document is shared between all of us – no one person ‘owns it’ as such. It belongs to the commons and anyone can share/upload it to their websites as a legacy of this artwork, this moment in time. Everyone who participates will be credited. I will share the final document and some information about the context of this ritual/artwork on my websites and, feel free to share it on yours.

Participation & Sharing this Invite

Participation is free (though if you would like to donate anything for my time in putting out this call, hosting the space (off and online) and creating the final document you are very welcome).

Feel free to share this invitation to other women and those who identify as women or non-binary.

With Thanks to Chris Bird Jones for the Image

Download PDF with information
Art Happenings

Women Dancing VI

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

Join us for a self-organised RitualArtworK.

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

Download information

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

Download information

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.

‘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 in the document:

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

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


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.

The event followed on from the three COP (21) Swansea gatherings we ran in 2016 during the key Climate Talks in Paris. To keep the momentum up, and to share some of the incredible energy, food and community projects going on locally we organised COParty (22) Swansea to coincide with the final day of COP 22, the world Climate Negotiations.

COParty (22) offered a space to network, support one another and celebrate! It gave people a chance to get together, share information, and hear about pioneering local ecological and social justice projects. We wanted as many people who support and resonate with the issues being discussed at COP 22 in Marakech to be gathered together in one place. We had around 200 guests and contributors attending who enjoyed live music, talks, films, dancing, performance, ‘pop-up’ participatory activities and vegetarian food.

This was a chance also for representatives from the many amazing local low impact living and social and environmental justice projects to talk about their projects.

All profits from the event went to Swansea Foodbanks. We wrote a BLOG about COParty(22) Swansea. You can read it here.

Projects represented at COParty (22) Swansea included:

Awel Aman Tawe

Award-winning Community Energy fund which established two gigantic wind turbines in the Swansea Valley.

Cae Tan

A community supported agriculture project, growing food for over 90 Swansea and Gower households & also providing training, volunteering & learning in sustainable farming to schools, colleges & the public.

Down To Earth

Renewable building and sustainable education.


Citizen engagement and grassroots democracy, helping people turn good ideas into meaningful actions.

Swansea News Network

A start up, not for profit, community journalism project.

Gaian Ecovillage Community

A vision for community living.

Gower Power/SCEES

Renewable energy specialists and community energy company.

Environment Centre


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.

Image: Ruth Davey

The message at the heart of Satish’s teaching is that individuals can and do change the world for the better. Satish’s words and teachings offer rich inspiration and guidance to help us meet the seemingly insurmountable challenges we currently face.

In conversation with Jane Davidson, Satish speaks candidly and in depth about his philosophy, influences and inspirations. From his incredible peace walk of 8,000 miles without a penny in his pocket; to setting up the world renowned Schumacher College; to his latest book Soil, Soul, Society; Satish leads us through the journey of his life and his own inspirations stretching back to Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Vinoba Bhave.

This series is a unique legacy of his lifetime of learning and an invaluable tool-kit for practical action. Filmed at Satish’s home and Schumacher College in the summer of 2015, these six hours of rich, deep, engrossing conversations will change the way you see the world and your place in it as you return to them again and again.

The money raised to make this project which from its original conception to it’s launch took almost two years, came primarily from crowd-funding. Over £25,000 was raised from over 400 people in more than 30 countries worldwide.

Being an Earth Pilgrim was made by Emergence in association with CULTURE COLONY, RESURGENCE & ECOLOGIST, SCHUMACHER COLLEGE and VOLCANO THEATRE

– presents –


executive producers THE CHILDREN OF PEARL
associate producer MALINIBINDU PATEL
director of photography SIMON MAGGS
directed and produced by PHILIP RALPH & FERN SMITH

A download of the six programmes is available, and also a beautifully packaged limited edition box-set is available from or call 01208 841824.


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.

These events were for those deeply concerned about climate change but unable or unwilling to travel to Paris to be part of COP21 (Conference of Parties). Supported by Cinema & Co, The Environment Centre and Volcano Theatre, we had our very own COP in Swansea, which in this case stood for ‘Confluence Of People’.

Each of the COP Swansea events included screenings, discussions, and art-making focusing on the path to the 21st climate change talks in Paris.

Each screening charted the story of how artists and activists have been pro-actively involved in the debate to tackle climate change and global injustice. The films represented a focus for the conversation and a catalyst for the creative activities that followed them. The films we showed were:

Chasing Ice (2015)
Director: Jeff Orlowski

Acclaimed photographer James Balog was once a skeptic about climate change. But through his Extreme Ice Survey, he discovers undeniable evidence of our changing planet.

