15 November 2022

Arts and Culture for a Climate of Change

Cultural crisis

An ecological crisis represents a global cultural emergency. Thus, the cultural sector should take concrete action. Responsibility for counteraction and prevention of catastrophic effects of climate change require the recalibration of crucial functions, meanings, and contestations that define arts and culture. In parallel, with their powerful role in addressing relevant and fundamental matters in society, arts and culture can articulate problems, inspire people to act, and change their mindset and behaviour. However, many countries still lack ecological sustainability policies designed for the cultural sector and financing for environmentally friendly arts and cultural practices. Moreover, as already very precarious fields, arts and culture need systemic support to act on the ecological crisis. Philanthropy institutions can play a decisive role in providing this support.

Impact on environment

Due to their low carbon footprint, culture and arts were not considered relevant to the environmental crisis. Moreover, the European Green Deal also did not recognise culture as pertinent for preserving the environment and promoting ecological sustainability issues. Nevertheless, arts and culture make an impact on the environment. There is an increasing volume of data on the carbon footprint and other ecological effects in film, music, visual arts, cultural heritage and the festival industry that arise from the transport of artists and artworks, electricity, heating, waste, and other activities. The issue of the mutual impacts of climate change effects on arts and culture and vice versa has not been receiving sufficient attention despite the fact, for example, that environmental change has had a massive negative impact on cultural heritage and cultural rights across the globe. However, it seems that the pandemic has brought a change in this area. A growing number of practitioners, experts, and policy actors talk about the importance of the role of arts and culture in the environmental crisis. The joint discussions have already launched multiple and diverse actions towards advocating sustainability and environmental responsibility with the intention to reduce the damage from eco-breakdown and protect the world.

Multiple dimensions of culture

The role of culture and art in the struggle against climate change is multifaceted. The cultural sector can make many positive environmental changes, reshaping its modes of functioning, governing policies and management processes. Arts and culture are a public good, and citizens should have access to cultural content, participate and contribute to it. This enables the arts and cultural sector, with its wide outreach to diverse profiles of communities and audiences, to have a positive influence on sustainable habits and behaviour. Equally important is the power of artistic work and expression that can raise awareness of ecological crisis issues and encourage people to reflect and change their daily practices. Although works of art cannot change the policies of governments and corporations, they can influence them, being a powerful critical voice and a call to make decisions and act responsibly towards preventing further environmental destruction.

Towards climate neutrality

The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the deficits of the arts and cultural sector in the sense of resources, and yet arts and culture infrastructure has shown how resilient and adaptable the sector is despite those deficits. In the context of the EU, strategic orientation toward the green transition, the need for rapid changes, and the shift of the daily way of working, it is crucial to take into account the unstable working conditions in culture; the insufficient support and investments for their ecological transition; and the limited knowledge and capacities of actors in culture. Ensuring the long-term provision of financial incentives is imperative for achieving such a cultural adaptation (such as using ground public transport and car sharing in cross-border mobility, environmental impact measurements, energy-efficient equipment, the use of local materials and products, reuse of materials, etc.). New knowledge and skills are needed, enabling cultural sector actors to understand the environmental urgency and build their capacity to take creative and effective measures following sustainable practices. In this way, they will become resistant to the negative impacts of climate change and other consequences of environmental destruction, and change their ways of working, thereby ensuring a rapid shift of the cultural sector towards a climate-neutral sector.

The role of philanthropy

This short exploration summarises the main reasons and motive behind the decision by Philea’s Arts and Culture Thematic Network to focus on building links between the environment and arts and culture. The opening of this topic through the sharing of knowledge and practices and joint consideration of what can be done now will encourage further actions by those art and culture foundations that are already active. Foundations that have not yet joined these efforts will be motivated and inspired by the practice of their colleagues and more aware of how important a role they can play in the transition of the cultural sector towards a sustainable world. Without strategic and long-term support of national cultural policy in many countries for cultural transition, engagement of arts and culture foundations may represent an excellent opportunity for them to show how vital and relevant their investment in arts and culture is. Nevertheless, recognising the enormous disparities between countries in available sustainable infrastructure and transportation as well as in supporting environmentally friendly practices, arts and culture foundations must develop and implement environmental policies based on climate justice, fair treatment, and affirmation of the decolonial perspective.

Take action now

I invite arts and culture foundations to take action and join us in changing policies and grantmaking systems and investing in cultural transition toward sustainability. Time is running out.

What can philanthropy do? Philanthropy institutions can:

  • Create green policies for their foundations
  • Advocate for green cultural policies and their implementation, nationally and internationally
  • Integrate green criteria in the grantmaking process
  • Protect cultural heritage and cultural rights from the negative impact of climate change
  • Invest in cultural adaptation (creation, production, distributions, infrastructure, events)
  • Support arts that address the eco-crisis

Philea’s Arts and Culture Thematic Network encourages arts and culture foundations to play an irreplaceable role in this transition.


Dea Vidović
Director, Kultura Nova Foundation