To be alive is to change, but change hurts.

In September 2019 the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) published Creative Responses to Sustainability: Green Guide for Spain, a publication I developed from interviews with and research on 25 organisations that work at the nexus of art and sustainability in Spain. In it, the organisations appeal for wide cultural change, calling for communities to live with more care for their environment.

This Guide provides an insight into the context of art and environment in Spain through examples of organisations and initiatives, as well as an overview of some of the key ways of working in this field. It highlights some organisations that creatively engage with environmental issues, as well as some initiatives that focus on the development of ethical and sustainable practices within the cultural sector itself.

The recycled textile marathon. Photo by Julieta Pellicer, image courtesy AlTrapo Lab
The recycled textile marathon. Photo by Julieta Pellicer, image courtesy AlTrapo Lab.

The concept behind the Guide (part of an ongoing series by ASEF) was to provide a starting point for those interested in collaborating with Spanish arts organisations in the area of sustainability but who might not be familiar with the Spanish context. It isn’t an exhaustive list of initiatives, and in fact there are many arts organisations that have innovative programmes in the nexus of art and sustainability (but which also work on other themes) that couldn’t be included.

While many of the organisations worked on specific challenges of sustainability, such as the over production and use of plastics or the reduction of biodiversity, most of those interviewed highlighted the need for a change of attitude, a change in the way we live. Festival Internacional de Cine del Medio Ambiente de Barcelona (FiCMA) director Jaume Gil i Llopart called for change through education, stating that ‘art and cinema connects with emotions and it’s from emotions that we can provoke a change in attitude, because we feel like we have to do it, no not have to but must, and in this subtle difference lies permanent and real change.’ While Festival Internacional de Cine Medioambiental de Canarias (FICMEC) Director David Baute observes that art has a great potential to reach out to and influence very diverse audiences, even in the way they produce events. ‘If events, even if they’re not dedicated entirely to environmental themes, propose sustainable approaches in their actions, it would be an enormous help in spreading values of respect and care for the environment.’

Navidad en RE, 2016, Barcelona, Basurama. Image courtesy Basurama.
Navidad en RE, 2016, Barcelona, Basurama. Image courtesy Basurama.

In spite of the challenges, many of the organisations believed there is still room for hope. As Silvia Oviaño, Director of Mar de Mares festival, observes, ‘The messages that reach us through art and culture emotionally move us, and therefore they are the ones that drive us to change our way of relating to our environment. Through artistic work, we are capable of transforming a catastrophic message to one of hope.’

Talking to the innovative practitioners in this field did indeed instil in me a sense of hope, and also a determination to do more, no matter how imperfectly. Every month we know more about the challenges facing sustainability. According to a recent report published in October 2019 the Mediterranean is warming up 20% faster than the global average. There is more and more data supporting the harsh realities of climate change and no time to waste in taking steps towards a more sustainable way of living in our day to day choices.

Since 2015, ASEF has been publishing the series Creative Responses to Sustainability through its arts and culture portal, This series of country-specific guides looks at arts organisations that address issues of sustainability in their artistic practice in several countries of Asia and Europe. The previous Guides focused on Singapore (2015), Korea (2016) Indonesia (2017), Australia (2018) and Portugal (2019) with the spin-off in the series on the city of Berlin (2017).

Read more about the Spanish arts organisations and trends in art and sustainability here.

The top quote is from Jorge Riechmann, ‘Una Nueva Estética para una Edad Solar’, in José Albelda, José María Parreño, José Manuel Marrero Henríquez (coords.), Humanidades Ambientales, 2018, p. 96. 

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