The Age of Stupid (2009)
Director: Franny Armstrong

The Age of Stupid stars Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite as a man living in the devastated future world of 2055, looking back at old footage from our time and asking: why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance?

This Changes Everything (2015)
Director: Avi Lewis

Filmed over 211 shoot days in nine countries and five continents over four years, This Changes Everything is an epic attempt to re-imagine the vast challenge of climate change. Inspired by Naomi Klein’s international non-fiction bestseller This Changes Everything.

So, why was COP21 important?

COP21 (Conference of Parties) was the largest-ever gathering of world leaders to discuss climate change. More than 190 nations were represented in the Paris talks from 30th November to the 11th December 2015.

It was widely recognised that these were crunch talks in negotiating the vital international agreements in the battle against climate change.

COP21 aimed ‘to achieve, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, a binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world’ and focused on reducing global greenhouse gas emissions (current commitments on emissions end in 2020), although no-one underestimated the political challenge in pulling this off.

Scientists have warned that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, we will pass the threshold beyond which global warming becomes catastrophic and irreversible. That threshold is estimated as a temperature rise of 2C above pre-industrial levels, and on current emissions trajectories we are heading for a rise of about 5C. So what happened in Paris and beyond was vitally important to the future sustainability of the planet.

COP Swansea 1,2 & 3 was attended by ‘absolute beginners’ to the climate change debate, die-hard activists and in-betweenies. It was a space to learn about the issues, share emotional responses to climate chaos and the massive global issues of the day. We made use of the author and eco-activist Joanna Macy’s change and empowerment work to facilitate the days: the ‘Work that Reconnects’. This underpinned our methodology, design and shape of each day and featured activities such as art-making, poetry, written creative responses and structured conversations. Phil Ralph brought the ‘One Eyed Man’ to the proceedings – a mix of stand-up, storytelling and confessional -bringing doubt, uncertainty and despair into the room often using humour to punctuate the formality or pompousness of any proceedings! There was also powerful music from singer/songwriter Eleanor Brown.

Delivery Team

For Emergence: Fern Smith & Philip Ralph (curators, designers, facilitators, project management, marketing and administration).

Presenting Artists: Eleanor Brown (singer/song-writer), Eleanor Flaherty (photographer), Thom Hill (film-maker).

Support Team & Volunteers: Patrick Driscoll, Anna Piggot, Yanis Paikos, Chris Bird-Jones, Phil McDonnell, The Glitterationists (arts collective), Phoebe Gauntlett, Sarah Huws-Davies.

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.

The Harvest Walk & Talk 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. The event was also an opportunity to examine our modern relationship to food, and being with the more introspective energies of ‘dying back’ and entering the darker days of the Winter months.

This event marked the second part of a three-phase, ‘Marking the Past, Making the Future Project’, on the themes of war, peace & sustainability. At the heart of each of the three separate but related events was a conscious emphasis on ‘peace-making’ – building connections to one another, promoting dialogue and a sense of our shared endeavour as well as an acknowledgement of our differing backgrounds or views. All three events in the series in some way looked back at the history or traditions of Gower in order to look forward to build a sustainable, resilient and peaceful future.

The Harvest Walk & Talk was a full day of activities marking the ‘turning of the year’ and the Harvest Festival on Gower. There was also an opportunity for people to highlight and hear from the many local change-making projects in Gower and Swansea, especially related to food-growing, connection to the land and active citizenship.

Artists were involved in making the day a success including singers Kate Davies from Gower and Kajsa Norrby from Sweden singing a traditional Swedish song of gathering in the harvest. Ian Rees scholar and teacher from the Annwn Foundation gave a talk on the Bardic traditions of Wales, connection to the land and the necessity of ‘dying back’ and ‘going inside’ to a quieter more reflective space, mirroring the coming of the darker nights and Winter months.

The day began with a welcome to and background of Stouthall Country Mansion, venue for the event at the heart of Gower on the outskirts of Reynoldston. Stouthall is one of the few historical country houses of Gower still standing and open to the public.

As the sun climbed higher in the sky, fifty walkers left to journey to Arthur’s Stone (Maen Ceti), Neolithic burial tomb on Gower. The group were invited to hold silence whilst walking and walk with an individual intention or affirmation placed in their shoe to deepen their experience of the activity. On arrival at Arthurs Stone we held silence, spoke about the significance of Harvest Time, gave thanks to the land and the cycles of nature and shared a traditional Gower folk story which included an invitation to circle the stone three times, affirming an intention. After a picnic lunch, we returned to Stouthall for refreshments, Ian Rees’ talk, a harvest supper made from locally surced ingredients and a session involving hearing from local change-making projects.

