Case for Optimism events
Case for Optimism is a one day workshop for cultural practitioners to deepen their creative response to the sustainability challenges of our time: A space where we can appreciate the world we have, hear difficult information by “welcoming in elephants into the room” , imagine possible futures, exchange stories of our time, rehearse for change and find our roles. All in the full believe that creativity is a potent force in the forging of new sustainable futures
About the events
The Case For Optimism is for leaders in arts and cultural sector and those who are seeking a creative response to the great transitions of our time - the ongoing financial crisis, the end of the oil age and other resource depletion and the challenge of climate change. The day-long event offers participants context, a chance to reflect on both their personal role and a collective role for the arts and cultural sector and creative processes to explore and imagine response.
This process consciously connects the personal to the professional to help individuals identify a sense of creative agency
Past participants have includee artistic directors, producers, artists, writers, museum directors, curators, thinkers, activists, educators and policy makers energy specialists, psychologists
Case for Optimism sprang into being in response to the complete silence that met a question on art and sustainability at a national arts leadership conference in 2011. Thirteen events later, over 300 people across England, Wales and mainland Europe have experienced an evolving Case for Optimism. We respectfully draw on a range of approaches and practices –particularly those of Joanna Macy, John Fox, the Transition movement and Encounters-Arts. C4O is co-convened by Hilary Jennings, Lucy Neal and Teo Greenstreet.
Research and background
The Case For Optimism (C4O) starts from the premise that:
to imagine a positive sustainable future is a creative act in itself and
the spaces that support collective engagement with such a process require well-crafted skills drawing on social sculpture, theatre, ceremony, facilitation, improvisation and an emergent expertise in backcasting and visioning.
The Case for Optimism is strongly influenced and builds on “the Work that Reconnects” developed by deep ecologist and philosopher Joanna Macy and her conception of the great transition see www.joannamacy.net and www.greatturningtimes.org.uk.
It is also influenced by the work of the vernacular artist John Fox, and artist Joseph Beuys whose theories of social sculpture described how transforming society is an artwork in itself.
Case for Optimism is informed by and part of a broad change movement that recognises the vitality of creativity of arts and culture, including energy strategists such as CAT (www.zcb2030.com) social and community change structures such as Transition Town Network (www.tranistionnetwork.org ) , economic approaches including NEF’s great transition (www.neweconomics.org ) , campaign networks such as wwf and their work on values and frames (www.valuesandframes.org.uk ) and arts based initiatives such as www.tippingpoint.org.uk
The pilot Case for Optimism event was made possible with support from Clore Leadership Programme and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.
Who we are
C4O is devised and delivered by Hilary Jennings Teo Greenstreet, and Lucy Neal with guest experts including Paul Allen, Director of CAT and Zero Carbon Britain. The development of their practice brings together a very considerable range of experience over 33 years, gained from engagement in the arts cultural and sustainability sectors.
A Summary from recent publication Playing for Time: making art as if the earth matters
You’ve signed up, ready to unpack and repack your own Case for Optimism. At first glance, the room seems set up for a rehearsal. A circle of chairs, thick black drapes pulled back to let the sun in. A table invitingly set with art materials. You are one of 25 participants – artists, producers, transitioners, growers, curators, writers, activists, educators, policy makers, energy specialists and psychologists.
Co-convenors Teo, Hilary and Lucy reveal how the day works. A morning of bringing elephants into the room – the hard facts of the challenges we face, then a vision of a possible 2030. An afternoon to unearth what holds us back and might take us forward to that future.
“Chief elephant handler” Paul Allen Director at CAT (Centre for Alternative Technology) begins by telling the Story of Energy and People, and explains how a zero carbon Britain by 2030 is really possible. You get a visceral sense of how a cultural shift is the flip side of the technical fix to the same energy story we all face. Locally based Food Policy specialist prof. Tim Lang offers their perspective on the challenges we face.
These stories feed our imaginations and leave us wondering what 2030 might feel, touch, smell like. We spend some time visioning a future, starting from identifying four steps that brought each of us here into this room, together, right now.
Next, on a huge roll of brown paper we create a room sized tree as metaphor, where fruit represents vision, roots are our sources of identity, journey and experience, and the trunk is the means or blocks to fruition. It’s a speedy spontaneous process on hands and knees, scribing wherever we find space.
We’re led back from lunch by the sound of Paul Allen’s penny whistle to a quiet room with two circles of chairs. We’re introduced to a Joanna Macy exercise to imagine a conversation with people seven generations into the future. It’s surprisingly easy to do, and good to hear their sympathy for the dilemmas we’re facing, and appreciation of the steps we’ve had to take.
After all that, what is my role? A chance to work it out now through playing with no less than cardboard and string, and creating what turns out to be a pop-up gallery of our collective insights and ideas of what our roles and responsibilities are and might be.
Finally, the repacking begins. We recap our day’s journey. What’s one thing I am going to take away with me? “sense of trajectory”, I declare.