CWLCA symposium connects virtually

By Lauren Bouvier, AES student and Arts Entrepreneurship Intern

Globally, an intergenerational call to action is sparking dialogues, policies, and activism concerning climate change. Artists are rising up to represent the movement, such as the Climate Clock that appeared in New York City in September, 2020. In this tense political era, the need for creating spaces for artists, women, and nonbinary folks to network and share stories rooted in personal and climate action are necessary to inspire and maintain hope. CWLCA sought to create platforms for change and networks for developing emerging leaders. The UMass Arts Extension Service’s virtual symposium, the Creative Women Leading Climate Action (CWLCA), fostered an online space to unite these communities.

The CWLCA program committee was able to adapt to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Encompassing undergraduate and graduate students, Five College alumni, community members, faculty, staff, performers, visual artists, educators, and curators, the CWLCA bloomed out of individuals from a vast array of backgrounds to gather and create spaces for change. Each member galvanized their constituents and colleagues to participate and represent their experiences. Re-evaluating the once in-person event to a new online event posed a new set of challenges. Incorporating events such as intergenerational discussions, creative workshops, and artist panels, CWLCA provided an opportunity for participants to learn from arts leaders and forge their own network as they pursue leadership in arts and activism fields. Participation expanded well beyond the UMass community, including over 160 symposium registrants, 49 current UMass students, and 23 alumni. Participants logged in from multiple continents and 24 different states in the United States. Through the use of online platforms, a worldwide network of passionate women was built.

On Wednesday, September 30th, CWLCA and Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series offered a joint Keynote lecture by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a mother, plant ecologist, writer, and professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York. Laying a foundation for future symposium discussion, Kimmerer spoke about our relationship with the Earth and the critical analysis of its life in her talk “What Does the Earth Ask of Us?”

Next, CWLCA welcomed interdisciplinary artist JuPong Lin for a Story Circle workshop, following John O'Neal’s story circle process. JuPong lept to the challenge to foster human connection over Zoom. The workshop created a safe space for participants to tell stories about their experiences with leadership, climate change, and art. Utilizing breakout rooms, JuPong structured the event around active listening with clear guidelines to assist in the storytelling process. As participants were welcomed by each other, stories of great personal value were told. The workshop came together to address the concept of hope within a chaotic world, helping each participant to find a glimpse of optimism in their experiences.

The lessons evolving from the Story Circle and the Keynote inspired future discussions in other CWLCA sections. Nicole M. Young, Writer, Educator, Nonprofit Manager, and CWLCA Committee Member, described her experience with the project as “This year's symposium while focusing on climate change and its impact on women and BIPOC communities was an opportunity to identify ways to (re)claim spaces. I saw this demonstrated a lot through Terre Parker's performance piece. I look forward to continuing this very necessary conversation.” The environmental dance video, For Her, created by Terre Parker and collaborators, was presented by the Augusta Savage Gallery as part of their REVIVAL/50 season, a year-long digital performance series celebrating the gallery's fiftieth anniversary. The performance took place in three site-specific forest environments where dancers intimately interacted with nature in environments that would not normally be seen as a performance space. After the screening, viewers engaged through live chat to dive deeper into the connections between the piece, performative action, and the unilateral impact of nature.

“This year's symposium while focusing on climate change and its impact on women and BIPOC communities was an opportunity to identify ways to (re)claim spaces. I saw this demonstrated a lot through Terre Parker's performance piece. I look forward to continuing this very necessary conversation.”
— Nicole M. Young

In artist Terry Jenoure’s innovative workshop New Fables for a New World participants entered a creative process of writing, sharing, and responding to collectively create new fables that meet the needs of our time. Students and professional artists, both local and national, created two unique presentations to share their creative process with CWCLA panel attendees. Through sound, gesture, and story, these collaborative presentations shone as an example of how creative, interdisciplinary collaboration is an important component of climate action.

Conversations continued with engaging panels that presented an opportunity to learn how artists and leaders within various communities are combating climate change. AES Director Dee Boyle-Clapp moderated the panel Creative Climate: Inspiration and Activation, which presented a national perspective on climate change activism. Panelists included Emmalie Dropkin, Extinction Rebellion; Anais Reyes, Climate Museum, Exhibitions Associate; and Raquel de Anda, curator and cultural organizer, and Arts Production Coordinator, People’s Climate March. By cultivating a diverse range of experiences, the panel discussed projects circulating the United States and how people can continue to be involved, even in quarantine. The discussion navigated the complexities of creating awareness campaigns that demand change in policy and practice on campus and throughout the nation. The panelists also shared how they balanced optimism with realism in the face of climate change and the challenges the topic presents.

CWLCA closed with an inspiring panel moderated by Hind Mari, Director, Women of Color Leadership Network titled Climate Change & Communities of Color: How Artists are Responding, provided a discussion about localized action. Panelists included Dr. Diana Alvarez, artist scholar; Chelvanya (Naya) Gabriel, artist; and Erika Slocumb, artist. This panel included three amazing artists of color who talked about their art and the important work they are doing. They discussed why artists of color have been imperative to the climate and racial justice movement through their various media. The panelists interacted with participants and provided resources for opportunities, art, and other mediums for people to further their experience with climate action. The panelists and Hind generated a space that created a sense of human connection as if the participants were sitting in a room with each other. The chat was alive as books, movies, podcasts, and artwork shared. It was evident that the panelists respected each other, but also encouraged participants to actively listen. Melting away the distractions associated with technology, for an hour and a half, the panel captivated and created a vibe that felt like a group of people getting coffee and losing track of time.

Equipped with technology, CWLCA utilized its resources to further discussions outside of the events. All participants were welcomed to join a social media group to share pivotal moments this series provided. Social support was also fostered through the sharing of moments of optimism and hope. This includes the sharing of resources that have both inspired and educated. Besides a place of sharing, the series has led to the creation of a network of women, nonbinary, and BIPOC communities that are invigorated with the possibility of optimism for the future. As the network continues to grow, students who participated witnessed the formation of, and are now part of a multi-generational support system to better the future.

The CWLCA will be back in Spring 2021 to continue sharing, building, and inspiring networks of change. Please follow us on the CWLCA page to keep up to date with upcoming events, resources, and opportunities for change.