People came from a wide geographical spread of postcodes throughout Swansea and from further afield including Cardiff, mid Wales and Bridgend. Liaison with a Communities First Officer took place and participants resulted in the inclusion of individuals reached through this process who might otherwise not have been able to attend.


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.

This event marked the beginning of a three-phase, ‘Marking the Past, Making the Future Project’, on the themes of war, peace & sustainability. At the heart of each of the three separate but related events was a conscious emphasis on ‘peace-making’ – building connections to one another, promoting dialogue and a sense of our shared endeavour as well as an acknowledgement of our differing backgrounds or views. All three events in the series in some way looked back at the history or traditions of Gower in order to look forward to build a sustainable, resilient and peaceful future.

The Peace Walk & Talk took place on June 27th 2015 and was designed to mark the 75th anniversary of the first bombs dropped on Swansea during World War Two on June 27th 1940. In terms of ‘Marking the Past, Making the Future’, it was of the three events, the most consciously focused on war and peace.

This day-long event began with a peace talk by peace activist and earth pilgrim Satish Kumar and then and walk of six miles, with activities along the way. The walk was from central Swansea, site of the main devastation caused by the bombs to Mumbles Hill, Gower; the remains of gunning placements and look-outs. It was designed to highlight the connections between Swansea, it’s history of devastation during the Blitz and the important role of Mumbles and Gower in the protection of the coastline of Britain during WW2. Another theme was looking back into the past and casting forward into the future, contemplating what kind of Britain and world we might be creating or remembering in 75 years time. The date of the walk coincidentally fell on UK Armed Forces Day.

The Peace Walk & Talk captured people’s imagination and word of mouth spread immediately and the event was full to capacity very quickly. The event was free to all and people came from a wide geographical spread throughout Swansea and further afield in Cardiff and the valleys.

Satish Kumar spoke about his peace walk as a young man to all the nuclear capitals of the world that began in 1962 and the ideals that compelled him and his friend E.P Menon, to leave their homeland of india to walk for two years without a penny in their pocket. You can hear a voice recording of Satish’s talk further down in the ‘resources’ section. His main theme was how we as world citizens can bring peace into every area of our lives, in small not just big, public actions. He also interestingly touched on the difference in approach and intention between a ‘Peace March’ and a ‘Peace Walk’. Satish and many of those who came to hear him speak waved the thirty or so walkers off who were each given a white peace handkerchief to wear.

We walked to the sea along the route of bomb-blasted Swansea, through a crowd gathered to celebrate Armed Forces Day and towards the sea. We then walked in silence onto the beach to the sea-front war-memorial to hear a poem by Siegfried Sassoon and write messages of peace on our white handerkerchiefs.

Walkers were met along the route by local artists offering creative interventions – actor (Phil Ralph), dancer (Catherine & Georgie Bennett and singers/musicians (Aled Warwick & Margot Morgan). After reaching Mumbles Hill, walkers participated in completing an installation of 60 white Peace Flags with walk artists-in-residence (Erin Rickard & Sean Pouston).

American Peace activist and author on leadership and social change, Margaret Wheatley welcomed walkers at the walk destination and gave a compelling talk about our individual roles as peace-makers in the world and in our lives. She spoke powerfully about the dangers of being a self-righteous peace activist and perpetuating the divide between us (the peace-makers) and them (the war-mongerers). The day finished with sharing the intentions for peace we had written before going went our separate ways leaving the flags waving gently in the wind.


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’.

In early 2014 Emergence was approached by Swansea’s ‘Love Your Countryside’  festival with an invitation to present an Emergence project in the local area. The organisers were interested in a project that might link the two areas of ‘Gower’ and ‘Mawr’ to the North-East and South-West of the city. The outcome of this was the ‘Walk That Reconnects’.

After looking at these two areas on various ordinance survey maps, I discovered the existence of ‘The Gower Way’ a 56km mid distance linear footpath that connected the historically Welsh-speaking Mawr with English-speaking Gower, mapped out by The Gower Society to celebrate the Millennium. The distance of the walk was much less than the previous 2012 Land Journey and over very different terrain – more undulating and less ‘wild’ than the area around Machynnleth, Cadair Idris and Plynlimon. In addition unlike our earlier event there was to be no culmination of the walk in a large scale conference. I started thinking about whether or not rather than walking to a conference the walk itself could be the conference. I began to think about a new form of a journey which might offer walkers an opportunity for deep connection with self, other and the landscape that trusted that the act of connecting through walking was transformative in itself. The ‘Walk That Reconnects’ was born…

The 2014 Emergence Land Journey offered much more than just a 4 day, guided walk through some of the most varied and beautiful countryside in Wales.It was also an opportunity to connect with issues of deep ecology and sustainability with fellow walkers, facilitators and artists. The ‘Walk That Reconnects offered participants an opportunity to consciously walk into a sustainable future together. Inspired by the ideas of eco-psychologist, spiritual teacher and activist Joanna Macy and ‘The Work That Reconnects,’ it combined a multi-stage land journey, outdoor conference and walking workshop all in one event.

