“ECOLITERACY – is the ability to understand the unprecedented and profound cultural challenges an ecological worldview advances.”
Ecological artist, educator and researcher Cathy Fitzgerald PhD, explains why ecological insights must revolutionise our education and why ecoliteracy is particularly important for the creative sector
From a human-centric (anthropocentric) to ecocentric worldview
To advance a life-sustaining ecological paradigm–of how we MUST live well with the Earth and its other inhabitants in perpetuity–necessitates a radical vision for modern culture.
The ecological crisis is a profound cultural crisis–with ancient historical roots. The earliest stories of the dominant culture reveal the ecocidal error of seeing humanity as separate and superior from the wider community of life.
(when all the activity of how we live together – our language, artistic, spiritual and heritage activity) has so alienated modern society from the wider community of life.
Human privilege, that has society blindly pursuing never-ending economic growth over functioning ecosystems.The suffering insist that we challenge the cultural stories, the human-centrism,
Ecoliteracy is a big topic!
To really grasp the enormity of this cultural shift means realising humanity’s thriving is interdependent with healthy ecosystems– embracing ecological philosophy, ethics, law, psychology, science and economics is essential.
Ecoliteracy challenges our current education priorities.
Ecoliteracy is not optional–it is beyond urgent!
Correspondingly, cultural activity has a huge role to reverse modern society ecological autism.
The symptoms of the ‘great acceleration’ reveal the systemic nature of the ecological catastrophe: climate breakdown, degraded soils, warming seas, increasing pandemics.
We all have a responsibility to become more informed, and especially in the cultural sector
In the creative sector, ecoliteracy–is poor. Historic disciplinary divisions that separate science–from the arts and humanities–means ecoliteracy is not currently prioritised in art education.
However, the cultural sector has a crucial role to help diverse communities reflect and envision ecological living where ecosocial concerns are advanced holitistically.
Why does the language we use matter?
Imprecise use of words like ‘nature’, ‘landscape’, ‘environment’ perpetuate our alienation from the wider community of life.
Use of ecocentric language is essential to overcome the grave error of our culture that humanity is separate, and somehow more important that the living world.
Similarly, cultural activity will be superficial if uncritical use of concepts of ‘sustainability’, ‘sustainable development’, ‘resilience’ ignores important political and historical contexts .
‘The Hollywood Forest Story: Placemaking for the Symbiocene’ (Fitzgerald, 2020) in The Routledge Handbook of Placemaking (Ed. Cara Courage)
When we use these words unskillfully we perpetuate the dominant culture’s erroneous idea that nature is separate and less than humanity. The dominant culture is ecocidal because of this humancentric (anthropocentric) bias. This flaw in our culture means that environmental wellbeing is usually bracketed out of our discourse, our cultural policy.
While it is challenging, it is necessary to move to ecocentric language to promote awareness that humanity’s thriving is interlinked with ecosystems’ thriving. In other words, bracketing out the environment in our discourse, in our cultural policy, cannot continue if we want to prioritise healthy ecosystems. These ecosystems are vital for others and future generations.
Too often the media and cultural policy portrays the ecological catastrophe through a single lens of climate breakdown or species loss –instead of more skilfully articulating that the situation arises from our culture’s historic and systemic alienation from life.
Cathy’s research and writing skills evolved through her doctoral-level research in ecological art practice (The Ecological Turn, 2018) and her ongoing review of advances in the emergent art and ecology field, and her earlier career in writing scientific reports. Cathy has read widely across the art and ecology, ecocriticism, ecophilosophy and environmental ethics fields over many years. Her first art article was based on her undergraduate Fine Art thesis ‘Science and the Eclipse of the Earth’ (CIRCA, 2001).
Cathy’s advanced ecoliteracy and academic knowledge of environmental art, art and science, ecological art practice, ecocriticism, eco-philosophy, environmental ethics, can assist you in developing leading research and written articles, and design effective calls for exhibitions, art programmes and projects that aim to effectively address eco-social issues.
Expertise for designing Eco-Social Art-Led Community Programmes:
Cathy also offers advice and writing on clear and accessible theory-method frameworks to guide art-workers or art-managers on how to develop successful long-term art-led community programmes that address urgent eco-social issues.
Increasingly art-led eco-social art programmes, led by local artists who accrue deep ecological knowledge of their place, who build relationships with community and local scientific, environmental and traditional knowledge holders, local educators and others, will be valued to engage communities to live well within rural or urban areas.
Due to the ecological emergency, Cathy predicts there will be an unavoidable shift in the creative sector to prioritise embedded-in-place, eco-social art activity over years, over the production of ‘new work’ as currently prioritised by many Art Councils. Harnessing the creativity of communities to safeguard their places, will be an urgent and community building response to the environmental catastrophe. Correspondingly, it will be essential to support creatives, who over years, amass valuable ecoliteracy (ecological knowledge) of their places. Perhaps a model will develop to value long-term creative residencies and thus support those art practitioners who develop rich ‘ecologies of practice (deeper relations between communities and their places)’ over the current emphasis of bringing outside artists to areas for short periods. Short residencies, at present, only allow superficial examination of ecological systems and do not foster deep community awareness for place. In some ways, as other researchers have noted, creatives working for places and community will have roles akin to those in Indigenous cultures, who reminded their communities of the beauty and preciousness of the environment through traditional creative activity.
In her home area, Cathy advises and supports local Carlow-based artists on the successful eco-social framework for the Creative Ireland Carlow Drummin bog school art programme (2019) see here. Cathy will be writing a significant document for future art activity for the area surrounding Carlow Drummin Bog following a significant Creative Ireland Award (2020-21).
Art & Sustainability Cultural Policy Research Expertise:
Cathy was awarded a Carlow Arts Office Award in 2016 to develop a research study on the absence of art and sustainability policy in Carlow, and which soon became a review of the lack of policy, strategy and educational and financial supports for the Irish arts sector as a whole.
Her report and online summary can be seen here.
Cathy was asked to present this research by Professors Karen Till, Gerry Kearns, Geography Dept, Maynooth University for the 50th Conference of Irish Geographers in May 2018 and lead a workshop on the topic ‘Raising the Shining, Reflective Shield’: the urgent need for cultural policy to engage Irish civil society toward eco-social well-being (Fitzgerald, 2018).
‘Raising the Shining, Reflective Shield’: the urgent need for cultural policy to engage Irish civil society toward eco-social well-being (Fitzgerald, 2019, Galway Moore Institute).
In June 2019, Dr. Nessa Cronin, Irish Studies, National University of Galway, asked Cathy to present a talk about her own eco-social art practice gave her growing awareness that Ireland’s art sectors requires art and sustainability policy and supports (see audiovisual slideshow here).
In this presentation, she led a conversation with local Galway art practitioners and academics ahead of the 7th EUGeo Conference, with support from her PhD supervisor Dr. Iain Biggs, Bath University UK, Research Centre for Environmental Humanities Fellow and Professors Karen Till and Gerry Kearns.