Space for Change (2019)


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.


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.


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.


Bringing It All Back Home

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


The Summit 2012 – 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.


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”


Caernarfon Conference – Resilience

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

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

21st March 2011
Galeri, Caernarfon

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

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

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

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


Swansea Conference – Connection

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

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

January 31st 2011
Volcano Theatre, Swansea

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

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

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

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

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

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



Cardiff Conference – Context

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

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

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

October, 2010
Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

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

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

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

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

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

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