The intention behind the Land Journey was to offer an opportunity for deep dialogue, concentration and reflection on the things that matter and the things we take for granted. The group was taken on a physical journey and inner journey designed to “build motivation, creativity, courage and solidarity for the transition to a sustainable human culture.”

We hoped that this would present a life changing opportunity akin to a vision quest, secular pilgrimage or threshold moment in life, enabling us all to slow down, become embodied and to step into a place of greater awareness of our potential as change makers.

Lucy Neal (co-founder LIFT/Transition Town Tooting/Playing For Time) and Fern Smith (co-founder Volcano Theatre/Emergence) facilitated the group, supporting participants through Joanna Macy’s powerful ‘grief and empowerment’ change process. Each day offered a chance to connect with inner intentions and outer landscapes with an awareness of the many feelings, thoughts and emotions that are present within us at this time of ‘The Great Unravelling’ or ‘The Great Turning’ – from gratitude and appreciation to pain and grief.

Our hope was that we would be supported by the beauty and resilience of the natural world through which we moved and the knowledge that we were not ‘walking alone.’ In community we attempted to create the conditions for each of us to move into a more expanded ‘ecological self’ uncovering our essential inter-connectedness with one another and the world.

It has been said many times that if people are unable to imagine a positive future, they won’t create it. The intention of ‘The Walk That Reconnects’ was to create a space, both real and virtual, where inspiration, optimism and the possibility of change could be nurtured and practical action planned. Our collective question was ‘could we, as artful human beings and creative thinkers, help ourselves and others to imagine the world we want, and literally bring it into being?’

The walk followed the existing route of The Gower Way. This 56km South Wales long-distance walking route traverses post-industrial, urban and rural terrain, moving from upland moors to the Irish Sea, passing through the UK’s first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – The Gower Peninsula. Gower is widely known and much loved as a popular tourist destination, however the region known as Mawr is less well known. It was here we began our journey, savouring the dramatic panoramas, solitude and wildness of the hills North-East of Swansea that mark the beginning of The Gower Way. We travelled from East to West, following the direction of the sun, beginning in Penlle’r Castell, high up in Mynydd y Gwair and ending at the sea shore of Worms Head, Rhossilli.

There were daily, unannounced visitations and artful encounters with local gatekeepers, artists and stewards of this ancient land. Every day, we were met by an artist who offered us a gift – poem, mediation, song, story or work of art. Artists Tanya Syed, Emily Hinshelwood, Philip Ralph, Aled Warwick, Erin Rickard and Sean Poulston surprised, provoked, disturbed and ‘broke open’ the walkers. Each day the walkers walked with more trust into the territory and connected with one another and the challenge of how we can live a sustainable life more deeply.

Walkers were hosted by people living on the land through which we travelled as staying at designated campsites and were for one night the guests of the community of ‘Three Crosses’ gateway village to the Gower.

The Walk That Reconnects had a deep and lasting impact on everyone, the 24 walkers, group facilitators, mountain leaders, visiting artists, hosts, cooks, camp support team and those we met at Three Crosses. People formed new connections, saw their work and life in different ways and laid the foundations for new projects and processes. We created community and were transformed by the process in ways it was hard to predict when we set out initially. The changes in all of us continue to this day….

The 2014 Emergence Land Journey facilitators:

Lucy Neal is a theatre-maker, writer and community activist interested in how celebratory events act as a catalyst for change. She is currently writing Playing For Time – Making Art as If The World Mattered, a handbook of creative practices that inspire the shift to a more ecological age for publication in March 2015. The project is supported by the Arts Council EnglandTransition Network and the Arvon Foundation.

Co-founding director of the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT) from 1981-2005, she is Happiness Associate on the Happy Museum Project re-imagining museums for a changing world; co-author of MMM’s Sustainable Ability; co-inventor of the Case For Optimism and was facilitator of Emergence Land Journey (North Walk) in 2012. She has also undertaken The Work That Reconnects residencies with Joanna Macy in Holy Island, Scotland and on the banks of the River Thames. She was awarded an OBE in 2005 for services to drama and lives in Tooting, where she has been an active member of Transition Town Tooting since 2008.

