Sharing at the Royal College of Art UK why ecoliteracy is crucial for creative practice, design and the cultural sector

A few weeks ago I was thrilled to be asked to give a keynote lecture for the Doctoral Training Intensive Programme at the Royal College of Art, London.

It was an unexpected call from Dr Catherine Dormor – Head of Research Programmes at the Royal College of Art (UK), who I had met briefly many years ago when she came to Ireland shortly after she completed her PhD. She gave a talk to doctoral candidates where I was studying for my Creative Practice-led PhD, at the National College of Art & Design (NCAD), Dublin, Ireland. Her creative presentation of her work for her PhD was inspiring, although we work in different fields (Catherine explores fascinating connections between textiles and mathematics ).

Catherine asked me to talk to RCA doctoral candidates in both art and design about how my creative endeavours led to my practice-led PhD work entitled The Ecological Turn… (2018). My doctoral work explains why and how embedded-in-place ecological art practice – regularly promote agency for behaviour change in practitioners and audiences, for sustainability. She was keen that I share how my methodology developed for my doctoral arguments, and also, what post-doctoral directions had evolved for me.

Image from my online talk: Here, I was talking about how my doctoral methodology developed. I was fortunate that the late Dr Chris Seeley advised me to look at action research and her and her colleague Prof Peter Reason’s recent work on action research as an accessible methodology to explain the cyclical steps for emergent, sustainable living through creative social inquiry. This helped me consider how creative ecological art practitioners and their audiences similarly undertake diverse activities and sharing to develop their ecoliteracy and agency for behaviours change for wiser, sustainable living. For me, action research was a tried and trusted methodology and was key so I could more easily explain the social power of my and others’ embedded-in-place creative-led ecological practices.

So I took this opportunity to give two talks in one hour: in the first half-hour I spoke to why ecoliteracy (ecological literacy) is crucial for creative practitioners, designers and the cultural sector to give an overarching context for my work and to share the momentous global education shift toward sustainability that all in the creative sector should be aware of; in the second half, I spoke about my journey from an earlier career in science, to working with visionary Irish ecological forestry NGOs, that helped me reflect on the social potential of ecological creative practices to advance community agency, in my case to embrace ecological forestry, for wiser, sustainable living.

It was fantastic, although a nerve-wracking experience, to present all of this in an accessible way. I also shared creative ecologically-informed work by others from all art fields that I see arising across the creative sector in Ireland.*

For my presentation, I decided on two aims: I wanted to emphasise why ecoliteracy and guiding, inclusive holistic ecosocial values, like the UNESCO twice-endorsed Earth Charter**, the integrated ethical framework developed over recent decades as an unprecedented civil society document, are of immense value to the creative sector and perhaps to the Royal College as a whole. From my perspective, many institutions and cultural policymakers appear unaware of the radical whole-of-institute, whole-of-sector educational reframing – that ecological understanding and just sustainability urgently prioritises. Most importantly, I wanted to encourage the doctoral candidates listening to my talk. Because, my work post-PhD as an independent ecological artist-educator-consultant advisor, is incredibly rewarding and perhaps in a modest way, culture-shifting work that was impossible to imagine prior to gaining my PhD.

I shared the inspiring work of creative people skilled in grief literacy and compassion. I briefly shared that such prosocial skills are fundamental to support all individuals who desire a sustaining, healthy and meaningful career in the creative sector in these challenging times.

Thank you Catherine for this extraordinary invitation. It was a real pleasure to connect with you, the college and your learners. I’m heartened by the interest in this topic from such a leading cultural institution. Also, to meet cultural researchers who rightly intuit that urgent fundamental change is needed across the education landscape. We all face an enormous cultural shift to reenchant and reimagine education so it deeply instil within us a sustainability-justice mindset so our creativity always advances personal-collective-planetary wellbeing.

PS I ended my talk by sharing the beautiful filmpoem by Irish-based English poet Grace Wells” Bainis Righi – the High King Speaks (2021). I just had to end with the deep wisdom that was part of my ancestors’ heritage.

Watch Banais Righi here

* Irish-based ecofluent creatives I mentioned: Carole Nelson (music), Grace Wells (poetry), Paola Catizone and the new Breaking Cover Collective (performance art), Dr Marilyn Lennon (community artist) and Tom Duffy (multidisciplinary artist-teacher) who has creatively employed the Little Earth Charter to engage children in a just sustainability (these skilled creatives have become more ecoliterate and supported following the online ecoliteracy and values education courses that I offer with my wonderful philosopher colleague Dr Nikos Patedakis of

**Post-PhD, following an Irish Arts Council 2020 Professional Development award, I’m now also an accredited Earth Charter Educator and alumna of Earth Charter International, who hosts the UNESCO Chair for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).

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