…Climate change: the challenge to cultural heritage”
This was the name of an activity I attended last week at The Royal Institution. The event was organised as part of EGOR: Environmental Guidelines Opportunities and Risks research cluster, which was sponsored by the AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage Research Programme (the same programme sponsoring my PhD). The event was organised to “encourage the audience to think more deeply about the complex issues relating to heritage, the effects of climate change and the threats it poses to survival”. And if that was the aim, I think they succeeded.
It was a different kind of event to what I would normally expect, bringing different elements that you would not normally expect to see used in such a manner. I think it could have gone seriously wrong. Luckily it didn’t…And if the aim was to encourage the audience to think [...], I think they succeeded.
So what was different? And how could it have gone wrong?
The main focus of the event was probably a performance…yes, a performance…by Kandu Arts For Sustainable
Kandu works with individuals and groups across the statutory and third sectors, with businesses and industry to assist in understanding social, environmental and economic impacts and responsibility in effecting positive, sustainable change. Using their unique methodology encompassing creative arts and personal development, Kandu contributes to policy development at local and national levels.
So how did they do this? The way they went round to achieving this was by first presenting a 5-10minute play. This they then repeated with one difference: the audience was asked to intervene where they thought they should by calling freeze and explaining what they would change. But did the audience participate?
The play was divided into two:
First half: Half-way through the ‘first-half’ the programme manager for the Science and Heritage Programme for the AHRC intervened to make a comment. The actors followed her changes (sort of! The ‘mother’ in the play was not happy with her suggestion of having a shower rather than a bath not to waste water ) and the performance continued. End of the first half…no other intervention. But just as the first half ended, one man intervened, going quite a bit back…and the floodgates of comments opened…what was on the verge of becoming a very awkward time turned into a hilarious and fun event which was also thought-provoking. The people were participating, and the actors were keeping us entertained as they dealt with the comments put to them and new discussion threads they needed to continue (whilst keeping in character!).
Second half: The second half continued much in the same vein as the end of the first half…the banter continued with freezing of freezes, and people getting over-freezed and what-not freezed. However, what definitely emerged from this was the real complexity of the issues at hand: Is safeguarding artefacts in a museum essential should we be in a situation of low power availability? What makes an artefact important for safekeeping and others not? It was also definitely entertaining seeing both my supervisors (who are also the principal and co-investigators for this research cluster) and the head of the centre I am based in, dragged down to the ‘stage’ (the location was similar to an amphitheatre) to take part in the performance and interact with the actors to bring their point across.
After a while however it was time out for all comments, as we moved on to the next part of the programme. This involved a person playing a stringed instrument he has built himself (cannot remember the name…if anyone is reading this who was there and remembers, leave a comment!), followed by a presentation by Dr Jonathan Ashley-Smith, former Head of Conservation at the V&A who spoke about the challenges of environmental guidelines.
All in all, a successful event, especially considering that I wasn’t even going to go! I had received e-mails and been told about it, but for some reason I didn’t note it down in my calendar, so it just slipped my mind. Luckily on the day a colleague at TNA e-mailed me to tell me she had an extra ticket if I wanted to join them, so off I went. So thanks Sarah…and thank you all for your enlightening discussions which I had the opportunity to experience!
You can read more about Climate Change and the Heritage Environment in the following reports:
Report commissioned by English Heritage.
Report by UNESCO