Pinning down 2020

This year time has stretched out like elastic to make this the longest year in memory, yet seen from another angle has sprung back to make it feel as short as three months. I thought I would go back over that elastic year and put some pins in it to get a proper grasp on how it felt, what happened and what I achieved. It could be a tale of two years, the one that actually happened and the one that was supposed to happen, but I think I’ll focus on the reality.

January

In my role with Flow Associates, I was planning focus groups to scope a National Visual Arts youth programme, for Arts Council of England and ArtFund. I was also running focus groups with Londoners to inform displays and interpretation for the new Museum of London.

In Climate Museum UK, we’d only just registered as a CIC and were getting lots of enquiries and commissions. We delivered a pop-up and family workshop as part of the Royal Academy’s Eco Visionaries exhibition.

Earth First City design challenge

We began our enquiry as winners of the Activist Museum award.

We delivered four workshops for different groups of professionals, using our creative tools and games, including being part of the OneGreenGov conference.

In Culture Declares Emergency, we were meeting with Tate about their plans for a season of events on the climate emergency, gearing up for COP26 to be in Glasgow in 2020.

February

This was another busy month. In Flow Associates we were working with several clients including Scarborough Museums Trust, University of Oxford, Milton Keynes Gallery, Corali and Southbank Centre.

In Climate Museum UK, the enquiries were growing. I delivered three creative workshops for Kings College London, one for students, one for the public and one for attendees at a conference inspired by Kate McMillan’s Lost Girl exhibition.

In Culture Declares, we had a presence at the hum-dinging We Make Tomorrow summit. We also began a process of strategic review.

I was getting excited about a fortnight of travel by train in France, Italy and Spain — to speak at a conference in Milan and to visit environmental museums, but the news from Northern Italy was sounding ominous.

March

Flow’s co-director Susanne Buck went on maternity leave, and I was tying up a number of reports. I decided to cancel my travel plans, thinking I’d be able to go later in the year.

In Climate Museum UK, we delivered a teacher training session and workshops for schools for the Hayward Gallery’s Among the Trees exhibition. See this account by artist James Aldridge, who led on this project. Our first iteration of the Print It Yourself display was piloted in Huddersfield at a high street pop-up for Kirklees Declares.

Print It Yourself display — first draft at Huddersfield

But then the cancellations started to come in: 5 workshops, 3 festival appearances, a planned summer commission…on and on. Lockdown began.

I began a lot of mending projects at home, and devised the Time to Mend campaign.

I also embarked on this extensive accounting of the links between the pandemic and the planetary emergency.

I created some collages to explore degenerative and regenerative culture

April

Although still working on Flow projects, the CMUK cancellations had given me more time to spend on creative projects. See these Creative Challenges that I devised, carried out and shared.

Collaborative drawing under way in our kitchen

In Culture Declares, we launched the Offer, regular online events to explore and share culture in response to the Earth crisis.

May

In CMUK, we were transitioning our activities more online.

For example, I delivered a virtual pop-up, a training session with staff of the Morton Arboretum. They printed out games and card-sets I sent them. I gave an introductory talk then left them to play, then returned for feedback.

We began a new online collecting project, Extreme Weather Stories.

The Urban Tree Festival went online, and we delivered a week of Acts of Tree Kindness.

June

The number of Zooms was growing exponentially — so many networks and conferences I wouldn’t have been able to join if I was to travel. Meanwhile, lockdown conditions were easing.

My Mum died at the end of May and I hadn’t been able to visit her, but at least I could travel to Norfolk for her small funeral and woodland burial. This month was a time of reflection and healing, as well as arranging a funeral and dealing with my Mum’s affairs.

I’d joined Kith and Kin, a deep mentoring programme with Mac Macartney, and was carrying out a number of practices and tasks, and getting to know the others in the group.

July

I was able to attend a weekend camp hosted by Wild Rumpus in lieu of the postponed Timber Festival. I was immensely grateful for the chance to be walking in woods and camping under trees, and learning about them too in a variety of creative ways with other artists. We (CMUK) will be creating a Wild Museum as part of the Timber Festival in 2021.

