Written By: Caitlin Southwick

The world grows smaller by the day, and as the intricacies and interconnectivity of our society and our planet becomes clearer and more relevant, we are starting to see patterns emerge – and opportunities.

The way that we are living is unsustainable, and the world is awakening to the changes required by our society. The need is clear, but questions remain regarding how. With distrust in government, fake news and unreliable resources floating around social media, people are at a loss when it comes to figuring out who to trust. A dramatic change must be made – but how do we accomplish this? Where do we begin?

The discussions held last week during Vastari’s “Tackling Sustainability in the Art World” webinar addressed the role of art and collecting in the global challenges we face today – climate change, loss of biodiversity, social unrest, human rights issues – a.k.a. sustainability. Art and culture connects us all. From all epochs and all parts of the earth, humanity is interlinked with its history, its culture and expressions through art. Art offers a unique opportunity – to create empathy and understanding, to tell stories and connect people on the basic level of their humanity to cultures and peoples globally and locally. Art can teach us about what sustainability means – from providing evidence of climate change to creating empathy between different cultures and different peoples to showing what we are fighting for.

The works of art that were presented during the webinar explained exactly this impact. Zigi Ben-Haim and Miriam Calzada, two visionary artists, demonstrated the connection to climate and society and the impact of their work in addressing issues of sustainability. From encompassing the epic beauty of nature, driving people to want to preserve what Earth has left, to social commentary on the changes and the obstacles we face – art is a powerful tool that has yet to be exploited to its full potential - to harness the power of its influence to save the world.

Artists around the world are waking up to the impact their work can have to build awareness and instigate conversations about sustainable issues. The rest of the sector is a few steps behind – still making the connection of collecting to the environment, of exhibitions to social justice.

The capacity of art to make an impact goes beyond creation. Museums relay history – and can do so in a way that confronts the current social standards – to portray all sides of history, all perspectives so that colonization and warfare are no longer celebrated but understood with compassion - and become lessons instead of legends. Controversial art needs confrontation – to be contrasted with perspectives and works from other cultures in order to portray history accurately. The Black Lives Matter movement has drawn this issue into sharp light and we must take this time to listen. And to do something.

Culture has to lead the way to a sustainable future – socially and environmentally – in order to create the paradigm shift humans needs to survive. We have to start incorporating sustainable mindsets into everything we do – from the materials we use and the way we preserve and collect to the way we communicate and inform through and with art.

This journey is just beginning. It is our responsibility to continue this conversation and find more ways to connect with the public, with people on a human level and show not only where we have come from as a society – but where we can go, how we can get there and why it matters.

About the Author

Caitlin Southwick is the Founder and Executive Director of Ki Culture and Sustainability in Conservation. She holds a Professional Doctorate in Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage from the University of Amsterdam and has nine years of experience as a stone conservator around the world, including projects at the Uffizi Gallery, The Vatican Museums, The Getty Conservation Institute and on Easter Island. Caitlin is the Secretary for the Working Group on Sustainability for ICOM and a former Professional Member of the AIC’s Sustainability Committee.