Climate, creative arts and our city

Tone Lanzillo

As a musician and composer, I have often experienced the transformative power of music.

Over the years, music has given me a place to explore such issues as love, relationships, death and aging, and very often has provided a vehicle to mentally and emotionally process the world around me.

More recently, I have wondered how the creative arts (including poetry, the visual arts and music) could possibly help us gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the various impacts that climate change will have on our current and future lives, and then compel you and I to act.

In 2018, the Stockholm Resilience Centre reported that a team of researchers analyzed hundreds of climate-related art projects and initiatives from around the world, and the results showed that there was an increased “climate change engagement,” especially with the narrative, visual and performing arts. From the use of “participating drama” to understand sources of vulnerability, risks and resilience in communities in Kenya to an art installation in the Iberian Peninsula to explore extreme climate change and engaging the audience to imagine plural futures, the report showed that art can “challenge things that tend to be taken for granted,” and thereby, lead to new ways to perceive, understand and act upon climate change.

In his book The Ecological Thought, Timothy Morton wrote, “Art’s ambiguous, vague qualities will help us think things that remain difficult to put into words.” While we are inundated with more facts and figures about the climate crisis with each passing day, it is often very difficult for us to put into words what we are thinking and how we are feeling about this existential threat facing all of us. And yet, maybe, it will be the poets, artists and musicians who can help us explore our deepest emotions and, at the same time, examine how we can process what is happening to the planet.

Recently, I received an email about an upcoming global campaign – Culture x Climate 2020 – that is exploring how our culture and the arts can engage the public in addressing climate change. One of their coordinators stated that they didn’t have any groups participating from Minnesota and inquired if there may be any interest in Duluth to join the campaign. After speaking to several friends, we said “yes.”

During the week of November 16-22, “Culture x Climate: Duluth” plans to present and highlight a number of poets, artists, musicians and others from our local creative arts community who are exploring the environment and climate change through their artwork and craft.

There will be an exhibit of artwork and poetry in the windows of Zeitgeist. The Zenith Bookstore and Public Library will present books on climate change for adults and children on social media. KUMD and PACT-TV will be interviewing artists and poets who are participating in this project. The Duluth/365 climate initiative, as well as other climate and environmental groups, will be posting information about various poets, artists, musicians and photographers on social media. There will be a Facebook event and discussion about the creative arts community and climate change on Nov. 17. And there will be a new blog providing information on the creative arts and climate change.

This project will hopefully illustrate how important the creative arts are to the quality of life in Duluth. And just as significantly, show how the creative arts can be used as a very valuable and meaningful tool to engage, educate and empower our citizens to address climate change.

According to Art For Adaptation, a project funded by the Portuguese Foundation of Service and Technology, the arts have the potential to challenge current thinking on climate change by presenting new ways of approaching complex problems.

Art has the capacity to not only raise awareness but also to “use creativity in addressing complex issues, support reflectivity and act as a conduit for cultural renewal.”

By providing creative ways of integrating the “practical, personal and political dimensions of climate change,” art may contribute to more successful adaptation strategies to address climate change.

Their Art for Change program aims to empower young people by exploring new climate narratives and solutions, help to visualize the connection between global climate change and their daily actions, and reflect on the “implications of individual and collective change towards more sustainable forms of living.”

In order for Duluth to move forward into the future, all of our city’s stakeholders and citizens must gain a better understanding and greater insight into how climate change will impact every phase of our individual and collective lives.

And we need a vibrant creative arts community in Duluth to help all of us become emotionally grounded and mentally prepared for some very difficult and challenging days ahead.

Tone Lanzillo is the coordinator of the Duluth/365 project, asking people to engage in climate change actions within the next 365 days. For information email