The art of making a difference to the climate crisis

By Elodie Malbois

CDES 2020 IofC Bards meditation bowl square


The Bards are a network of artists within Initiatives of Change who focus on the climate crisis. They participated in the Caux Dialogue on Environment and Security (CDES) last summer and created a collection of poems and music pieces to help CDES participants reflect on environmental issues and discover ways to overcome them.

‘Artists are uniquely positioned to face what is happening to the climate, to reimagine the world and create a new narrative,’ says Sveinung Nygaard (Sven), a Norwegian composer and musician. He was inspired to create the Bards while attending the CDES in 2019, which focused on the challenges of climate change. He reached out to his network, and artists from different disciplines came together in London in February 2020 to launch the IofC Bards.

The Bards’ aim is to gather artists ‘to provide tangential thinking, creativity, inspiration and, if need be, confrontation on truth, truth being a constructive thing’. There is no preconceived idea of what should happen and how. They don’t want to control the output, but rather to create opportunities. The Bards feel that not one silver bullet will solve the climate crisis, but rather a multitude of ideas and initiatives. So the process must be organic and flexible. At the moment they are developing tools and methodologies, and applying for funds to implement them.


CDES 2020 IofC Bards group


Olena Rosstalna, a Ukrainian theatre director and assistant professor of English Literature, describes the Bards as a ‘very participatory practice’. ‘It’s not art for art’s sake; it’s art which aims at making change and making people think’. The process is open, but they are clear on where they come from: their activities are value-driven.

It’s not art for art’s sake; it’s art which aims at making change and making people think.

The Bards describe themselves as ‘collaborative, creative, contemplative and communicative’. Within the structure provided by these values, ideas and outputs grow organically. At this summer’s CDES, the Bards used a method called ‘prisming’ to create poems and music pieces to help CDES participants reflect on the environmental issues discussed and find concrete ways to overcome them. This involved different artists attending the digital plenaries and helping to further the discussion, by reflecting back in his or her artistic language. They also hosted a talk and a musical meditation.

Art can have a stronger impact than statistics or arguments, Olena maintains, because it speaks on a different level: ‘It touches your senses, your heart and your body. It touches your soul so that you can feel it deeply.’ Sven believes artists have a special responsibility: ‘The artist’s mind looks at chaos and finds possibility. It makes new connections.’ What an artist brings out of that chaos depends on the artist and the values which guide him or her. Sven’s vision is to help people see the world in a new light and bring change through their unique voice. He looks for ways to make people feel what the world could be like so that they can act.

Olena has seen the power of art at work through the people who take part in her youth theatre. ‘Theatre can help them understand themselves, become more patient and overcome their anger.’ She has also witnessed its impact on spectators. They produced a play about a teenager who is unable to process his anger and one day shoots his classmates, which the local department of education asked them to perform for all the city’s students. Olena talked with many young people who attended the play, including her 13-year-old godson, who had some of the same issues as the main character. He said, ‘I felt so ashamed and horrible because I recognized myself and I saw what could happen if I did not change the situation.’

Artists are uniquely positioned to face what is happening to the climate, to reimagine the world and create a new narrative.

Sven is most proud of the times when his music can has helped people shift and re-appropriate their narratives. He composed the music for the first animated TV series in the United Arab Emirates, which aimed to help the people of Dubai, a young city which expanded very rapidly, to find a greater sense of culture and identity as the new and the old met.   

Both Sven and Olena feel at home within IofC because they share the vision that global change starts within the individual. To start changing the world, you need to ‘go deeper into yourself’, says Sven. Olena believes that inner peace is the key: ‘Young people have internal fights and it is hard for them to accept themselves. After that,' she says, 'if you want to make a difference, just look around you. There is so much to do, from visiting elderly people to taking care of stray cats and dogs. Just look at your community, and you will find a way to use your energy creatively, rather than in a destructive way!'


Discover the artwork Waves upon waves, created by the Bards during the Caux Dialogue on Environment and Security 2020:





Photos: IofC Bards


Featured Story

This story is part of our series "75 Years of Stories" about inidividuals who found new direction and inspiration through Caux, one for each year from 1946 to 2021. If you know a story appropriate for this series, please do pass on your ideas by email to John Bond or Yara Zhgeib.