Can art save us from extinction? As COP26 begins, the Oak Project reflect on how art and creativity might unlock the change we need

November 1, 2021
The Oak Project

 Thank you to Art For Your World supporters The Oak Project for the below blog. 


The UN Climate Talks kick off this week in Glasgow with thousands of negotiators and campaigners meeting to discuss how government action and international policy can address the climate crisis. This meeting is called COP26 because it is the 26th annual meeting of the UN Climate Talks, the latest in a succession of conferences which began with COP1 in 1995.


Against the backdrop of the worsening climate emergency, global wildlife loss and the mental health crisis, the Oak Project is pioneering a new approach. We believe that at the heart of these three global crises lies our broken relationship with nature and that arts activities are uniquely placed to help us reconnect to the natural world.


We want to harness the power of art as a kind of cultural acupuncture, helping us look afresh at our relationship with our precious and imperiled planet. The Oak Project is developing a national arts programme in partnership with Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) and the University of Derby, where art, culture and creativity provide a way for people to explore and deepen their relationship with nature.


A great example of this is our first commission which opened in June beside the Upper Lake at YSP. Responding to the question, ‘can art save us from extinction?’, artists Heather Peak and Ivan Morison developed the sculptural installation, Silence - Alone in a World of Wounds.


Silence is a pavilion-like structure which you enter through covered walkways and opens out into a central clearing. It is a space to be alone with nature. It makes you sit still and creates a space for quiet contemplation. Inside, you can hear nature – the sound of birds, rustling trees and the nearby lake – but the artists also hope that you appreciate the diminished natural soundscape around us.


The Oak Project, Silence


“Our work must open the viewers’ eyes to the natural world, wounds and all, and through the shared grief create action. We propose a space that is a kind of education of attention, that offers a protracted introduction in seeing things, hearing and feeling them. This work is a gift of time and attention.” – Studio Morison


More recently, three young creatives - SAF-S2E, Jahday Ford and Melissa Sorrell - developed Beyond Silence, a digital response to the experience of being inside Silence and the feelings of hope, reflection and anxiety that it evokes.


Through thoughtful and evocative artworks, we believe that art can open up a space for change to happen. Art can help us grow deeper connections to nature and help us build a new relationship where we see ourselves as part of nature, rather than separate from it.


Our work is based on psychological research by the University of Derby which shows the role of arts and culture in rebuilding nature connectedness. Arts activities can help us switch on our senses, emotionally connect and build compassion for nature. Their work also shows that nature connection is the single greatest driver of environmental action – by stopping, noticing and appreciating nature, we are more likely to make time to change our behaviour.


The Oak Project is in its first year of programming with Silence open at YSP, a recent installation at the Chelsea Flower Show and a music competition designed to bring young musicians to the challenge of nature connection.


Join us by visiting Silence, watching the digital artwork, Beyond Silence, and signing up to our mailing list.


Images: Charles Emerson