Pan-African network for the arts in environmentally sustainable development

Abstract

This project uses the arts as a way to facilitate communication between citizens and policy actors, on issues of environmentally sustainable development. The project will establish a network of people across Africa to trial this, learn about how it works in different places, and even achieve policy impact in relation to live environmental issues that concern them.


It draws on two previously funded AHRC projects. In our previous projects, we found that various art forms, including song and music, photography, sculpture and plays, can be used to facilitate dialogue between citizens and policy actors. Often, policy actors communicate directives ‘down’ to citizens, citizens communicate concerns directly ‘up’ to policy actors, or citizens agitate through art to create public pressure on policy actors. Rarely, co-creation of understanding between these actors may take place.


The project will create a network of people across five countries: Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Ghana and Kenya. We will bring together artists, citizen groups, researchers and policy actors from each country. These network members will organise national level workshops, each one based on a specific theme of concern to environmentally sustainable development. These include: changes to pastoral livelihoods in the contexts of climate change, the role of apiculture, flooding, desertification, and farming in the context of sea level rise. The theme running through these issues is development in the context of climate change. Artists will facilitate an artistic or cultural activity, such as production of a song or photographs, through which citizens and policy actors will share ideas and perspectives on these issues. They will work towards specific policy actions that need to happen. The exact format each workshop will take is decided at national level by the workshop participants before and during the workshop. It will be guided by the work we did in previous projects.
We will share our national level artworks on a group digital space, and have an online dialogue session where all international participants learn about each other’s experiences. This will help us all understand what worked in different places and how, and the different roles the arts can play in facilitating communication between citizens and policy. We will actively invite other groups to view our works, attend our online exhibition/ performances, and join our network by sharing their own experiences


This is a truly novel activity, especially in our study contexts, and it has the potential to engender powerful changes. Academic research has begun to consider the role of the arts and humanities in building and understanding climate change scenarios, and the different meanings people ascribe to different environmental futures. But, these approaches are fairly new in the East and West African contexts, and have not been widely applied to other environmental issues or beyond scenario building. The work therefore has potential to make significant changes. It will also be challenging: our former work found that entrenched hierarchies and sectoral silos can prevent transdisciplinary change. This work will show whether these need to be challenged for the arts to make policy impact.


The website hosting our outputs will remain live after the project lifetime. The network will continue to function through it, meaning that this work can go on to develop into other national or international projects, and have enduring impact.