Paris during the climate conference was a city consumed by mixed emotions. Grief over the terror attacks was accompanied by a formidable Gallic resolution to carry on with the life Parisians know and love – cafes were full, the metro and markets were crowded, and festive season decorations brightened streets and shops.
One could not move without being aware of the momentous negotiations taking place at the massive but temporary conference centre at Le Bourget, and the numerous associated events throughout the city. Posters, pictures, signs and graffiti were everywhere: in the metro stations, on billboards, advertising hoardings, and fixed to fences, while 24 hour TV news coverage, newspapers, and digital and social media of every kind provided continuous commentary and analysis.
In the cultural realm it seemed that nearly every major gallery and museum, from the Pompidou Centre to the Natural History Museum, as well as many iconic locations, from the Eiffel Tower to the Place de Pantheon, were holding or hosting cultural events, exhibitions, installations, interventions, performances, talks, and concerts.
In the lead up to and during the conference several festivals of climate culture including ArtCOP21 and Artists 4 Paris ART of CHANGE 21 gathered together hundreds of events in Paris itself, and hundreds more around the world.
The impact of these cultural responses was widely acknowledged and applauded, and coverage in the mainstream media (see some examples below) reflected this broad interest and engagement.
In addition images of these cultural interventions were disseminated far and wide, conveying the sense of shared purpose, responsibility and determination that characterised both the Paris conference and the intentions and activities of the countless organisations and individuals who are working towards the goal of climate justice for all.
Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, creator of the Ice Watch installation, perhaps put it best when he said that cultural interventions are necessary so that “people in the street don’t feel disconnected”. “I hope to inspire a feeling of inclusion into the climate debate,” he said. “If you feel disconnected, you also feel indifferent.”
And if there’s one thing that the Paris climate conference and its cultural responses have shown, it’s that indifference is no longer an option.
The Guardian – “Not the Paris climate talks: pictures worth a thousand words”
The New York Times – “In Paris, Art Confronts 2 Crises”
The Conversation – “Why art has a part to play in tackling climate change”
The New Yorker – “The Artist Who Is Bringing Icebergs to Paris”
Time – “Massive Public Artwork in Paris Reflects Desire for Climate-Change Solutions”