Lighting the way: The arts as a tool to motivate climate change action

Date

2021-08

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Abstract

Climate change is, arguably, the most important global issue of our time. However, 65% of Americans say they rarely or never discuss climate. change. The scope of the crisis can be overwhelming to grasp and leave people with a sense of hopelessness. Those working in the field of climate change communication seek to overcome this challenge in addition to raising awareness and moving people from awareness to action. The arts have a long history of engagement in social change movements. There is a growing number of artists and arts organizations addressing the issue of climate change through artistic experience. The fields of climate change communication and art for social change are beginning to intersect and both express a need to better evaluate the impact of their efforts. This research study examines the efficacy of climate change-related art on people's perceptions of climate change and their motivations to take action. The 2021 iteration of Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA) served as the case study for this project.

A mixed methods approach was used to understand if exposure to climate change-related artworks alters an audiences' perceptions on climate change and results in taking positive action regarding the issue. The qualitative strand of the study featured a series of four interviews with individual audience members (n=26) from five CCTA events across the United States. Interviews were conducted immediately before the CCTA event experience, immediately following the experience, two-weeks following, and four-weeks following the event. For the quantitative strand of the study a survey was shard with the organizers of 134 CCTA events across the country. Themes and categories from the qualitative data were emergent throughout the analysis process. The primary approach to the quantitative analysis was structural equation modeling.

Results suggest that audiences attending CCTA events are already aware of climate change and most are taking some mitigatory action toward the issue. However, attendance at a CCTA event reinforces a sense of urgency about the issue and inspires a recommitment to action among event participants. Audience members participating in the study reported that the plays presented helped the issue of climate change seem more personally relevant, was made more accessible through the use of humor, and they found hope in the recognition that more people in their local communities were concerned about the issue than they previously knew. The CCTA experience resonated most strongly within the two-weeks following the event and began to fade by the four-week post-event interview. Some study participants took a new action to positively impact climate change; most at least considered adding new actions to their daily lives, even if they had not yet taken a new action during the time of the interview series. Findings from this study suggest that artists and arts organizations presenting climate related works should understand their audiences to make the works personally relevant, and incorporate humor to make the topic more approachable. Follow-up after the event is critical to keep the issue top of mind and encourage climate action.

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Keywords

Climate Change, Art for Change, Art for Social Change, Climate Change Communication, Art and Climate Change

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