Arts in Ecology: Questions of Foresight


  • David Haley Art & Design, Manchester Metropolitan University


First, to reflect upon the title, ‘Music and Arts in Action’. We might, for certain purposes, consider a coming together of art forms and disciplines. Not the crossovers, mergers and interdisciplinary dialectical fusions we are familiar with, but a convergence or, as the biochemist E. O. Wilson (1999) termed it, a ‘consilience’, a leaping together of different knowledge. Perhaps this is akin to the Nobel physicist David Bohm’s ‘Dialogue – A proposal’ (Bohm, et al, 1991), in which processes, forms and structures synthesise as a creative act?

And so we move from the co-joining action of the word ‘and’ to the dynamic agency of ‘in’. Here we may find meaning in ‘…in Action’, the act, or intervention that provokes and evokes a new culture, or a new society, perhaps as the artist Joseph Beuys (1990) aimed for in his concept of ‘Social Sculpture’. Furthermore, that notion of dynamism embedded in ‘in Action’ introduces the ideas of movement, change and transformation – from one place to another, from one time to another, or from one state of being to another. ‘Far from equilibrium’ (Prigogne and Stengers, 1984), this relational interdependence may be understood as that embodied by whole systems ecology, or the process, pattern and structure of Music and Arts.

Here and now is where this paper starts, by considering the ways in which this dialogue with and between Music and Arts might, in Action, create questions of foresight and ‘ennobling questions’ (Haley, 2008) that may contribute to many futures becoming. The key message is that environmental, social and cultural sustainability require creative, imaginative and positive approaches, and that the arts can contribute to these.

Author Biography

David Haley, Art & Design, Manchester Metropolitan University

David Haley’s work focuses on whole systems ecology and critical futures thinking and questions the “cultural industry” that undermines stories of global warming, the global economy and the Sixth Extinction. He pursues this through arts projects, academic pursuits, education and various advisory positions. As a Research Fellow in MIRIAD at Manchester Metropolitan University he directs the A&E [art&ecology] research unit and leads the award winning MA Art As Environment programme. Recent projects in the UK, China, Taiwan, Germany and the USA include The Writing On The Wall, performed poetic interventions; River Life 3000: Like There’s No Tomorrow, sculptural installation; A Walk On The Wild Side, eco-urban art-walks and films; and Greenhouse Britain: Losing Ground Gaining Wisdom, with Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison.