How art could save us from extinction

3 February 2022

Trees and a house

New research which shows the power of arts and cultural interventions in driving action for nature and climate has been released by the Oak Project, in collaboration with the University of Derby and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

In their new report, How art could save us from extinction, the evaluation of the project’s first year demonstrates that experiencing nature through the arts is leading to a significant increase in both nature connection and personal wellbeing, and is leading to more environmental action. 

Oak Project is a pioneering arts programme which aims to harness the power of cultural moments to create kinship with nature in response to the climate emergency and environmental crisis. Founded by Charlie Burrell, Jamie Cayzer-Colvin, Tom Stuart-Smith, Edwina Sassoon and Helen Meech, the Oak Project has been developed in partnership with the University of Derby and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

The project was launched in 2021 with a programme built around three major projects which explores our relationship with the natural world and builds connection to nature through arts, culture and creativity:

Dr Carly Butler and Professor Miles Richardson of the Nature Connectedness Research Group at the University of Derby led a project to evaluate the impact of Silence and Great Oaks from little Acorns grow... This evaluation revealed:

Project Director, Helen Meech, says:

“Our first year of programming has given us proof of concept that creatively growing connection to nature is both good for people and planet. We have shown the power of the arts in driving environmental action, and in creating the cultural shift we so urgently need to face up to the climate and nature emergency. I’m looking forward to taking this work to scale, growing the Oak Project into a movement of cultural and environmental partners working together to drive action and impact for nature.”

Clare Lilley, Director of Programme and next Director of YSP says:

“Art is uniquely placed to grow nature connectedness, whether through representing its beauty, capturing its detail, providing experience and engagement, communicating meanings and messages, or inviting emotional responses. Works of art draw people in, gather their attention and present them with new perspectives, inviting new noticings, feelings and sense-making processes. When an artwork is specifically designed to activate the pathways to nature connectedness there is the possibility of powerful promotion of new relationships with nature”.

Miles Richardson, Professor of Nature Connectedness at the University of Derby, comments:

“Wildlife loss and the climate crisis show our relationship with nature is failing. Our research shows the power of arts-based, sensory and meaningful emotion-based activities in building a closer connection to nature. When people are connected to nature, they are much more likely to do more to help the environment. These pro-environmental behaviours could be anything from recycling and planting wildflowers through to signing petitions or nature conservation volunteering. Nature connection is key to a more sustainable lifestyle and a new relationship with nature”.

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