Creating Community at a Creative Climate Retreat

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In August of 2016, we gathered a group of 15 artists, designers, audio producers, researchers, videographers, programmers, and other creative and engaged people at a big rambling, possibly-haunted house in upstate New York with one big goal: Through a weekend of conversation, thought experiments and creative exercises, we wanted to come up with some new ideas for communicating climate change.

This project was funded by Invoking the Pause’s “Blossoming Possibilities” grant, and it brought together independent radio producers Josephine Holtzman and Isaac Kestenbaum, co-creators of the ITP-incubated project Winters Past, as well as Tara DePorte of the Human Impacts Institute. While the three of us have worked together in the past, this was the first time that we were given the opportunity to conceive and carry out a project of our own.

We spent several months planning—often communicating over three different time zones, with Isaac in Alaska, Josie in New York City, and Tara in Marseille. This was the first time any of us had organized a retreat, so we had a lot to figure out: from the perfect mix of people, to scheduling the weekend to figuring out logistics for food and transportation.

When the weekend finally came, we drove most of our attendees in a giant rented van from New York City to the Catskills. The retreat began with an overview of the current climate communication landscape—what’s working and what isn’t—and then divided into smaller groups to come up with new ways of telling climate stories. The groups gathered twice to present and get feedback. We also made time for bonfires, and swimming trips to a waterfall on the property, to ensure there would be serendipitous exchanges between the attendees.

There were many new ideas generated and explored over the course of the weekend. Some highlights include:

  • A “climate confessional booth” where people who are environmentally conscious but have guilt or uncertainty about their actions (i.e. they throw away batteries or don’t know what they can do to make a difference in their day-to-day activities) can confess their “sins” and then be forgiven and given action steps towards “redemption”

  • A climate-dating function where people are paired based solely on their response to climate-related questions.

  • A virtual-reality interactive experience where individuals are able to make decisions about the climate and watch the consequences play out immediately in an immersive virtual environment, including 5.1 sound systems and projection mapping

  • A new hashtag #whatIdidntbuy, which encourages people to share things that they ended up not purchasing, as a way to discourage wasteful consumerism.

Many of these concepts could be a good fit for the Human Impact Institute’s Creative Climate Awards, an annual series of events that showcase artists creating climate-inspired, public works and actions. In an effort to inspire us to think more critically about our actions and their impacts, the Creative Climate Awards program uses the arts and creativity to share knowledge, broaden the climate conversation, educate, and incite action.

We’re also hoping to continue the work started at the retreat by facilitating a series of “meet-ups” with the creative climate summit crew (as well as invited guests) to share both ideas and skills.

Lastly, we are aiming to make another Creative Climate Summit happen next year. Our previous ITP projects were much more production-based, and it was a great experience to finally be able to Invoke a true Pause.

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