What does art have to do with the Earth’s climate?

© Stephan Polzer

To me, sustainability means… thinking in a networked manner. Weighing the consequences of each decision and considering whether the resource consumption it will entail (in terms of raw materials, energy, working hours, money) is really worth it.

Climate change is relevant to the cultural sector because… it will lead to large-scale upheavals. And these will repeatedly force culture to reinvent itself and fight for its status.

Art can change the world by… moving people, irritating them, making them happy, shaking them up, uniting them, and involving them. This goes for any art, even art that’s not aiming to support a particular cause. What’s more, art can play key roles in transformational processes if people who work in the cultural sphere are aware of these roles and deliberately get involved as protagonists.

Climate change is having a noticeable impact on my work in the sense that… in a concrete sense, in that I question my professional travel, attempt to prolong the open-air season, and try every year to resist using air conditioning—and in that migration and globalisation have changed the musical landscape.

Emotionally, I’m noticing it in an intensified feeling of senselessness and irrelevance in musical and artistic activities as well as in teaching—on my own part, among musicians I’m friends with, and among students. The only way to combat this is by reminding ourselves time and time again of just how significant music, art, and culture are to human beings, especially during crises. And we can also look for ways in which our activities can contribute to positive transformation: WHAT do we want to play/convey? WHERE and FOR WHOM do we want to play? IN WHAT CONTEXT do we want to practice our art?

My personal contributions to our climate’s protection are… not owning a car, reducing the number of flights I take, eating a largely vegan diet, and being politically active.

For the future, I hope… that politicians will have set us on the necessary course (energy transition), with the greatest possible number of people joining forces to work out the details: concerning how we want to treat each other, how we want to treat nature, how we want to work and what work we want to do, and how we want to shape our immediate living environments.

In the new series “What does art have to do with the Earth’s climate?”, the “Green mdw” initiative is inviting concerned individuals to speak out on their personal approaches to this issue. Just how diverse are the perspectives from which mdw faculty members, students, administrators, alumni, and other active artists think about the climate, about sustainability, and about their own professional practice?

To kick things off, these questions have been answered here by jazz pianist and composer Michael Dörfler-Kneihs, who teaches at the Leonard Bernstein Department of Wind and Percussion Instruments and has already provided the University with important sustainability-related impulses thanks to his work in the Senate, where his efforts have included establishing the Working Group on Climate Protection (AG Klimaschutz).

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