Case Study
  • Posted on April 5th, 2022

Art Gene – carbon, community & sustainable values

Connecting community to landscape

The development of biodiversity and sustainability are part of the core values and focus of Art Gene’s work over the past 20 years. Based in the coastal town of Barrow-in-Furness, Art Gene creates artworks and place-based events and solutions with artists and communities focused on their social, natural and built environment. The work is socially engaged, giving communities a voice, and connecting those communities with their landscapes, for health, wellbeing and social cohesion.

Art Gene projects

Projects have included Art Gene founder artists producing Roker Pods, spherical off-grid touring spaces. Built around an agricultural trailer, pulled behind a beach cleaning tractor, these Pods demonstrated low carbon technologies, including wind turbines and solar panels with battery packs. Used along the promenade and sands in Roker, Sunderland, the 3 pods are a café, performance space and a beach education pod.

In 2019, Art Gene’s ‘Extreme Views -Think Tank’, an international group of academics, ecologists, activists, artists, writers and change makers, working with local people, together set the plan for upcoming projects to focus on climate issues within the town.

Long-standing sustainable values

Art Gene had always developed work around ‘climate chaos and change’ that threatens coastal communities like Barrow-in-Furness. Barrow Borough Council has declared its own Climate Emergency. Art Genes’ latest programme ‘Low Carbon Barrow’, is in partnership with Barrow Borough Council.

We aim to deliver measurable carbon reductions to support the Council’s strategy to achieve net zero emissions by 2037. We are delighted to have been instrumental in bringing in £1.75M to our working-class town through the European Regional Development Fund and Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership.

In national debates about ‘Levelling Up’, the Local Trust defines Barrow as a ‘left behind neighbourhood.’ Its research shows that 4 in 5 people in communities like ours are concerned about climate change but that they risk being ignored and overlooked when it comes to climate action.

We appointed a Low Carbon Barrow Grants Lead in September 2021 – she is working directly with local businesses and charities to support the delivery of grants to retrofit properties. Our Grants Lead is helping ordinary people take their first practical steps towards adaptation, ensuring our town doesn’t fall further behind.

Supporting the community

Extending this work, Art Gene artist’s designed an outdoor activity programme, building on work on our community growing space which the artist founders have been developing since 2015.

We know it’s been a lifeline during the pandemic, not only supporting people to grow food, but take part and learn about a circular horticultural system, composting forest gardening and planting for wildlife. We work with partners University of Cumbria on ‘species restoration’ and Natural England on upland fell planting for sequestration, combating river erosion, and lowland flooding.

In November 2021, our Arts Council supported Food, Futures and Biodiversity event designed by artists, successfully stimulated learning and debate. With climate speakers, composting workshops, climate therapy sessions, plant based cooking demonstrations and eating and artworks in the landscape, the event commented on the climate crisis.

Plans for the future

We’ll build on this during 2022, employing two low carbon-focussed engagement specialists to spread the word further working with artists and communities. They will be tasked with building understanding of climate change, delivering events, promoting low carbon grants, launching E.V. charge points, creating a low carbon trail, delivering workshops to schools and community groups. Key to this is working with those on low incomes, young people and children, and being proactive about demonstrating how everyone can participate in an ethical transition to a net zero future.

Art Gene is also, with Cumbria Action for Sustainability, a partner on Zero Carbon Cumbria, a County-wide carbon reduction initiative to which Low Carbon Barrow will make an important contribution. Separately, we are talking to Lancaster University’s Environment Centre about how we can retrofit our own draughty gallery and workshop spaces.

Image credit: Photo of Roker Pods supplied by Art Gene