Using the power of art to communicate on nature and climate

Reporting by Matteo Bizzotto, Junior Communications Officer, and Adél Strydom, Communications Officer: Climate Change, Energy and Resilience

Most of the messages reaching us about environmental degradation and climate change have a looming, threatening rhetoric. Rising greenhouse gas emissions are melting glaciers, the world is experiencing mass extinctions, and extreme meteorological events linked to climate change are hitting communities throughout the world.

It is not difficult to understand how people can become saturated by such daily messages, leading to feelings of disengagement and disempowerment. For decades, scientists have been using doomsday rhetoric to warn the world about environmental degradation and climate change. But what if there were a different way to engage citizens on the issues of climate and nature? Artists have long engaged with the greatest challenges of each epoch, and today we see an uptick in the examples of artists engaging with the environmental problems we face. Cities, too, can use art as a way to engage with their residents and move them to action and empowerment.

Beethoven inspiring environmental protection

In 2020 the world will celebrate the 250th birth’s anniversary of classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven was a much complex, multifaceted figure, remembered as a visionary, a humanist, a man of the Enlightenment and of details. He embodied the strength to overcome huge obstacles, such as his declining hearing restricting his perception of the surroundings. And he was a nature lover. His was a love so deep that he sonically depicted it in his 6th Symphony, the Pastoral.

Beyond its sublime musical aspect, the Pastoral arguably embodies an early advocacy tool in favor of environmental protection: Beethoven’s time, in fact, saw the inception of modern pollution, such as industries’ contamination and ecosystems’ exploitation and alteration, which was a harsh reality to accept by someone who used to find peace and inspiration in the countryside of Vienna.

Alongside partners like ICLEI, the UN Climate Change and the Earth Day Network, the Beethoven Pastoral Project aims to contribute to the global mobilization in favor of a sustainable future for humanity, engaging people with a message of hope. Indeed, the power of music to transcend language, social and geographical barriers and reach audiences with a positive and accessible message is one of the goal of the Project.

ICLEI President Ashok Sridaran, Mayor of Bonn, has invited cities around the world to engage with the Beethoven Pastoral Project: “The Beethoven Pastoral Project will bring sustainability, culture and music together: between the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on 22 April and World Environment Day on 5 June, musicians worldwide are invited to create a performance of the Pastoral, and cities are invited to host their own events.”

Through performances and artistic presentations linking the Pastoral Symphony to the theme “living in harmony with nature,” musicians, artists and youths can contribute to shape a powerful statement for environmental protection and sustainable development. The Beethoven Pastoral Project publicly displays uploaded performances, reaching its peak on 5 June 2020 (World Environment Day) with live celebrations of the Pastoral throughout the world.

Vibrant mural brings colorful nature to Dar es Salaam

In Ilala Municipality, Dar es Salaam, large open green spaces are few and far between. Pockets of land left open by city planners have quickly become improvised street markets, informal dwellings or even waste dumping areas.

Cement covers much of the surrounding environment, while the city experiences pressure of affordable housing shortages, overstress on the public infrastructure and mounting inequity.

But the Urban Natural Assets: Rivers for Life project, one of ICLEI Africa’s flagship biodiversity projects, is aiming to raise awareness of the value of urban nature by using the language that speaks to all – art.

A striking new mural is getting people, especially the youth, talking about nature in the midst of streets flooded with old buses, cars and vans. With the support of the experienced mural artist Skumbuzo Salman, the mural has quickly become something more than a five-by-five-meter artwork showing how nature can brighten the neighborhood. It now serves as an opportunity to train local Tanzanian artists, building their skills with the aim of replicating such a successful story.

“The painting experience has been nothing short of amazing, with the only challenge (for me) being the insane Tanzanian heat,” explained Mr. Salman. “Luckily businesses close by let us use their umbrellas and provided us with a constant flow of ice cold water.”

The goal of the mural is to instill in city planners a vision to include green spaces in the city, empowering local communities to access nature’s benefits. It is a daily reminder to consider nature when designing the future in Dar es Salaam.

The UNA Rivers Project aims to protect nature in cities by mainstreaming it into city planning so green spaces become a priority to city planners. The project was designed by ICLEI’s Cities Biodiversity Center and project partners SwedBio, Stockholm Resilience Center, JRS-Foundation, Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), and the African Center for Cities. This program has been enabled through generous funding from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) through SwedBio at Stockholm Resilience Centre.

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