Fern Smith is a theatre practitioner with over 25 years of experience in performing and teaching with Volcano Theatre. In 2010 she was the Arts Council of Wales Clore Fellow on the Clore Leadership Programme. She is a trained as a Work that Reconnects facilitator with Jenny Mackewn and Chris Johnstone, co-author with Macy of ‘Active Hope.’ She is a CSTA registered craniosacral therapist and MTI holistic massage therapist, Relational Dynamics coach and celebrant trained by Dead Good Guides. She is also founder of Emergence, a Wales based project that encourages artists to recognize their role as change agents. She is joint author of a new report ‘Culture Shift’ due for publication later this year commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales highlighting the role of artists in the transition to a sustainable society. She has recently been inspired by the work of Suzi Gablik to create ‘The Re-enchantment Project’ with her partner Philip Ralph, the aim of which is to create spaces for ‘celebratory activism’ by means of maximum participation and minimum administration!


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.

‘Culture Shift: How Artists are Responding to Sustainability in Wales’ was commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales in 2014. Emergence bid for and succeeded in the tender, not as consultants but as artists. We aimed at the process and outcome as being a creative collaboration between artists and those working in the field of sustainability designed to include as many voices as possible. We see this report very much building on and contributing to a growing narrative that appears to be gaining momentum and confidence across Wales, the UK and beyond.

‘Culture Shift’ gives a glimpse of the many pioneering sustainable arts initiatives currently operating across Wales. It is by no means a definitive list but is representative of the varied initiatives and approaches we came across whilst highlighting common themes and methodologies.

The report is a witness to what is going on already. It is also intended as a statement of intent and a call to action. It highlights the power of the arts to contribute towards or even take a leading role in the transition to a life-sustaining society. It is hoped that this report will contribute towards future arts policy within the context of the Welsh Government’s ‘Well-being of Future Generations’ Bill’. The report draws attention to how a growing number of artists are leading a paradigm shift in values and relationships around access to future resources.

“Wales – a creative culture where artists are in abundance – is one of only three democracies willing to hold themselves legally accountable for promoting principles of sustainability. It is no surprise, therefore, that this leading edge report comes from Wales. Without artists how can we ever fully feel our way into a sustainable community or create the relationships that sustain us through difficult times?”
Margaret Wheatley, activist, consultant and author

We hope that ‘Culture Shift’ will be a working document. We hope that it will serve as an impetus for others to join the conversation and to support those already doing this work. It contains recommendations to the Arts Council of Wales regarding future arts policy in supporting the development of such pioneering practice. It is backed up by case studies and interviews from many artists and organisations and builds on the results from a sector wide survey conducted in Spring 2014. The appendices to the report give the survey data in more detail as well as naming many projects, formative books, articles, useful resources, contacts and organisations.

Although we’ve concentrated on Welsh activity we also framed it within the context of the wider changes and inspirations Welsh artists are drawing from those outside – including ArtsadminJulies BicycleTipping PointPlatformCreative Carbon ScotlandPeople UnitedEncounters and Case for Optimism.


The report is available in Welsh and in English as a download. Appendices are available in English only.

Research & Practice

Creu Cymru Emergence

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

The Creu Cymru Emergence project is working in partnership with Julie’s BicycleCardiff University and Cynnal Cymru to support a network of 18 theatres and art centres across Wales. The project aims to effect behaviour change and enable the participants to become more resilient by considering the challenges and opportunities of making sustainability intrinsic to their thinking and practice.

Following attendance at the Emergence conferences,Case for OptimismDocument Launch and Emergence Summit a number of individuals from venues in Wales and Wales venue development agency Creu Cymru, decided to take on the issue of sustainability as a key core organising principle. In partnership with Cynnal Cymru, Julies Bicycle and BRASS at Cardiff University a pilot group of seventeen venues was formed to look at every aspect of running a theatre sustainably from box-office to lighting grid.

More details of the project can be found in this press release on the Creu Cymru website.

The next phase of the project (September 2013 – June 2014) will look at participation and programming within the context of sustainability. This new phase will be launched at the World Stage Design Festival on 13th September 2013. For more information visit our World Stage Design Festival Emergence project page.


“A great partnership project that embeds principle into practice”

Rhodri Thomas

“It’s great to be involved in the Creu Cymru Emergence project. I’m excited to be working with the 18 Theatres and Arts Centres and our partners to better understand the challenges and opportunities faced by the sector in making



Talking About Emergence

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

After two years of going from one Emergence project immediately to the next we decided that it would be a useful exercise to take stock, look at the impact of the project so far and speak to a number of key people who have been instrumental in making Emergence happen.

In the spirit of action research and creative enquiry we decided to open up the conversation and see where it wanted to go. In the Summer of 2013 nine in-depth interviews were conducted with key artists and creative practitioners who had been involved in organizing and supporting the CardiffSwansea or Caernarfon conferences, the document launch, the Emergence Summit or Creu Cymru Emergence.

