Thursday, 29 November 2007

environment, heritage and the arts

I do not think the measure of a civilisation is
how tall its buildings of concrete are, but rather how well its people
have learned to relate to their environment and fellow man.

Sun Bear
, Chippewa, USA

This is one of those profound but obvious statements that I was glad to stumble across again recently (in the Survival International catalogue). It sums up well the awareness that grew on me when travelling in Australia in the late 1980s. Today I'm so happy to read that Peter Garrett (of Midnight Oil) has become Australia's new Environment Minister. More than that his ministry covers Environment, Heritage and the Arts. These three aspects of life are so interlinked in traditional ways of thinking that I am smilingly thrilled for that nation's First Peoples, I hope it works out for them. Also I have real hope for the future if this cultural attitude leads Australia to become once more a (the?) leading player for the environment and our planetary future (I think back to Bob Hawke's signing of the Antarctic World Park Treaty, two full years before campaigning even began in Britain).

Yet here in England, Environment comes under the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, signifying environment as a place outside of urban and suburban contexts; while Culture (which I think is meant as a catchall for Heritage and Arts) is lumped into a Culture, Media and Sports grouping. Within the DCMS, Culture is joined up with creative industries and tourism.

Culture to me means the way of life of a group of people, even a nation - and not a packagable, brandable, competitive, marketable commodity. The arts are not an industry, surely? They are about our soul, our situation and our sagacity. Aren't they?

What hope is there for our nation, for our children, for our planetary survival no less - if at ministerial level the majority of our citizens are disconnected from the environment?

Australia, show us the way...

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