Artists work to promote critical participation of people and communities in the natural, social and political contexts in which they live. It is acknowledged that a healthy and diverse biophysical environment is essential to ensure human activity.
Artists often engage as social critics with the issues concerning individuals and communities who have been marginalised or alienated from society and/or whose human rights are neglected or abused. Therefore, artists are particularly concerned with issues of equity, social justice and at an individual level in promoting the essential balances necessary for sustaining a good life in the world we occupy. International symposia have recently focused on the relationships between sustainability and contemporary art. Social sustainability is seen as the infrastructure of a healthy community.
Artists often work with low financial or material wealth and with communities and in organisations that have small budgets. To survive, artists need to be economically resourceful and to consider the environmental impacts of their activities.
The School of Art actively works to reduce consumption of physical resources. The staff members are encouraged to conserve natural resources such as energy and water and to teach students how to recycle and to dispose of toxic waste material in sustainable ways. Within teaching, professional practice workshops further develop a focus on environmentally sustainable ways of making and presenting the outcomes of learning in the visual arts.
The School of Art acknowledges that staff need to not only meet the education needs of the student but they should also provide leadership in areas that students might not have previously considered. Literature that addresses future themes in education supports the need for education to provide leadership in sustainability for the future of society. (See The Higher Education Academy, 2006.) As a consequence, artists and visual art educators need to be aware that certain choices, decision and actions they make might have an impact on global sustainability. Therefore, they need to consider what actions and changes they might need to make to support a more sustainable future for themselves and their students and for the wider communities within which they work.
Art educators and students must gain a range of skills relevant to education for sustainable development. These include: visioning, influencing change, managing information, critical thinking, analytical skills, negotiation and mediation skills, and skills in listening and reflecting. These skills are also identified in the Forum for the Future (2004) as essential skills for a sustainable future.
Obviously, material practices are central to the visual arts. The pragmatics of healthy and viable art practices have led to the gradual movement from toxic to non-toxic materials in all subject areas and the development of understandings of the correct use and disposal of chemicals and other waste materials. Artworks may be designed to endure for a long time and consideration is given to the ways in which they are made and conserved. Other artworks are necessarily temporary in nature and consideration must be given also to the question of the disposal and re-use of the material used in their construction. The developing visual arts industry in the field of the digital arts has also led to an increased awareness of how communities are created and maintained in the digital environment and the sustainability of the digital infrastructure.
The visual arts have a major role to play in the ways in which communities operate. The experience of art is one of validation and critique, celebration and mourning. The wider contextualisation of art in the programme ensures that students understand the ways in which their work both cements and critiques the social order. Students and staff alike must also gain resilience in order to live successfully in the face of increased environmental challenge and its associated social effects.
The School of Art works towards the following aspirations for sustainability:
- building links between the visual arts and the values that sustain community
- retention of diverse material practices in the visual arts
- development of support networks to sustain practices long-term
- the development and retention of a collegial community
- increased understanding of bi-cultural and multi-cultural issues
- specific engagement with environmentally concerned art projects
- appropriate decision-making around art materials and processes
- avoidance of or mitigation of the impact of toxic material
- cradle to the grave approach to the use of materials
- appropriate decisions around the scale of visual art projects