Fern Smith from Emergence and Pete Telfer of Culture Colony conducted and filmed the interviews. Each lasted between and sixty and ninety minutes and together give a rich sense of the origins, context, challenges, opportunities and aspirations of the project. The interviews appear here in their full length and speak about the project from the many different viewpoints of those involved. Some of the interviews focus more on emergence and systems theory, others on leadership and activism or on what a sustainable future might look like and what role artists have in making this happen. Interviewees include; Rhodri Thomas, Lucy Neal, Paul Allen, Jenny Mackewn, Fern Smith, David Alston, Nick Capaldi, Deborah Keyser and Nicolas Young.

The interviews serve as a rich resource for those interested in organizing similar projects, researching arts and sustainability initiatives, marrying inspiration, strategy and outcomes and of course for us at Emergence to look back in order to travel forward.



“Is there a sector or group of people you perceive are ‘leading the change’? How important are the arts in all this?”

Fern Smith

“What is the connection between inspiration and practical action for change and how do we move from one to the other?”

Fern Smith

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.

In 2013 we re-visited the NORTH route of the original Land Journey.

Taking time to walk and reflect is an opportunity often missed in our fast-paced technology-driven world. On 29th August Emergence participants completed a five day walk retracing the beautiful and varied North route of the 2012 Emergence Land Journey. This facilitated walk provided an opening for a deepened dialogue with the land and our place within it by engaging both mind and body in its journey across mid-Wales.

This project which we hope might become an annual event, retraced the route of the original 2012 five day Emergence Land Journey through mid Wales. It was an opportunity to participate in a walking dialogue informed and influenced by the great landscape through which we moved. The walk followed a route which begins and ends near the Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth and climbs Cader Idris the great Summits of this remote and expansive part of Wales. People were invited to join the journey for as little as one day or all five, picking up and continuing the threads of the dialogue. The walk was offered as a space to slow down, re-wild, reflect, explore creative ideas and co-create projects in service of life on earth.

The journey took place between 25th and 29th August 2013.

The invitation was to join a qualified mountain leader and co-creators of the Emergence Summit Fern Smith and Lucy Neal for as little as one day or all five. It offered a chance to connect with others and to share where we were collectively and individually in this time of great transition. The journey followed the original route of the Emergence Land Journey and was made accessible to those unable to commit to walking the entire route. Evenings saw an opportunity to meet and cook together, share stories and ‘pop-up’ creative activities.

The dates and routes were as follows;
Day 1 August 25th Pantperthog
(nr Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth) to Ynysymaengwyn (nr Twyn)

Day 2 August 26th
Ynysymaengwyn (nr Twyn) to Llanllwyda(Nr Abergynolwyn)

Day 3 August 27th
Llanllwyda (nr Abergynolwyn) to Dolgellau (via Cader Idris)

Day 4 August 28th Dolgellau to Aberllefeni (wild camping)

Day 5 August 29th
Aberllefeni to Pantperthog (nr Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth)


“This is really a very historic occasion for us in terms of telling the story of our time and questioning the values that we live by”

Lucy Neal

“Reconnecting with the land is reconnecting with ourselves…pushing ourselves beyong our comfort zone forces us to discover aspects of ourselves we never knew we had”

Eleanor Flaherty, Mountain Leader


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.

A day of Emergence events looking at sustainable creative practice in Wales at the World Stage Design Festival, Cardiff, Friday 13th September 2013.

The World Stage Design Festival comes to Cardiff from 5th to 15th September 2013. Hosted by Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama WSD2013 is a celebration of international performance design from the world of theatre, opera and dance. This international festival includes performances, talks, seminars and exhibitions from individual artists, companies, designers and organisations all exploring sustainability and creative practice.

Following on from the Emergence Summit in 2012 and as part of WSD2013, Emergence is hosting a day of events looking at sustainable creative practice in Wales on Friday 13th September.

Tickets for the festival are available via the World Stage Design Festival website.

The Programme

9.30am Creu Cymru Emergence (presentation)
The Creu Cymru Emergence project is working in partnership with Julie’s Bicycle, Cardiff University and Cynnal Cymru to support a network of eighteen theatres and arts centres across Wales. The project aims to effect behaviour change and enable the participants to become more resilient by considering the challenges and opportunities of making sustainability intrinsic to their thinking and practice.
This session is designed to look at the way networks and collaboration can enhance sustainable practice, it will be an opportunity to share best practice, find out more about the Creu Cymru Emergence project and discuss some of the specific challenges facing theatres and arts centres.

