ART FOR CHANGE: Transformative learning and youth empowerment in a changing climate
In an article published in Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, Julia Bentz and Karen O'Brien explore the role of art as a driver for societal transformation in a changing climate and consider how an experiment with change can facilitate reflection on relationships between individual change and systems change.
Young people represent a powerful force for social change, and they have an important role to play in climate change responses. However, empowering young people to be “systems changers” is not straightforward. It is particularly challenging within educational systems that prioritize instrumental learning over critical thinking and creative actions. History has shown that by creating novel spaces for reflexivity and experimentation, the arts have played a role in shifting mindsets and opening up new political horizons. In this paper, we explore the role of art as a driver for societal transformation in a changing climate and consider how an experiment with change can facilitate reflection on relationships between individual change and systems change. Following a review of the literature on transformations, transformative learning and the role of art, we describe an experiment with change carried out with students at an Art High School in Lisbon, Portugal, which involved choosing one sustainable behavior and adopting it for 30 days. A transformative program encouraged regular reflection and group discussions. During the experiment, students started developing an art project about his or her experience with change. The results show that a transformative learning approach that engages students with art can support critical thinking and climate change awareness, new perspectives and a sense of empowerment. Experiential, arts-based approaches also have the potential to create direct and indirect effects beyond the involved participants. We conclude that climate-related art projects can serve as more than a form of science communication. They represent a process of opening up imaginative spaces where audiences can move more freely and reconsider the role of humans as responsible beings with agency and a stake in sustainability transformations.