The Fulbright project has thrown into sharp relief the debt we owe to our environment, and the necessity to use whatever skills we have to protect and repair it.
Whilst environmentalism may appear at first to be a science specific issue, the arts and humanities also have a role to play in advocating for the landscapes and ecosystems that have long been a source of inspiration for many of humanities triumphs.
Authors and artists throughout the ages have lived the experience of the connection between creativity, community and wellbeing, with nature often being the source of inspiration for lives marred by loneliness, isolation and distress. Expressions of nature and appreciation of its beauty tend to bring people together - the National Trust and English Heritage part of an initial attempt to protect and preserve built and natural environments deemed to be intrinsically valuable to ‘Britishness’.
Put simply, our culture and heritage is embedded in nature, and vice versa. Its how our ancestors made sense of the world, relying on cyclical patterns for farming and signs from the natural world indicating future outcomes. Our heritage is also now a part of nature; the influence of humans can be seen in the forgotten hill forts that dot the landscape in Britain, to the flint arrowheads on our beaches, the manmade hunting forests and the canals that crisscross the whole country.
Nature and the natural influences art and culture in numerous ways and has a profound effect on our imaginations. Even in the way we express ourselves - our language is full of creative natural allegories; weather a storm, a little ray of sunshine, beat around the bush - all conjure imagery and meaning beyond the literal.
The need for creative responses to the climate crisis.
The creative, productive element of nature is, after all, the very nature of nature.
In recent years, humanity has developed ways to work with the natural world in order to provide sustainable energy in response to the climate crisis. It cannot be forgotten though that the heritage of industry is intrinsically linked to sustainable environmental practices, and we can see these in our local area. Bourne Mill operated with a water wheel which provided the site with power, and the legacy of windmills are present in the landscape of Essex, notably at Finchingfield and Mountnessing.
Better for everyone
Not only important to heritage and identity, the space, place and environment people find themselves in is a major factor in the wellbeing of communities and has been explored widely in arts council publications. ‘Be Creative Be Well’ looks at the value creative communities have in society and the impact that creative practices and projects have on the health and wellbeing of people when they are embedded into peoples lives. Incidentally, almost every case study featured in this report took place completely or partially outside - a difficult feat, especially in inner city London. Arts Council England highlight how that even though we are still researching the full impact that the arts can have on the environment and sustainability, common sense and past experience tell us that at the very least, the arts play an essential education and communication role.
John Ruskin emphasised that society had come to see nature as a source of raw materials to be exploited. We must realise that there is no value to be placed on nature, nor what we can gain from it - it is truly priceless. We must respect it, protect it, and work with it - as is our global heritage.