The Feverish World Symposium elicited a lot of reactions. On November 30 of last year, EcoCultureLab hosted a half-day forum and search conference at UVM’s John Dewey Lounge that explored ways of following up on the goals of the symposium, specifically those of bridging the arts and sciences, and bridging academe and the greater Burlington/Vermont community, around the interlinked challenges of climate change, ecological disruption, social dislocation, and the like. Specifically, we considered:
What should we in the Burlington area be doing to anticipate and build capacity for dealing with these coming challenges of a "feverish world"?
In what ways can we build on the collaborations initiated or activated in the Feverish World Symposium?
What new connections and relationships should we cultivate with and between people, communities, organizations, and institutions in the local area and beyond?
How should we move forward with these efforts and find support for them?
How specifically should the arts be engaged in these efforts?
The November 30 event brought some three dozen participants together in a search conference format, with a session of group brainstorms around 5 pre-selected topics, followed by evaluation and development of specific ideas and proposals. The following emerged as the four key themes for future effort:
Eco-arts and/or art-science gatherings: Participants were interested in organizing events (salons, encounters, potlucks, et al) that would bring together artists (visual, literary, performative) and other community members (scientists, tech/design professionals, and others) to share works, ideas, critique, and conversation around topics of eco-social concern. As this desire has long been a theme of discussions among faculty and students in the eco-arts and humanities, including at fora that led up to the creation of EcoCultureLab, it is a direction that we intend to keep developing.
Public arts events: Participants expressed interest in organizing periodic large-scale events of a public, outdoor, artistic, and/or festive-ceremonial nature that could mark calendrical events (e.g., solstices and equinoxes, astronomical convergences), bring attention to sites in the local landscape (e.g., waterfront, Earth Clock, sewage or brownfield sites), and engage the broader community including partnering organizations (such as 350.org, Migrant Justice, Peace & Justice Center, Shelburne Farms, 2C Creative Community, VPIRG, the Intervale, ECHO, and many others) in collaborative, creative, and visionary ways. (Examples suggested included a “Green Santa Claus” event, water remediation efforts, solstice gatherings, et al.)
Ecotopian Working Group: Participants expressed interest in the creation of a working group of local citizens (from all disciplines and walks of life) interested in envisioning and enabling the development of a sustainable, equitable, and post-carbon city-region of Burlington. Utopian thinking need not be at a deficit. But if “u-topia” means no place, “eco-topia” literally means “home-place,” the place of our relations as we might re-envision them for a hopeful future. A working group could involve readings and discussions, public forums, and other ways of eliciting visions from the public, as well as events that would share visionary ideas in tangible and accessible ways while recognizing the many challenges of getting from “here” to “there.”
Organizational (& Landscape) Connectivity Network: It was considered important to develop some kind of coordinating body or forum that would work to connect and align organizational and activist efforts in social and environmental change across the Greater Burlington Region. The body could map out existing and potential relationships, identify needs and capacities, and facilitate novel collaborations through such initiatives as a community (meta-/mega-) calendar, a cross-organizational steering committee, and a Transition Town inventory (including an inventory of landscape connectivity for nonhuman biota).
There are clear points of connection between all of these ideas. And there are of course many groups already working toward similar goals as these. Among other educational and sustainability oriented initiatives, for instance, are the Greater Burlington Sustainability Education Network, the Vermont Learning for the Future Project, Burlington Geographic, initiatives of the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, Shelburne Farms, the Intervale Center, the City of Burlington, UVM Extension, local Abenaki communities, the Peace and Justice Center, and many others. Common themes in our discussions included the desire to be inclusive, to reach out to underrepresented communities (of New Americans, for example), and to balance an openness to tomorrow’s “climate refugees” with a need to manage ourselves sustainably and within the reasonable ecological limits of our place.
If you are interested in any of these initiatives, please stay tuned by following this blog and by joining our email listserv at email@example.com. And if you are interested in taking an active role in any, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to many conversations, meetings, and actions.