The Treehouse at the Wild Rumpus Whirligig site

In CMUK we held an event on Being an Activist Museum worker, with Museum as Muck and Journey to Justice. The recording is here.

In Flow, I was evaluating the Megacity London project by Guerilla Science.

I wrote this piece urging us to acknowledge the worsening Earth crisis and seek the Possible Path when planning to ‘build back better’ after the pandemic.

August

In CMUK we were working on our pitch to the Prize to Reimagine Museums for Climate Action, and found it a really useful process to envisage our emergence as a mychorrizal network of practitioners.

For our Activist Museum award we ran a session on how digital tools could help museums join up to serve climate & environmental activism. This led to our digital vision for climate engagement.

In Flow, I published this comprehensive analysis of future drivers of change affecting the cultural and educational sectors in the UK. I wrote it before the zoonotic pandemic, which I had included in the foresights. Or read this overview, which concludes that organisations can face the challenges by:

  • Being Salutogenic motivated first by wellbeing not wealth
  • Being Anticipatory — think about Drivers for Change, and imagine them playing out.
  • Being Precautionary — take seriously all possible threats, and make decisions on the principle that if any action might cause harm don’t do it.
  • Increasing the diversity of voices — to help anticipate positive futures or be precautionary about threats.
  • Focus on creating conditions for positive change

In Culture Declares, we began a season called Culture Takes Action — motivating more cultural practitioners to declare emergency and share their practice, and supporting protests and calls to Government to back the Climate & Ecological Emergency Bill. I wrote my Letter to Power, as #LettersToPower was part of this season.

September

I made my only pandemic-era trip into central London this year, for September Rebellion. America’s forests were on fire, so I worked on this invitation and compilation of voices of Extreme Weather Stories, focusing on the fires.

In CMUK, we developed a Design Playbook and applied it to the next version of our Print It Yourself display. This was installed as part of the Innsbruck Nature Festival.

Lewisham Council funded CMUK to deliver some Creative Climate Conversations with Lewisham residents. We managed to deliver one in the real world, but the rest will have to be online. See here for sessions coming up.

Workshop with Climate Action Lewisham

October

This was a busy month of online conferences, for example, speaking alongside Rob Hopkins about the ecological imagination for the Green Christian festival. For the Cosmia Festival, I explained my idea of Possitopia.

In CMUK we contributed to the Big Draw, the annual drawing festival which this year focused on climate. We produced weekly challenges and ran an online event ‘What can drawing do for the climate?

I also took part in Inktober. Here are my daily ink drawings.

Hope

November

A month of lockdown, so I caught up with reading and films. I was reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and thinking about indigeneity.

In Flow, new clients included the Buckinghamshire Cultural Education Partnership, and evaluations for the Southbank Centre (Art by Post) and the Oxford Christmas Lights Festival.

In CMUK, we were producing teaching resources for A New Direction — for London schools — exploring links between colonialism and the Earth crisis.

And I did several more talks and online workshops, including one for We Are Museums — Towards Regenerative Cultures in Museums.

December

This was a month of two halves: funding bids and pitches, then a full two weeks off for Christmas in which I’ve been working on a book. The book is called Find Your Flow and Change the World, and it’s really coming along.

One of the funding bids was for the British Council climate commission, for which we focused on a project about future skills for young people. You can see my thoughts here about Future-facing Vocations. Also, my book is aimed at younger people, giving them visual tools and exercises to develop these capacities.

Overall

I’ve had a lucky year compared to many people. I’ve had only one close bereavement. I’ve kept healthy. I’ve gained a little extra time but have continued to do paid work (although less paid than usual). I’ve made some trips into rural places. Not being able to go out to socialise has coincided with a time in my life when I’d really rather not anyway. I’m grateful to all my colleagues in Flow, CMUK and Culture Declares, and my wider network for all their challenges and support.

Next year, I’ll hopefully be just as fulfilled but not quite so busy. I hope Climate Museum UK will grow in capacity and gain core funding, and that we can be closely involved in initiatives such as Lewisham Borough of Culture and cultural work around COP26. And that my book is finally ready to share with you all!

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