Women of the Winter Solstice 2020

A Geographically Spread

Socially Distanced RitualArtworK

curated by Fern Smith

Monday 21st December 2020

Women marking the moment of the 2020 Winter Solstice…

Thirty DIY Ceremonies to mark the Solstice, the Great Conjunction and the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius…

More 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

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.


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.


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”




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 – 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.”



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…