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Report: Key Change – our research into how artists contribute to change

ballads vs laws

Key Change

Our research into how artists contribute to change

Musicians have played a vital role in helping to drive social change since time immemorial. In the early stages of establishing Green Music Australia, we wanted to understand as much as possible about the theory and practice of art for social change.

With the support of Dr Matthew Rimmer from the Australian National University’s College of Law, and his Australian Research Council grant to look at intellectual property and climate change, we investigated the role of the creative industries in climate change action, through a deep literature review and a series of interviews.

Key Change, the result of this research, comes to several main conclusions:

Firstly, the arts have already played a role in this movement for change, albeit one which is surprisingly limited. Secondly, there is an important function for the arts in framing climate change and climate action, priming people to accept those frames, triggering emotional engagement with the issue, and bringing the distant problems and inconceivable solutions close to home. Thirdly, the arts can assist through their long practice of bringing issues to public attention in such a way as to recruit and mobilise support for action, building identity amongst people in a way that helps create and maintain a strong movement for change. And fourthly, there is a critically important role for the arts in helping to reshape our culture so it can face up to the challenge, in leading by example and embodying cultural change, as well as simply by embodying values that support and buttress care for each other and the environment which sustains us.

On the flipside, it is also clear that there are risks related to artistic involvement. One is that art can become a placebo for, or contain, more important personal and political activity. Another is that there are difficulties surrounding the role of artists, particularly celebrities, as messengers, and a third is that artists face potential legal risks form deep involvement. Finally, the problems of greenwash and tokenism must be avoided.

Fundamentally, the risks to both art and cause can be managed, and the benefits to both increased, by thoughtful engagement with the theory and practice.

If you would like to use any part of this research, or discuss it with us, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Read Key Change here.

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