Case Study
  • Posted on April 5th, 2022

D6 Culture in Transit – A holistic approach to production, partnerships, and advocacy

Image credit: Matt Denham

By Clymene Christoforou 

Towards shared environmental consciousness…. (them, us, and all the rest)

We are D6: Culture in Transit, visual arts producers with a rooted local presence and established international reach. Our work is co-produced with artists and partners and focused on societal issues that concern and connect us.

Through artistic exchange and commissions, we draw threads between communities of difference and explore international common ground with partners across continents. We work across borders and cultures and at home have recently developed a programme with artists arriving as refugees and/or seeking asylum.

We have no venue to speak of, at least not hugely open to the public. Based in the centre of Newcastle, we have studios for visiting artists to develop their practice, with off-site residencies and commissions in partnership with cultural, social and heritage organisations from Northumberland to Nicosia, Barcelona to Barbados and Tunis to Kyiv.

Through processes of co-production with artists and local partners we carefully design projects in consideration of equity and value for those involved. We think not about growth, but about taking the time to do things deeply, with meaning, for the good of our people and our planet.

But as a small organisation can we stand behind the claims we make? Do we really understand the impact our work has on climate? Do we adequately share our ambitions with partners, artists and stakeholders? Do we listen, review and act?

Our philosophy has always been to reduce waste, to buy local wherever we are: To recycle, repurpose and reuse, consolidating and reducing journeys and using  trains where possible. Ours is an international and intercultural organisation, we need a practical approach. We need an equitable approach.

We do not want to exclude those in parts of the world where trains are not an option, and are alert to the fact that extra travel time for artists and staff needs to be paid for. From small behavioural actions to radically overhauling our working methods, we want to take a holistic approach to production, partnerships, and advocacy. The task feels huge.

The Accelerator Programme has given us some crucial space to think more deeply about D6’s actions and the platforms we have to amplify voices and raise environmental consciousness.

Using the tools

As a non venue based organisation without regular audiences, working in the UK, Europe and beyond, measuring the environmental impact of our work is a daunting task. We need to understand not just the methods of production, but the impact of travel, the materials used, the digital consumption, the food provided in order to evidence the carbon footprint of the artists, the producers, the technicians, the audience, the management teams.

Freely available carbon calculating tools developed for the cultural sector tend to favour the static venue, with known and regular audiences.  Whereas, for us working in partnership and reliant on others for local knowledge, venues and networks, much is beyond our ability to control. This is not an issue for D6 alone, we need to work with our partners and artists at local levels.

We did some research, then shared this concern with our Accelerator experts, Centre for Sustaibale Practice in the Arts in Canada. Was there a single tool that we could use? A tool that would be open source to share with our partners and artists, a tool that would simply cover the elements that make up our projects? An equitable tool to share globally irrespective of wealth, language or geography?

Whilst no one tool was forthcoming, as the programme unfolded in the Autumn of 2021, our fellow Accelerators Abandon Normal Devices, Fast Familiar and Arts Catalyst were busily developing The Networked Condition, a free to use tool which could be used by individual artists to measure the impact of digital practice.  Excited, we tried it out on some artists – it worked well. Brilliant.

But one artist had to travel to Portugal to deliver their project, using materials that were not recyclable, using heat sources to create their public work. These were not measurable on this tool.  Then CSPA came up with Claim Expenses, a simple travel tool that calculated CO2 emissions that had a small cost. Now putting the two together we were getting somewhere.

For our building costs, tools were easier to find, and measuring our office and studio kWh could be added as a third tool from any number of free to use programmes. With 3 tools it starts to get a little onerous, but still manageable.

We still have gaps and we are working on this. But we are beginning to build up an interesting catalogue of free to use tools, to share with our artists and partners globally, and hope to more confidently build collaborative and environmentally aware projects in the near future.

Raising Consciousness

Our next concern is around advocacy. How do we collectively raise consciousness with our participants, our audiences, our artists and our partners?  What language are we adopting, what terminology is universal? What frameworks are globally understood? From De-Growth, which we like, to circular economies, from waste-free to the Sustainable Development Goals, we have started to share with our international partners the language of social and environmental sustainability and crisis, and to test out new frameworks for collaboration.

A new programme in Ukraine with the British Council, a residency programme in Cyprus, Portugal and Denmark addressing Sustainable Development Goal number 13; embracing the intersecting issues of heritage, mobility, and colonialism. There is also a commission on the impact of the early settlers on the landscape around Hadrian’s Wall with artist Henna Asikainin and a conversation with artist Annalee Davis on the legacy of colonial landscapes in Barbados.

Artists are a rich source of content and keen advocates for a change in public narratives. But how can we influence policy, and bring these conversations to our local authorities, our national governments? Who is at the table and who can we work with to collectively move things forward at a level that is beyond the gift of the individual artist or small organisation? What can we do to consciously act?

For D6 we are now working strategically with partners to develop a series of talks in Cyprus with artists, activists, Ministers and the European Commission, and at home have joined the Environmental working group on Newcastle’s Culture compact. It’s something.

The climate crisis is real, we don’t leave it at work at 5pm.  The Accelerator programme has given us some crucial space and support to think more deeply about our practice and to break down the enormity of our task, navigating that space between passivity and anxiety. It was much needed, but we still have a way to go…

About the author

Clymene is a founding member and executive director of D6: Culture in Transit, overseeing programme and arts development, focusing on international collaboration and developing strong platforms for local engagement. In 2020, D6 opened a sister NGO, D6EU to sustain and strengthen international development.  For over 20 years she has developed programmes around social and environmental justice with over 300 artists and organisations from Europe and Beyond:

Contested Desires is a 3 year Creative Europe collaboration with partners in Italy, Portugal, Barbados, Cyprus and Spain in consideration of our shared colonial heritage. 2019-2022

Future Pasts, is a collaboration between the National Trust and artist Dr Henna Asikanen considering the impact on the landscape of those who lived along the Hadrian’s Wall (2021 – 2022)

ReGrounding is a new British Council Collaboration with Izolyatsia in the Donetsk region of Ukraine for the UK/Ukraine Season with artists addressing the environmental impact of industrial heritage (2022-3, pending FCO clearance)

Torch – is a Creative Europe programme residency responding to SDG Climate, 13 in Cyprus, Denmark and Portugal led by the candidate city for European Capital of Culture, Orieas. (tbc 2022 -2024)

Locally Clymene Chairs the Board of International Newcastle, and currently chairs the Environmental working Group of the Newcastle Culture Compact. Internationally she’s a board member of Res Artis (2018-), the Worldwide Network of Artist Residencies and is a former board member (2011-2017) and active member of Culture Action Europe the political platform for culture based in Brussels. She serves as an expert for UCLG developing cultural policies around sustainable development with cities across Europe, and with the British Council on programmes in the UK and Ukraine.

For the Julie’s Bicycle and Arts Council England Accelerator Programme, D6 has been part of a consortium with BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.