1.30pm Doin’ Dirt Time (performance)
Emergence presents a performance of Suzi Gablik’s Doin’ Dirt Time. This provocative performance raises questions about the traditional role of the arts in society, as two artists dedicate themselves to a radical new art form: living life as a sacred act. An experiment in future-oriented, stripped-back theatre by Fern Smith, Philip Ralph and Rhodri Thomas.

2.30pm World Café (participatory inquiry)
Emergence facilitates a ‘World Café’ conversation which focuses on the role of the arts and artists as change-makers. This will be an invaluable opportunity to meet and share with other designers, theatre makers, producing and receiving houses and to follow a line of enquiry in an open, honest and structured manner.

4.30pm Walking to the Summit (film)
Shot in mid Wales at the 2012 Emergence Summit and the Centre for Alternative Technology, Walking to the Summit is a beautifully-composed film which captures the movement and the stillness of a journey, and the breathtaking beauty of the country through which it moves.
The Emergence Summit brought together artists and pioneers to ‘create the future,’ visioning a world in which people and the planet matter as the top priority. Walking to the Summit is a fascinating document of the group of forty artists who made a commitment to stand up for sustainability by walking the Emergence Land Journey, traversing some of the most challenging and least-inhabited areas of Wales.


“I love the fact that when we talk about what inspires us we always start with the very personal”

World Café participant

“Watching the film of ‘Walking to the Summit’ made me feel as though I was right there. It takes you on such a journey”




Doin’ Dirt Time

Emergence presents a provocative performance questioning the role of arts in society. Written by Suzi Gablik this piece asks the question ‘what role does art have in a time of great change?’ as two sculptors reject the art world in favour of learning how to live life as a prayer, developing new skills for life on earth.

An Emergence collaborative project performed by Philip Ralph, Fern Smith and Guest Artist.
Based on a transcript of an astonishing interview by internationally renowned arts commentator Suzi Gablik in her book Conversations Before the End Of Time.

In “Doin’ Dirt Time” Gablik speaks to Rachel Dutton and Rob Olds, two celebrated American artists who have made the decision to give away all their artworks and possessions.
Following the interview they disappeared into the American wilderness, after an intensive study of tracking and survival skills. This powerful piece questions the role of the arts in society as the two protagonists explain their reasons for not only stepping out of the art world but also stepping out of society itself. They fundamentally question the traditional role of the artist in society, articulating their desire to live life as a sacred act rather than to simply document it.
Fern Smith & Philip Ralph play Dutton and Olds. Fern Smith is founder member of Volcano Theatre and co-initiator and collaborator on Emergence. Philip Ralph trained as an actor before turning to writing. His first play Deep Cut won the Amnesty Freedom of Expression Award in 2009. Smith & Ralph are real life partners finding their way and deeply inspired by Dutton and Olds themselves.

Each time the piece is performed it is done with a different guest artist – someone who has taken steps to bring their life, work and commitment to sustainability more in alignment.
Jason Benson, Sarah Woods, Emily Hinshelwood, Rhodri Thomas, Tom Payne, Carys Shannon and Lucy Neal have all taken the role of Suzie Gablik in past performances. Doin’ Dirt Time offers the unique opportunity of a collaboration between an invited performance and resident or local artists.

Doin’ Dirt Time is performed with the blessing of Suzi Gablik and in some way is intended to bring new audiences to Gablik’s inspirational body of work – essential reading for artists, activists and anyone interested in the role of the arts in co-creating the future. Doin’ Dirt Time is itself an experiment in simplicity, a stripped-back theatre which dispenses with the smoke and mirrors of performance in order to focus on the essentials… It uses a fascinating technique pioneered by Alecky Blythe of Recorded Delivery Theatre, in which actors interpret verbatim recordings in real time. Following the performance which lasts roughly 30 minutes there is an opportunity to engage in a discussion regarding the themes arising from the interview…

Past tour of Doin Dirt Time
February/March 2013
Volcano Theatre, Swansea, Wales

April 2013
Tyn yr Helyg Theatre Barn, Llanrhystud, Ceredigion, Wales

July 7th
Woodland Pavilion Machynnleth

August 17th
Dark Mountain Festival, Hampshire

September 13th
World Stage Design Festival, Cardiff

Forthcoming Dates 2013
October 2nd
Coastal Currents Arts Festival, Hastings

Interested in hosting Doin’ Dirt Time?
If you are interested in presenting Doin’ Dirt Time contact Fern Smith on


“What do we want to have learned by the time we die?”

Rachel Dutton

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

Suzi Gablik



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.

Very small is very beautiful, Emergence comes back down to earth after the enormity of the Emergence Summit.

