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OCAD U launches new Global Centre for Climate Action

Associate Professor Ranee Lee speaks at a large podium with a microphone. The front of the podium has a sign with a purple background and white writing that reads DEMOCRACY XCHANGE.

OCAD U Associate Professor Ranee Lee from the Industrial Design program participated at a panel discussion on creative climate action at the DemocracyXChange. Photo by Jackie Brown Photography.

OCAD University’s new Global Centre for Climate Action is a place where, art, design and creative research practice will come together to challenge the climate crisis.

The centre marked its public debut on Saturday, March 25 at the DemocracyXChange Summit with a panel of designers and activists who shared their perspectives on creative climate action.

“We cannot profoundly change the future if we cannot imagine it in new ways,” said Dr. Sarita Srivastava, the centre’s Director and OCAD U Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science who moderated the panel discussion. “This new initiative will draw on the creative, sustainable design and artistic practice to imagine new approaches to sustainability and climate justice.”

The centre is bringing together artists, designers and scholars to imagine sustainability and climate research in new ways. Researchers and creative practitioners working on sustainability are being invited to join the network.

It will also provide a virtual resource for creative climate action and be involved in research, exhibition and programming projects. For example, earlier this month as part of creating awareness of the centre on the OCAD U campus, Assistant Professor Michael Lee Poy held drop-in workshops called Sustainable Mascamp Open Studio.

During these sessions, students, faculty and staff created upcycled Mas costumes, using materials that would normally go to landfill sites or contribute to ocean pollution. On March 24, a procession and performance was held at OCAD U to amplify the importance of sustainability and climate change through the creative use of existing waste.

A group of participants in upcycled Mas costumes stand smiling in the lobby at 100 McCaul St. A colourful banner hangs above them. Participants from the Sustainable Mascamp procession and performance on March 24.

“This centre is an exciting opportunity for our students to bring their design skills and imagination to addressing the central challenge of our time,” said Dr. Srivastava. “The Global Centre for Climate Action will be a combination of both virtual and physical spaces for everyone who cares about climate change.”

OCAD U has partnered with the City of Toronto to activate the Canada Malting Silos on the Toronto waterfront at Bathurst Quay, which will be one of the centre’s physical hubs. The city is funding the renovations and repairs to the heritage silos that will transform the site into a dynamic and creative destination. Work is being completed on the south silos and work on the north silos will begin shortly.

As its first major creative project, the centre plans to activate the silos with a series of exhibitions in spring, summer and fall of 2024. Each series will celebrate intergenerational and interdisciplinary practices that highlight climate action through art, design and research in a way that invites public engagement. 

Creative Climate Action panel discussion

During the DemocracyXChange summit’s panel discussion, Kazmy Chi Muñoz, an architect, researcher and educator at the Universidad de Monterrey in Mexico, encouraged people to focus on nature as a way to address climate change.

“Use nature as a book that has the answers to all of today’s problems,” she said. “By employing speculative design thinking, we can address the crisis of depleting renewable resources and take a more active position to respect the earth.” Speculative design is a way of visualizing the futures, focusing on the preferable future.

OCAD U Associate Professor of Industrial Design Ranee Lee 郭恩琳 shared her work to democratize design by making it accessible to the public through DESIGNwith, a life-centred design lab for social innovation and circular economy.

The lab, a partnership with Cadillac Fairview (CF) and OCAD University, is located on Level 2 of the CF Eaton Centre and addresses issues of waste and sustainability while strengthening community engagement through programs, including hands-on workshops.

Activist Aliénor (Allie) Rougeot shared ideas from the youth climate movement and believes that art and design has a role to play in the climate change debate.

The fossil fuel industry has spent an enormous amount of money to protect their interests, which has created a new phase of denial and delaying climate action, said Rougeot. She believes that artists and designers can help translate complex science data into compelling stories that may lead to empowering people to take action. 

“We urgently need new ways to think about the climate crisis. The Global Centre for Climate Action is a place for interdisciplinary, creative and practice-oriented research focused on climate justice,” said Dr. Srivastava.

The centre is aligned with the University’s Academic and Strategic Plan and its priorities to pursue environmental sustainability; decolonize, Indigenize art and design education and advance equity; innovate learning, teaching and research; and emerge as a vibrant creative hub.

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