Taking the Cultural Turn: Sustainability Transitions and the Quest for Missing Leverage with David Maggs

When and Where

Monday, April 04, 2022 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm


David Maggs


About the Lecture

Despite impressive advances in sustainability science, policy, technology, finance, and other fields, the sustainable world remains absent, while a growing sense of ‘missing leverage’ inclines transitions work towards greater cultural preoccupations (e.g. SDGs, IPCC scenarios). This cultural turn, however, may not fit within standard transition discourse of ‘behaviours, systems, & beliefs’, requiring transition strategies to engage deeper structures of reality. Here, sustainability arrives at a critical fork in the road. Typically, we follow the standard paradox of progressive politics—trying to cultivate possibility from factuality—feeding us to the information deficit models of behaviour change while alienating world-making categories of identity, meaning, purpose, belief, language, and senses of place, time, self, and world. While the intensifying relationship between art and sustainability may represent determination to divert course, the current lack of methodological clarity needed for this alternative path remains absent. Self-evident enthusiasm for the transformative power of art leaves us trying to replicate its effects rather than its processes, short-circuiting generative relationships to the aesthetic, and lending little substance to sustainability’s cultural turn. Can clearer theories and methods of art strengthen its capacity within sustainability transitions’ growing cultural emphasis? Can art cultivate agency in those world-making categories above, opening deeper structures of reality to more intentional engagement, while enlisting whole sectors of society typically uninvolved? Equipped with such expansive hopes, this talk concludes with more humbling practical efforts to shift art-sustainability relationships out of the standard path of transitions discourse in order to meet the full implications of sustainability’s cultural turn with a fuller force of society’s central means of cultural production.


About the Speaker

David Maggs carries on an active career as an interdisciplinary artist and researcher focused on arts, climate change, and sustainability. A student of Jane Coop, Andre Laplante, and Marc Durand, he is the founder and pianist for Dark by Five (darkbyfive.com), has written works for the stage, and collaborated on large augmented reality and virtual reality projects. David is the artistic director of the rural Canadian interarts organization Gros Morne Summer Music (gmsm.ca), and founder and co-director of the Graham Academy. He initiated and co-produced the CBC doc channel film The Country, exploring the Canadian government’s handling of indigenous identity in Newfoundland.

As a fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School for Global Affairs, David co-authored Sustainability in an Imaginary World (Routledge Press, 2020) with mentor and longtime collaborator John Robinson, exploring the relationship between art and sustainability. He is former senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Sustainability in Potsdam, Germany, where he led work on culture and climate change. As Innovation Fellow with the Metcalf Foundation, David wrote Art and the World After This (2021), an extensive report on the disruption and transformation of the arts in the wake of Covid19. The national and international impact of this report has led to the creation of a new position within the Metcalf Foundation. As inaugural Fellow-in-Residence, David is exploring the role of art in society, with particular focus on innovation, climate change, and cultural policy. David has been a featured speaker at the Canadian Arts Summit (Charlottetown, Banff, Montreal), The International Transdisciplinarity Conference (Leuphana), the National Valuing Nature Conference (Corner Brook), The American Association for the Advancement of Science (Vancouver), Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Zurich), Sustainability Through Art Conference (Geneva), the Narratives of Transformation conference of the International Association for Analytical Psychology (Berlin/Kyoto), the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (Kyoto) and elsewhere. 

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