I’m an occasional volunteer with Global Gardens. This summer I had an opportunity to bring a group of artists to the garden. We were delighted to be welcomed on a gardening Wednesday to see the site and share lunch.
The visit was part of a week-long Professional Development Lab with National Theatre Wales. Provocatively titled ‘‘Who Gives A F**k about Polar Bears’, this particular lab was devised to help artists making work about environment and climate change get away from their everyday, reflect on their practice and share experience and ideas with others. We were a group of four and each had the task of curating a day of learning.
I focussed my day around manifestos. I’m interested in how people work with principles and intention to guide practice and create change. I selected four sites in Cardiff that I thought were manifesting positive change, and selected a manifesto for each that reflected how that site had been created.
I began my day at the National Museum Wales Urban Meadow on Park Place. We observed the pollinator habitat that had been created there and read from Rachel Carson’s environmental manifesto Silent Spring. We discussed the importance of science and science communication for biodiversity, the importance of habitat, and the ways in which human expectations of the environment can be at odds with what is needed for healthy biodiversity.
The second site was around the alleyways and allotment sites in the Heath. We discussed an urban fruit harvesting project (Abundance) in Sheffield that transforms how people perceive and use fruit in the city by picking and distributing surplus from a range of back gardens and semi-public spaces. We looked at the principles that inform this practice, and the handbook that the group created to help share their experiences with others (The Abundance Handbook).
The third site we visited was Global Gardens. I wanted to bring people to see how principles from permaculture, organic growing, and biodynamics infused the space with particular forms and practices. Aware of the exclusivism that can exist around some forms of environmentalism, I was keen to highlight a space where inclusivity was not only possible, but where integration was actively encouraged as a fundamental driver of the project. I also wanted us to spend time in a space that was creative and generative but not necessarily directly related to theatre. We were lucky enough to be able to visit on a group gardening day, and shared a lovely lunch and interesting conversation with volunteers.
We then found a cafe and wrote our own manifestos, reflecting on the experience of what we had seen, smelt, touched, tasted and heard, and considering what intentions we wanted to take to our practices.
The rest of the week took us to woodlands outside Cardiff, the coast, Bute Park, and finally a day of discussion and sharing at WMC. In terms of the intention of the Lab I think it is a great way to enable artists and practitioners to reconsider what they do, how they talk about it, and where they might go with it next, together or individually. A rare creative treat that as far as I know is unique to National Theatre Wales, and which I am very grateful for.
Overall, the week was a challenge to consider what I thought was important to share of sites in Cardiff that were manifesting change, and also how to select important environmental manifestos. I am inspired and heat-warmed by having good examples to chose from. In terms of outcomes from the week, we left inspired and certain that connections from what we had shared will come. I know that it has certainly got me thinking harder about how arts practices overlap with environmental activism and how arts and academia can support and inform each other. Thank you for having and inspiring us, Global Gardens.