The pioneer Emergence conference at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. The arts sector in Wales came together to share ideas, ask questions and get practical tools for more sustainable practice.
“Are we anywhere near the sort of carbon descent that science demands?” Paul Allen
Emergence launches with a conference in Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, October 2010.
Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
October 2010 felt the right time to launch Emergence. There was a sense of momentum after the survey, support from British Council Wales and a very positive meeting with Arts Council of Wales, so any delay would have lost valuable time.
At this stage Emergence had not yet secured funding. The first event in Cardiff relied greatly on the goodwill of contributors and the faith of the organisers, Fern Smith & Rhodri Thomas. Paul Allen (CAT) and Alison Tickell (Julies Bicycle) gave their time for free as did John McGrath (National Theatre Wales). James Tyson the then theatre programmer also gave Emergence the use of the venue Chapter Arts Centre gratis.
Many fingers were crossed that there would be sufficient take-up to make the event possible. As an arts-led event, Emergence gave what available funds there were to contributing artists who received small honoraria and expenses for taking part. This was done to show a conscious exception to the historical expectation that artists give their time for free. Paul Emmanuel who had just been awarded Welsh Artist of the Year exhibited his ‘sheep fleece paintings’ and Martin Powell a young poet who had recently made a splash at the Resurgence Festival gave impassioned readings of his work. This set a precedent in that all Emergence gatherings should honour the creative space, presence and contribution of art.
This first Emergence event was ‘Setting the Context’, looking at where we were, what was known and what was already developing. Emergence was influenced by the presence of the new strategy ‘One Wales: One Planet’, so for this conference it was important to hear from the Welsh Government on this potentially ground-breaking policy document. ‘One Wales: One Planet’ called for Wales to use ‘it’s fair share of resources’ as opposed to the three planet’s worth of resources currently used globally. Huw Charles’ presentation became the reference point for the rest of the conference and attendees were keen to actively engage with the strategy.
This was a signal that art does have to engage – to make itself relevant, visible and active in sustainability. Paul Allen, the leading figure behind the Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero Carbon Britain report – an ambitious and impeccably-researched practical report which focuses on ‘powering up’ renewable energy/sustainable initiatives and powering down wasteful ways of living/exploitative production methods. Paul’s presentation was a magnificent success. There was a real sense of people being enormously affected by the information he was presenting in terms of the scale of climate change and resource depletion. This information was truly landing and making a palpable impact on those in the room. Alison Tickell from Julie’s Bicycle made a likewise positive impression with an empowering presentation on tools enabling artists to practically address the sustainability agenda.
The day was largely a typical conference format but had an informality and energy and for some a surprising honesty and openness in conversations which began to unfold as the day went on. The afternoon ended with a session based on ‘world café’ conversations led by Jenny MacKewn. Delegates were invited to flow between small groups taking questions and information with them from table to table, cross-pollinating information gathered. Important questions were raised – what inspires us, what sustains us and what is each of us doing in our own practices to further the agenda? A good place to start. Emergence was encouraged by the amount of people who came, the conversations – their honesty and openness throughout the day. Arts practitioners can sometimes not necessarily be the most open and welcoming – often there is a hierarchy and entrenched power inequalities between the funded and the not, presenters and makers, freelancers and companies. Anecdotally the nature of the interactions at Emergence was more trusting, vulnerable and open than might typically be the case. Attendees were speaking about something that noone had the answer to and everyone was searching and trying to make sense of the issues in their own way. A good beginning…