Engaging Communities in the Conversation about Climate Change

Here at rare, we were thrilled to partner with Community Renewable Energy WaterlooDivest Waterloo and BRIDGE Centre for Architecture and Design to host ArtCOP21 Waterloo Region at rare‘s North House to show an interactive screening of Beyond Crisis videos and a sneak preview of the Beyond Crisis film.

According to ArtCOP21 organizers, ArtCOP21 was an initiative started to spark inspiration and conversation surrounding climate change, in alignment with the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21). Climate change is often seen through a policy or scientific lens, and solutions are discussed only in political offices, boardrooms and negotiating halls. ArtCOP21, launched ahead of the UN climate talks in Paris, aimed to challenge those tropes. Climate is culture. What is required is the active engagement of citizens worldwide in the urgency, value and opportunities of a transition away from fossil fuels and the embracing of a greener, sustainable future economy.

ArtCOP21 has connected hundreds of thousands of people to the climate challenge through an extensive global programme of over 290 major events: art installations, plays, exhibitions, concerts, performances, talks, conferences, workshops, family events and screenings – plus a whole range of people power gatherings and demonstrations – taking place right across Paris and worldwide.

Beyond Crisis director Kai Reimer, who is originally from Kitchener, was able to skype in from Indian for an interactive discussion about his work on the film. After this night of discussion and debate at North House, Kai took some time to reflect on his experience of ArtCOP21. Please enjoy Kai Reimer’s reflection on ArtCop21.


Our earth's thin atmosphere

ArtCOP21 came at a very interesting time in my life. Not long ago, I made a decision to move to India to be with my spouse and animator for our documentary film series Beyond Crisis, and was worried this would mean losing our connection to Canada and to the vibrant climate community that exists there. I am glad to have been proven wrong so far on that front.

In the lead-up to COP21, like many people I think I was feeling a bit lost – uncertain what to do in connection to this huge, world-changing event. I was not going to be in Paris like some of my friends, demonstrating and providing much-needed pressure for action; instead, fate had led me to one of the world’s most polluted cities of New Delhi. I was (and still am) in the midst of completing our team’s first documentary film, while adjusting to a very foreign environment. While COP21 feels very big and important to my own life, it’s become clear that for many other people, it isn’t. How do we change that, connecting action on climate change to each of our daily lives? Art and storytelling are both great ways to “break the silence”, and get people talking.

When you think about climate change, a whole range of thoughts and feelings inevitably come to the surface. Sorting out our personal feelings and opinions is critical as we move through this time of great change, if we are to make the best decisions going forwards. Good storytelling, discussion and art practice can all help encourage people to open up and talk about the complex, often frightening natures of change within a safe environment, expanding and challenging our opinions. Such experiences of profound discussion and reflection on the issues at stake can be transformative, which I was happy to see from ArtCOP21 [at rare] as it evolved into a space for conversation and community engagement. Skyping in to talk with the audience directly from India, for example, was an unreal experience, opening my own mind to how an audience responds to our work in a public setting, and the questions that are raised.

ArtCOP21 at North House

Having gone through this experience, I believe it’s critical that going forwards we work to create more and more such “safe spaces” for deep discussion of change. Just imagine how much better the world would be dealing with climate change already today if many more spaces like rare existed! It is a simple step forwards that we could all be doing in our living rooms, church basements, businesses and schools to try and grow awareness, and action.

And this, in the end, is what Beyond Crisis is meant to help facilitate: growing the range of what is “socially acceptable” to talk about on climate, until talking about these issues becomes simply commonplace. At times, we push our work one step further by also connecting it directly to specific actions one can take, but this always starts from the belief that informed discussion and reflection are both very important precursors to action. Not shying away from the facts, and where they might lead you, is a prerequisite to transformation.

The short pieces we’ve created that were exhibited at ArtCOP21 are designed to help this process along. From pieces that ease the viewer into the issues, to ones that challenge and shake up your senses, we’re working to develop a wide range of material that can serve as an entry point into almost any conversation you can think of connected to climate. We believe now more than ever is the time to make these conversations happen, and are open to partnering with others interested in using our work as a tool for change. To reach a tipping point of transformation towards a brighter, clean energy future, we need to be willing to talk about it. ArtCOP21 was certainly a great test of this exciting new model for engagement, and a great place to start.



For more information about Beyond Crisis 

For more information about COP21

For more information about ArtCOP21

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