After the exhausting but exhilarating enormity of the Summit it became evident that a much smaller, follow up event was inevitable. The research and planning of the Summit, indeed any large-scale project takes a long time (in this case one year), on reflection it can be said that an equal amount of time was needed after the event to truly understand and assimilate what had happened. Perhaps only then could we learn from what we had done and build on it.

The immediate aftermath of the Summit included an array of tidy up activities: the extended ‘get-out.’ These included returning borrowed/hired equipment (from everywhere!), writing and responding to evaluations, attending to budgetary headaches, writing those important gratitude emails to everyone who made it possible and spending time remembering what exactly we did….

Working on the Summit had taken almost a year of research, fundraising and organisation. This in itself did not feel sustainable and if artists only focus on the big events then the everyday process of living, breathing and connecting goes unnoticed or undone. In order to make sense of what was happening, we sought conversations with fellow travellers. Some of these had attended the Summit and some hadn’t but they had all made some important life choice to live and make their work more sustainably.

We kept wanting to ask everyone we met the same question – ‘how do you live…knowing what you know, what decisions have you taken about how you live?’ We were haunted by questions….How might we be artists AND address the important issues of our time? Or do we have to give up our art in order to focus on what needs to be done at this critical time in our planet’s history? How can we find balance? How can we remain embodied, creative and expansive at a time where everything is speeding up and an air of desperation and overwhelm is often seen all around us?’

With all these questions and more in mind the maxim ‘Small is beautiful’ (EF Schumacher) came to the fore. What about taking this to its ultimate extreme – very small is very beautiful?!

We decided to invite a small group of people to spend a day in one another’s company in the most sustainable place – our home. We gathered a small group together in the hope of supporting one another in our attempt to face an unknown and uncertain future.

On the 18th December 2012 we held the Emergence micro-conference: ‘Bringing it Back Home’. The intention was to organise a day of sharing conversation, concerns, sustenance and activities in a domestic and intimate setting. The activities could be connected to ‘creating positive visions of a sustainable future’ or they could just be enjoyable, creative shared activities. Throughout the day there were opportunities to participate in, or to lead,  small group sessions that took place in breakout spaces – the living room, kitchen, spare room and office of a small terraced house. The invitation went out to those who had attended the Summit locally and those who had worked on it from further afield. Trusting in Emergence – uncertain outcomes, interconnectivity, developing resilience, creating a learning supportive community- this is what we committed to and hoped to give our guest delegates.

Ten people accepted the invitation. The kitchen table became the podium, the group self-organised and the day emerged with people sharing where they were since the big gathering at the Centre for
Alternative Technology
. This was followed by clay working, craniosacral sessions, a skype presentation from Gary Anderson of the Institute of the Art & Practice of Dissent at Home as ‘artist not-in-residence,’ a walk, feasting on home-made food and the making of christmas decorations.

‘It felt like planting a tree – or at least a seedling. We can all do that – continue the conversation. I believe they change lives.’ Fern Smith


“Workshops, discussions, screenings, performance- all in a terraced house. As E.F. Schumacher might have put it- ‘small is absolutely beautiful’”

Philip Ralph

“Emergence…from the macro to the micro – conferences in houses are the way to go in terms of creating human-scale sustainable events!”

Fern Smith



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’. 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 which can be downloaded below. 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’.


“What will my mortgage payment be?

What will my baby look like?

What will the iphone6 have?

What will we do in heaven?

What will be will be”

Sarah Woods & Richard Gott

“Hope was the thing – that was what got tested through the week for me I think. I’d started out by trying to think about hope – how or if you can distinguish it from blind faith, or stubborn, irrational courage, or pie-in-the-sky. And where the line is


“A Taste for the Sea” – A guided tour of Anywhere You Like

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.


“I felt in touch with something into which I could dissolve while simultaneously becoming more of what I am”

Micki Schloessingk (requoting Antjle Krog)

What you put on was kind-of -impossible and I loved that about it.

I’m really moved by the whole thing itself, the idea of it, the intention of it, the goodness in it, the warmth of it.. I loved the vulnerability and I enjoyed thinking that through while chewing over Rob Newman’s beautiful bits..(!) I loved the whole thing and am still loving it now, today as I write this.. Doesn’t mean I approved of everything – but that goes without saying anyway.”



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.


“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.”

Simon Whitehead

“Only a week has passed but the city is steadily rising up to drown the quiet hills. I can feel the land drift from my body like smoke. The walk is becoming a memory. But it’s a memory that has changed me forever. Great shifts have happened in me. I’m noticing changes in my character. Having been so happy with a bare minimum of possessions in all weathers, I now feel slightly bemused by, and less attached to, all the things my house is crammed with. I’m asking myself what I really need.”

Ansuman Biswas



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”