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UK galleries, theatres and arts bodies declare climate change emergency 03.04.19

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Climate change protest London ICON

Some of the UK’s biggest cultural institutions today marched through central London to draw attention to their declaration of a ‘climate emergency.’

More than 190 arts and culture institutions marched along the river Thames from Somerset House, carrying banners and being led by a horse to represent the protest’s attempt to draw attention to culture’s relationship to nature.

Around 150 people marched along the river, including the director of Somerset House Jonathan Reekie and executive director of the Royal Court Theatre, Lucy Davies. Within the march, several people wore living grass coats created by visual artists Ackroyd & Harvey, gathering on the Soutbank to declare the ‘climate and ecological emergency’ and draw attention to the impact of climate change. The march is part of a wider action by the cultural sector, with organisations including Somerset House, Battersea Arts Centre, Cardboard Citizens, HOME in Manchester, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and Jerwood Arts signing up to  support the protest and a further day of nationwide action on Friday 12 April.

Many of the organisations involved have pledged to take action to reduce their impact on the environment and respond to the climate emergency. Brighton's ONCA Gallery has committed to try and reduce its CO2 emissions to net zero by 2025 and Invisible Dust, an environmental organisation, is planning to use the visual arts to try and reach more people about the impact of climate change.

Culture climate change protest London ICON

Davies, of the Royal Court Theatre, said, 'The Royal Court is declaring because we have a long-standing commitment to sustainability and producing climate plays and we want to be part of ramping up the urgency. We are committed to using our spaces and our platform to doing so.'

The organisers of the action said they were inspired by Extinction Rebellion, a group that has organised traffic-stopping protests in London and a recent semi-nude protest within the House of Commons, and the School Strike for Climate Change. Bridget McKenzie, cultural consultant and one of the organisers, said that the Culture Declares Emergency movement is about 'solidarity with all those affected by the climate and ecological emergency. It is the first of many waves of artists and cultural organisations announcing their intentions. It begins in London, a place implicated with the extractive and colonial histories that have led us to this emergency but it is also a place rich with culture that can be turned towards the task of reimagining how we relate to one another and the living planet.'

The subject of design and its impact on the environment and nature is gaining traction in the industry, with the Triennale in Milan, which opened in March, dedicated to the topic of Broken Nature, reviewed in Icon 191. The exhibition there features a number of designs and concepts that question the relationship between materials and nature, including a biodegradable burial pod and furniture made from computer waste.

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