I believe there is an inextricable link between sustainability and the arts and that understanding the nature of this link is central to our ability to achieve development goals.
I understand sustainable development as being about making the best use of our resources to achieve long term goals.
There are plenty of examples of how creativity can help us make the best use of the physical resources of the planet but I’m not going to focus on these because, however, powerful though these arguments are, they may obscure a very important point: that our best resources are our people.
It’s true that we make very poor use of our physical, financial and environmental resources but we are particularly wasteful of our human resources. The way we let talent go to waste is shocking. Surely the real benefit scandal is the that we are prepared to spend so much money on maintaining dependency and inequality of opportunity? Far too many people are trapped in a vicious cycle of low expectations, poor quality services, and increasing dependency.
What has this to do with the arts? Well, it’s been said that the purpose of development is to enable people to live long, healthy and creative lives. Surely then we are entitled to ask what is the point of a long and healthy life if it is not also a creative or productive life?
Creativity can be seen as the goal of sustainable development, the need to break the cycle of dependency that causes people to live productive lives. Creativity can also be how we achieve development. Art has the power to arrest this cycle and replace it with a positive spiral of increasing capability, agency and hope.
Art can help us all discover our unique creative voice, a voice that is ours because of, and not in spite of, who we are. It can instil the self belief, self-respect and self esteem that are essential for any one of us to develop our capability to affect change in our lives and communities.
Human development involves fostering independence and undermining dependence. This is why I support people to take creative challenges that enable us to engage with our own creative practice. Having a creative challenge to work on ensures that our art is an active and not a passive process – with a creative challenge we are actively engaged in our own creative development.
It is also important to recognise the long-term nature of development. Development is not a quick fix, it is a long-term commitment that involves lots of small steps towards a long-term goal. It is about finding ways to fulfil our creative potential. It is also a collective commitment, a process we can all engage with and that we need to support each other to engage with. We all have a unique potential that we can only reach if there are people around us that believe in us, if we believe in each other. Supporting each other to take creative challenges keeps us moving towards our long-term goals.
Planning is an essential part of sustainable development in both the short and the long-run. Plans can and should change but it’s important to have some idea of what we are working towards so that we can achieve long term goals. Plans are also important in the short-run as understanding what each of us is looking for helps us equal, creative collaborations that foster independence and undermine dependence.
We can design creative challenges and projects that build capabilities – the building blocks of long-term development. Without this focus on capability development we can easily find ourselves building dependence rather than fostering independence. It’s natural when we’re working with people to want to feel important, to believe we are making a difference however anything we do to assert our own importance is likely to foster dependence and undermine other people’s capability and agency. We are much more likely to fall into this trap if we are not clear what we are trying to achieve, or what other people are looking for.
I find it helps to see sustainable development as a process of creative collaboration in which we are all seeking to build our capabilities. This is not a competitive, zero sum, process, far from it. Supporting other people’s development is an essential part of my development, the more I am engaged with my own creative development the more I am able to support others to build their creative capability.
Everything we do can build capability for ourselves and others. So, let’s support each other to take creative challenges, develop collaborative projects and implement long term plans – so that we can make the best use of our best resources – each other.
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