Grantee Spotlight: Sparking Environmental Action

A drawing of two people farming together. There is a sign in the front that says "food for all"

Image: Jaclyn Fawn Mendez, artist of Creative Wildfire

Climate change has reached a boiling point. Every day brings fresh signs of the crisis, from historic wildfires to once-a-century flooding, from unpredictable growing seasons to devastating hurricanes and tornadoes, with the worst impacts hitting communities with the fewest resources to respond. We must take radical action to slow the pace of change and mitigate the worst of its impacts.

Deep, transformational change – the kind needed to address the urgent and growing climate crisis – must be rooted in a new vision of the world. The systems, structures, ideas, and narratives that created the climate crisis and allowed it to metastasize cannot be the same ones that are used to solve it. Without a bold new story about a better world that is possible, we will be stuck in the same cycle of short-term thinking, scarcity mindset, and false tradeoffs.

Researchers like Rachel Wetts have shown that, though coverage of climate change is increasing, arguments against taking action are still overrepresented in the public conversation. And, as organizations like Green 2.0 have demonstrated, the climate change movement remains overwhelmingly white and male-led. This research paints a frightening picture: at the very moment when we most need a new story to mobilize action, the public conversation is being driven, at best, by allies who do not understand how to reach the communities who are most affected and, at worst, by climate deniers.

Movement Generation, New Economy Coalition, and Climate Justice Alliance are flipping the script. Through the Creative Wildfire project, these WDN grantees are opening the public’s eyes to the need for radical action by amplifying the work of innovative artists who come from the most deeply-affected communities.  These WDN grantees are driving resources and attention towards BIPOC-led and centered creative work.

Creative Wildfire began with a manifesto from frontline communities, Resist a Return to Normal. It calls for a Just Transition to a climate-adapted future, including deep and systemic changes to the extractive economic model that has driven climate change. With the manifesto, they put out a call to artists who could use their art to bring the manifesto to life, receiving more than 125 applications.

A graphic with pictures of Creative Wildfire's 2021 selected artists

The first Creative Wildfire artists are almost exclusively women, and include G.O.L.D…(fka Coco Peila), Alice Yuan Zhang, Cece Carpio, Jaclyn Fawn Mendez, Loisse Ledres, Chiara Francesca, Maddy Clifford, Aisha Shillingford, Macorina Films (Diana Rosario, Karen Hurtado, Karina Hurtado-Ocampo), Maisie Richards, Kate McNeely, Crystal Clarity, Cooperative Journal (Ebony Gustave and Robin Bean Crane), Amir Khadar, and Lavish Studios (Angelique Kalani Axelrode and Shelton Torbert, Jr.).

These artists’ work, which was featured at a showcase and continues to be circulated through social media, stands in stark contrast to the current stale, technical, fear-driven narratives around climate change. The art brings the impacts of climate change on frontline communities into sharp relief, humanizes the issue, and makes the needed changes feel inspiring. This work, and work like it, is the spark for action among young people and communities of color.

Environment and climate funding practices that do not center frontline communities and grassroots organizations have not created the large-scale, systemic shifts we need to respond to the interlinked crises of our time. What actionable steps can you take to change that? 

Consider joining the Climate Justice Crash Course for Funders – a journey centered on Climate Justice learning and action in 2022. The first session is on April 21. It is being organized by the Climate Justice Alliance.

You are invited to engage in dialogue with frontline leaders; learn from the distinct, embodied knowledge and expertise they bring; and follow their lead toward transformations that build new, equitable systems to combat climate change and build local, living, regenerative economies that benefit us all.

Through our Safe and Sustainable Impact Collective, WDN proudly supports boundary-pushing work like Creative Wildfire from grantee partners Movement Generation, New Economy Coalition, and Climate Justice Alliance. They move us toward a healthy and sustainable planet for all, where all people and communities are equally protected from harm, including all forms of violence. We recognize that the climate crisis demands deep shifts in our thinking and embrace the risks associated with supporting cutting-edge work because we know that the real risk, today, is to do things the way they have always been done.

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