By Cathy Fitzgerald, 2019

Roll up your Sleeves

“Many people don’t get involved in the Great Turning because there are so many different issues, which seem to compete with each other. Shall I save the whales or help battered children? The truth is that all aspects of the current crisis reflect the same mistake, setting ourselves apart and using others for our gain. So to heal one aspect helps the others to heal as well. Just find what you love to work on and take joy in that. Never try to do it alone. Link up with others; you’ll spark each others’ ideas and sustain each others’ energy.”

Joanna Macy

One of the 5 personal guidelines on how to act in The Great Turning
by ecological
writer and workshop developer, activist and Buddhist scholar, Joanna Macy

At the Cultural Climates: Fostering Art for Sustainability – Time for a New Cultural Policy? seminar at the Moore Institute, NUI Galway 14 May 2019, before the 7th EUGeo summit in Galway, I was invited to speak by Dr Nessa Cronin, along with Dr Iain Biggs (my former creative practice PhD advisor) at a public forum in Galway. During my presentation, I discussed what role the Irish arts and cultural sectors can, and need to, play in addressing the ecological crises in Ireland.

For my presentation in Galway, in the West of Ireland, and for an audience who knew little of my work (I live in the South East of Ireland), Nessa invited me to present an overview of my study on the absence of arts policy for the eco-social emergencies in Ireland by first presenting how these concerns arose from my long-term eco-social art practice The Hollywood Forest Story (begun in 2008). [A video and podcast version of my seminar are below].

For followers of the blog, the story of how my practice developed into The Hollywood Forest Story will be familiar. However, it became a special task to remember the many people who have helped develop my unconventional way of working: particular tutors and colleagues, inspirational ecological thought leaders here and overseas, friends and followers in forestry, art and politics – my whanau (tribe).

I emphasise that the task before society and the arts community is an unprecedented paradigm shift to a new ecological worldview where the welfare of all beings is prioritised.

I emphasise that the task before society and the arts community is an unprecedented paradigm shift to a new ecological worldview where the welfare of all beings is prioritised. The eco-social emergency is a cultural crisis of Western society and new cultural responses informed by ecological understanding, ecoliteracy, will be paramount. The crisis fundamentally requires cultural innovation, in addition to renewable technology and new economics. Photo: Dr. Deirdre

However, presenting a snapshot of my now 11-year old practice was tricky. But, it was good to revisit the challenges, the incomprehension that I regularly faced over years when I tried to insist that the “ecological imperative” (Suzi Gablik, 1992 in reference to Thomas Berry) must become a central concern for the arts. I could also more clearly understand from where my recent compulsion to signal to the Irish arts community that cultural activity for these urgent times is to be valued. I know from experience that if one is informed by ecoliteracy, one can help activate Irish communities in urban and rural regions towards ways of living that will usher in a more beautiful, just and healthy world.

Do feel free to comment below. I am just one voice and cannot know conversations on this topic that maybe arising in other areas in Ireland. However, I strongly believe that a collective conversation on the role of arts for these urgent times is needed.

I also put an audio only version below as I know many people are now finding they have more time listen to a talk as a podcast, rather than watching a video.

Click image to download

And, while a talk can be more engaging, my video only gives an overview of my study. My original study on the urgent need for new arts policy and strategies to support the Irish to attend the eco-social emergencies can be found here

Update from Cathy, 2 July 2019 : Since giving this talk there has been an important development for arts and sustainability in Ireland. On 28 June Creative Carbon Scotland announced that Caitriona Fallon and Theatre Forum Ireland have set up a Green Initiative for Arts in Ireland. Read more here on my new site on ecoliteracy services for the arts in Ireland at

My special thanks to Karen, Gerry, Nessa, Iain below for supporting my doctoral research and my efforts to alert the Irish Arts community that it has a critical role to engage and inspire Irish society towards a more beautiful, just and sustainable ways of living.

I’d also like to thank again the people who have long supported this research:


Ben Twist, CEO, Creative Carbon Scotland

Gemma Lawrence, Culture/SHIFT Producer, Creative Carbon Scotland

Sinead Dowling, Carlow Arts Officer

Jules Michael, MFA, Carlow

Alan Price, former Green Party County Carlow councillor

Malcolm Noonan, Green Party Kilkenny City councillor

Martin Lyttle, Carlow Stone Sculptor

Mary Carty, former Westmeath arts officer, technology and business start-up entrepreneur

Rosalind Murray, Artist, Educator, Carlow

Art Mooney, Artist, Researcher, Carlow

Dedication: My initial report celebrates the encouragement and support to the author from the late Elinor Mountain (Kilkenny) and the late Dr. Chris Seeley (UK). Both were passionate and generous in all their community-building and education work, and in their understanding that the arts have a profound role in developing deep understandings of place. They lived and breathed a commitment that restoring our broken relationships to our lands and waters is fundamentally connected to creating caring,life-sustaining communities.

Published by Cathy Fitzgerald

Dr. Cathy Fitzgerald, PhD, is a New Zealander, ecosocial (ecological) artist, innovative educator and researcher now living in Ireland. She completed her PhD by Practice 'The Ecological Turn: Living Well with Forests to articulate ecosocial art practice using Guattari’s ecosophy and action research', in 2018, at the National College of Art and Design in Ireland. She continues her ongoing ecosocial art practice - The Hollywood Forest Story at Currently a Research Fellow for the Burren College of Art, Cathy is currently sharing her ecoliteracy learning with other creative workers through online courses and workshops at the Haumea Ecoversity

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