Why arts & culture are essential for a sustainable future

Published on 5 July 2018

By: Andre Frois

With increased cultural diversity and the growing complexities of our global village, there is a greater need than ever for cities to be more liveable and resilient.

“Governments around the world are now realising the importance of measuring and actively supporting the well-being of their residents to promote resilient, productive and engaged communities,” shares Martin Haese, Lord Mayor of Adelaide, who is a strong proponent of green societies that simultaneously encourage personal expression. “Well-being is a sense of life satisfaction and general happiness that comes from having purpose, self-awareness and positive engagement with others. Resilience, on the other hand, can be defined as our ability to adjust to change, cope with stress, and learn and grow from adversity. The two concepts go hand in hand – the greater our sense of well-being, the more resilient we are.”


Lord Mayor of Adelaide, Martin Haese at the Compact of Mayors conference

How culture fuels innovation and collaboration

The Lord Mayor will be in Singapore to deliver the keynote address for the World Cities Summit Culture Forum, which takes place at Marina Bay Sands on 10th July 2018. The event is co-organised by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, Singapore (MCCY)and the Centre for Liveable Cities

Entitled Shaping Cities through Innovation and Collaboration in Culture, the forum explores how cities of the future can meaningfully weave cultural elements into their urban landscape, and maximise their positive impact for residents. It is held as part of the biennial World Cities Summit, where government leaders and industry experts come together to address issues of liveability and sustainability.

Here, the Lord Mayor will discuss Adelaide’s strengths of creativity, innovation and collaboration, and also articulate how emerging sectors and the spirit of cooperation can help to empower people in local communities. The forum will also include a panel discussion with speakers such as Mr Aaron Seeto, Director of Museum MACAN (Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara), Indonesia, as well as Mrs Rosa Daniel, Deputy Secretary (Culture) of MCCY and the Chief Executive Officer of the National Arts Council Singapore.

Lessons from Adelaide

Artistic inspiration is fundamental in yielding productivity and ingenuity, and governments play an important role by creating an environment where new ideas can thrive and flourish, that supports innovation and risk-taking to generate new perspectives.

“I am a strong believer that there is an intrinsic link between sustainability and innovation, technology and entrepreneurship, as well as liveability, well-being and resilience, which create economic competitive advantage, and liveable cities,” says the Lord Mayor.

The City of Adelaide’s Splash Adelaide programme is a successful community co-creation initiative, which has seen innovative activations, events and projects bring vibrancy and vitality to the city’s spaces. The programme has successfully supported over 500 unique events and projects, ranging from music festivals to pop-up playgrounds and street art installations.

Adelaide also runs a programme called Umbrella Winter City Sounds, co-developed with industry body Music SA, to encourage early-evening visits to the city during the winter months. Now in its third year, the programme sees over 300 participating venues, further cementing Adelaide’s UNESCO City of Music status.

Says the Lord Mayor, “It is important to recognise that arts and culture go beyond the headline festivals, and that we provide ongoing support to our local arts and culture community – the street performers, local bands and live music venues, community theatres and others. To support our arts and culture sectors, we must genuinely consult with and listen to those with different experiences and varying levels of expertise. The experiences of an up-and-coming artist, new start-up or grass-roots group are just as important as those of seasoned professionals or industry icons,” he further emphasises.

Art is naturally part of sustainable living spaces

Image courtesy of Patrick Bingham-Hall


“Integrating sustainability and art into our societies is the only way forward, if we want to improve quality of life and enhance the liveability of our cities,” echoes Alina Yeo, a Director of WOHA Architects. “This is especially crucial when population densities are going to increase in the next 30 years – particularly in Asia – and a large majority of people will live in the inner cities. In countries like Singapore and Japan, we also have an ageing population and art is a wonderful way to keep people active and engaged.”

Yeo appreciates how art increases the liveability of a city. She feels that a metropolis pervaded by art and design is the product of moulding a city into a more sustainable and eco-friendly environment.

“A sustainable building encompasses many aspects. There are the environmental considerations that minimise waste, carbon footprint and energy consumption, and maximise the use of resources. All of WOHA’s buildings incorporate passive design strategies that promote natural cross ventilation and daylighting,” she elaborates.

Yeo was the project manager for the School of the Arts, or SOTA, which was not only lauded for its engaging aesthetics, but also for its environmentally conscious functionality. She is delighted by how the eco-friendly product of her team’s hard work turned out. “In SOTA, natural ventilation and lighting are found along the corridors, for students to enjoy on their way to class, while making it easily accessible for maintenance, which is vital to the success of these green walls. There are also the social and ecological aspects. In land-scarce Singapore, we need to explore innovative ways to create multiple ground levels that creatively integrate various land uses to bring communities together, and to enable natural ecosystems to co-exist in our densely built environments.


Image courtesy of Patrick Bingham-Hall

Sustainability as a way of life

Upcycled furniture for Rabbit Owl Depot. Image courtesy of Triple Eyelid.


“I think sustainability needs to be a consideration for not just art and design, but also for other products in our daily lives. I would love to see more companies integrating sustainable design into their products and services,” shares Jackie Tan, Design Director of local design studio Triple Eyelid. “For a start, perhaps we can all start by looking at sustainable sources for the materials and mediums that we use? For example, painters can look out for more low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) and non-toxic paint. Most importantly, use only what is needed and try to think of potential wastage before embarking on a new project.”


Portable Laptop Stand. Image courtesy of Triple Eyelid


Triple Eyelid was started in May 2014 and aims to advocate sustainability by running public workshops educating attendees on the importance of reusing materials, while igniting their sense of self-expression. Shares Tan, “We equip others with the necessary knowledge to DIY or repair their own furniture, instead of throwing old furniture away.”


Cardboard artist, Bartholomew Ting (4th from right) with his artwork


For famous cardboard sculptor Bartholomew Ting, incorporating sustainability into art practices has paid off in a big way. The NUS Business graduate’s sustainable art has not only been displayed across Singapore for the enjoyment of everyday people, but has also been exhibited overseas in countries like Malaysia, Germany and the United States.


World Maker Faire 2015 in New York City. Image courtesy of Bartholomew Ting.


“When I used to work in the packaging industry, I came to see the beauty of sustainable packaging material,” Ting shares. “Integrating sustainability into arts and societies is the only future of art-making. Artists are not followers; as sustainability-oriented artists, we can lead by example and hope for the best.”

Shaping Cities through Innovation and Collaboration in Culture will take place from 3.30pm to 6pm on 10th July 2018 at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre.


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