BC Makers' Lab connects artists and academics for climate advocacy

Although the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES) and UBC's many art galleries are only a five-minute walk from each other, researchers and artists can seem to be in different worlds entirely. Dr. Leila Harris and artistic director Kendra Fanconi aim to change that. Harris and Fanconi are working to create a collaborative space for BC-based artists and academics to collaborate called the Makers’ Lab, highlighting themes of loss, trauma and climate anxiety.

Artists and academics will form pairs to collaborate on an area of interest that both are passionate about. Fanconi will choose artists from the Artist Brigade, a project of the theatre company The Only Animal, which seeks to connect humans with nature through immersive performance art.

“The Artist Brigade consists of 100 artists across BC who have a diversity of lived climate experiences, and intersectional identities from equity-seeking communities," said Fanconi. "They are people who hold part of the climate story and are from a variety of stages of careers, all kinds of different disciplines from video game makers, photographers, painters, dancers."

Sophie Wolfe in The Only Animal's piece Slime
Sophie Wolfe in The Only Animal's piece Slime Donald Lee / The Only Animal

Harris will choose researchers from the UBC Centre for Climate Justice and the Public Humanities Hub. From there, there will be an open call for people who resonate with the aims of this project and would like to collaborate with artists. The Peter Wall Institute awarded the project a grant through the Catalyst Collaboration Fund.

Multimedia artist and animator Wen Wen Lu has already joined the project. Lu studies how ancient Chinese calligraphy embeds the value of nature into family lineages. Through workshops, They hopes to engage families in discussions about the origins of their name signs and what it reveals about the landscapes of their ancestors.

The aim of this project is to not only spark behavioural changes and discussion regarding the climate crisis but spark change at the level of value and identity, which aims to produce consistent behavioural changes within society.

Harris also hopes that the project will serve as a catalyst for these artists and academics to form a long-term collaboration and hopefully create more projects together.

Fanconi explained that there has been a common conception for the past 40 years that people only need more objective facts in order to be inspired to create change, called “the information deficit model” of advocacy. But without clear pathways to action and creative tools to process difficult shifts, it’s easy to become “paralyzed with climate grief.”

“Art has a unique proposition — we are able to affect people on the level of identity and values through feelings and stories," said Fanconi. "In those ways, the arts are uniquely positioned to help people melt this climate anxiety and mobilize their actions."