Salzburg Global Seminar

The creative sector has played a significant role in efforts to raise awareness of the impacts of climate change and encourage sustainable social, economic, and environmental practices worldwide. Many artists and cultural organizations have embarked on remarkable projects that make us reflect on our behaviors, our carbon footprints, and the claims of infinite growth based on finite resources. Sometimes treading a fine line between arts and advocacy, they have sparked extraordinary collaborations that reveal new ways of living together on a shared planet.

The ‘art of the possible’ will become even more relevant as 2016 dawns – bringing the challenge of how to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and the Climate Change Agreement due for adoption by end 2015. Yet with negotiations overshadowed by scientific controversy, political polemic and geographic polarization, individuals can easily lose faith in their own ability to shape change beyond the hyperlocal level. Against this challenging backdrop, could the arts and creative practice become a particle accelerator – to shift mindsets, embrace new ways of sharing space and resources, and catalyze more creative leadership in the public and private spheres?

The goal of this Salzburg Global Seminar session is to build on path-breaking cultural initiatives to advance international and cross-sectoral links between existing arts and sustainability activities around the world, encourage bolder awareness-raising efforts, and recommend strategic approaches for making innovative grassroots to scale for greater, longer-term impact.

Target Audience

To this end, Salzburg Global will convene a group of sixty practitioners and thinkers committed to promoting social, economic, and environmental sustainability through the arts and cultural innovation. Participants from around the globe will span different sectors – from artists, designers, architects and creative entrepreneurs to politicians, decision-makers, environmentalists, urban planners, educators, scientists, game developers, community leaders, philanthropists, scholars, and business leaders. Practitioners will represent a broad spectrum of cultural expression and artistic endeavor – including visual arts, performing arts, literature, cultural heritage, foods, fashion, architecture, and design and will come from diverse arts organizations including theaters, music organizations, museums and cultural heritage institutions. Participants will exchange ideas and experience, spur new collaborations, and brainstorm recommendations for catalyzing broader public engagement, responsible business practices and bolder, more innovative policy-making.

Session Format

The highly interactive program will combine theory, policy and practice across sectoral silos, opening up new perspectives and intensive learning opportunities. Participants will grapple with key questions around best practices in promoting sustainability through the arts during short plenary sessions featuring expert presentations, demonstrations and debate. They will then work flexibly in small groups to deepen practical discussions and problem-solving, developing new tools and approaches for future work and collaboration in the areas of urban design and planning, cultural policy development, education, creative industries, research, advocacy, public engagement, and shifts in consumer behavior.

Key Themes and Question

Some of the main themes and critical questions that will be the focus of the plenary presentations and discussions include the following:

Artists Catalyzing Change
What remarkable arts-based projects around sustainability have startled and moved people and broken through barriers to inspire lasting change? What can be learned from these groundbreaking stories and ideas, and is it possible to transfer these insights to other contexts, replicate them and/or take them to scale?  Can we identify best practices and pre-conditions for success?

Designs on Beauty
What are stunning examples of “sustainable design” from around the world –at the consumer product level and from the realms of fashion, architecture and urban design? How can cutting-edge sustainable design become more accessible, affordable, and widely replicated? How can environmental and social sustainability be better incorporated into educational models and professional training and degree programs going forward?

Tipping Points: Raising Awareness, Engaging the Public, and Changing Behavior
Environmental messaging often comes across as ‘doom ‘n gloom’ to communicate urgency, which can be counterproductive to the extraordinary range of citizen- and community-led initiatives seeking to drive change. Cultural innovators, whose work is rooted in collaboration, have deep understanding of opportunities in place and space and can broker alternative forms of messaging, diplomacy and conflict transformation. How can we harness the power of the arts to interpret complexity and communicate the deep importance of natural systems in order to play an even more important role in promoting awareness, particularly through education?

People and Planet: Connecting Stewardship, Justice and Prosperity
Much is written about “people, profit, and planet” or the “triple bottom line,” but despite major efforts, unsustainable patterns of production and consumption still dominate the global economy and rising inequality dominates the headlines. With creative industries growing fast in value and prominence, could this sector become a multiplier to shift consumer behaviors, accelerate equitable labor practices and responsible sourcing and enhance a sense of global citizenship? Does their power to capture our imagination carry a unique responsibility as well as economic opportunity?

Sustainability and the City
Given the dramatic urbanization trends we are already witnessing in the 21st Century, cities and their leaders and citizens will need to become even more important drivers of sustainability in the future. What cities have already embraced the efforts of artists and the creative sector to catalyze this process? How can more cities, mayors, municipalities and citizens be encouraged to follow suit? What evidence is available regarding the impact of empathetic social design upon community cohesion, health and wellbeing? What examples of best practice particularly with respect to urban planning and public space have emerged and how can they be replicated or adapted elsewhere?

Forging New Alliances and Partnerships for Exponential Change
Many arts councils and cultural organizations and ministries have made great progress in incorporating sustainability into their own policies, practices, and investments.  At the same time, they have lobbied with some success to include culture in the Sustainable Development Goals.and in climate change agreements Looking forward, how can artists, arts councils, and cultural institutions around the world take these internal and external successes to the next level? How can we encourage new creative alliances and unusual partnerships for exponential change?

Program Goals and Outcomes

  • To facilitate dialogue, exchange and new forms of networking and collaboration between the cultural sector and representatives of other sectors working in the areas of sustainability, including policymakers, private sector representatives, NGO leaders, scholars, and the media.
  • To raise greater awareness of the unique and often underestimated role of the arts in promoting sustainable strategies and accelerate transformative change by adding culture to the “Triple Bottom Line” equation to achieve “Quadruple Bottom Line” thinking,
  • To share learning from Salzburg Global through reporting from the session (blogs, newsletters, substantive report) with a broad, international group of stakeholders, and
  • To inspire, incubate, and catalyze several creative and unorthodox projects, networks, and partnerships at the nexus of the arts and sustainability over the next five years, particularly with a view to engaging the broader Salzburg Global Fellowship and taking great innovative ideas to scale.