The Center for Creative Ecologies researches the intersection of art, culture, and environment. The aim is to develop useful arts-led interdisciplinary research tools to examine how cultural practitioners—filmmakers, new media strategists, photojournalists, architects, writers, activists, and interdisciplinary theorists—critically address and creatively negotiate environmental concerns in the local, regional, and global field. These concerns include anthropogenic climate change and global warming, and relate to factors such as habitat destruction, drought, species extinction, and environmental degradation, in relation to which we ask: how are creative practitioners imagining alternative narratives that cultivate ecological wellbeing, support a just transition to a post-carbon future, and regard the nonhuman world as other than an anthropocentric resource for wealth accumulation? Drawing on such wide-ranging fields as visual culture and art history, political ecology and economics, anthropology and sociology, Earth jurisprudence and new materialism philosophy, Indigenous cosmopolitics and climate justice activism, and insisting on addressing ecology from a justice-oriented framework, the Center energizes the formation of the emerging environmental arts and humanities at UC Santa Cruz.

Embedded in the Department of History of Art and Visual Culture (HAVC), the Center supports and strengthens its PhD program in Visual Culture, and provides a dynamic space of interdisciplinary thinking that merges undergraduate, graduate, and faculty levels. It addresses a wide arena of cultural experience, within and beyond artistic practice, including ecological theory, mass media narratives, governmental and intergovernmental policy, and science communication, where environmental matters are discussed, represented, and negotiated. The Center aims to be an inclusive space of dialogue—operating between university disciplines, community groups, nongovernmental organizations, and social movements—welcoming diverse participants to consider ecological conflicts and creative sustainable alternatives, to widen our knowledge society and abilities to respond to environmental transformation, and to assess and contribute to informed approaches to policy-making in the widest sense of the term.

* Image: Video still from Ursula Biemann and Paulo Tavares, Forest Law, 2014. The passage shows Julio Tiwiram, situated in the Ecuadoran Amazon, laying out the elements of his “forest pharmacy,” a display of plants with medicinal and pharmaceutical properties known to local Indigenous traditions. Tiwiram is an internationally known Shuar shaman, and holder of a university medical degree, who lives in Kupiamais, near Gualaquiza. This region of the Amazon continues to be threatened by corporate and state oil interests, contested by Indigenous groups taking recourse to the "rights of nature" enshrined in Ecuador's 2008 constitution. (Image courtesy of Ursula Biemann)

On the Power of the Humusities for a Habitable Multispecies Muddle”: A Salon Evening With Donna Haraway*

Please join us for an informal dinner discussion with Donna Haraway on the occasion of the publication of her new book Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin the Chthulucene (Duke University Press, 2016).

Wednesday, October 5, 2016, 6:30pm

In its pages, Donna Haraway writes of the sustained imperative of our new geological epoch: “we must cultivate “response-ability; that is also collective knowing and doing, an ecology of practices.” In that spirit, the Center for Creative Ecologies—dedicated to exploring precisely creative practices of response-ability and promoting ecologies of interdisciplinary connection —invites guests to consider the significance of the terminological proposals for our time, such as Anthropocene, Capitalocene, and Chthulucene. The latter is Haraway’s own conceptualization for describing and cultivating a post-anthropocentric era of multi-species mutualities, sympoiesis, and creative kin-ful co-becomings. For these may be our best chance of fending off the incursions of the regressive individualism and human exceptionalism of Anthropocenic hegemony and equally the petrocapitalist exterminism of the Capitalocene’s financialization and colonization of all remaining natures. Please join us for what will be a fascinating humusities discussion with Donna—akin to a muddy exchange of organisms, a composting of ideas in the pluriversity of humus—of how we might make life habitable amidst this multispecies muddle.

* Haraway, Staying With the Trouble, 32. One chapter extract, “Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene” was recently published online at e-flux, where it is freely available.

Becoming Indigenous

Salon discussion with Jim Clifford, Santa Cruz, Feb 18, 2016. The informal topic of the event is "becoming indigenous," a term mobilized by Clifford in his 2013 book Returns: Becoming Indigenous in the Twenty-First Century. In addition to proposing ways to think about the multiple meanings of Indigenous becomings in relation to the uncertain postcolonial, media-networked forms of native life today, how might the phrase also relate to the conditions of people living locally with ethico-political consciousness? Can the suggestive phrase also characterize becoming local at a time of global uprootedness, migration (forced and voluntary), and virtual presence/absence, sending down roots when nature, nativity, and nationality--and thus the nature of locality--have all begun to break down, at least as uncomplicated, uncontested words? Does it make sense to think about "becoming local" as an ecological act, linked to solidarity with assorted Indigenous becomings in an era of extractivism, climate chaos, and growing political inequality?

*Thanks to Jim Clifford for the above shot of Paris' Luxembourg Gardens and its mobile indigenizing flora!


Global Climate Justice Today
UC Santa Cruz, October 13-27, 2015

This series of talks at UC Santa Cruz—featuring Valentin Lopez (Amah Mutsun Tribal Band), Flora Lu (UC Santa Cruz), Néstor L. Silva (Stanford University), Leila Salazar-Lopez (Amazon Watch), Andy Szasz (UC Santa Cruz), T.J. Demos (UC Santa Cruz), and Paulo Tavares (Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London/Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador)—investigates the current meanings of climate justice for communities from California to the Ecuadorian Amazon. Climate Justice is built on the realization that addressing environmental change must be accompanied by attentiveness to structural inequalities, and that any solution must prioritize socio-political and economic justice and include the participation of those most vulnerable to environmental impacts. As such, climate justice raises ongoing questions of political-ecological urgency for artists and activists alike.

Organized by T.J. Demos and the Center for Creative Ecologies, Climate Justice Today responds to these pressing questions related to how we address the social, economic, and ecological impacts of our changing environment, and what political recourse and sites of agency remain. Climate Justice Today is generously sponsored by UCSC’s Arts Dean’s Fund for Excellence, UCSC’s Colleges Nine and Ten, UCSC's American Indian Resource Center, and the Institute of the Arts and Sciences.

Read more and watch videos...


News and Events

Winter-Spring 2017


During Winter and Spring 2017, T.J. Demos of UC Santa Cruz’s Center for Creative Ecologies in collaboration with the artist Laurie Palmer of UC Santa Cruz’s Arts Department will initiate the Arts-led research project EXTRACTION, co-sponsored by the Arts Research Institute and the Institute of the Arts and Sciences at UC Santa Cruz. The project comprises a series of interlinked activities directed toward critically analyzing extraction as an industrial operation of natural resource mining and labor exploitation, investigating its ecological, economic, philosophical, and aesthetic factors and implications. Including a film series and artist lecture program—with guest presentations by practitioners such as the Center for Land Use Interpretation, Subhankar Banerjee, Claire Pentecost, Brian Holmes, and Elizabeth Knafo—the project also entails a number of workshops, a student-faculty reading group, field trips to regional extraction sites, and a two-day conference in May. EXTRACTION will draw together artists and researchers at UCSC, and leading thinkers in the field locally, regionally, and nationally. (View details)

Art and Climate Activism: KZSC, Santa Cruz Radio, Nov. 14, 2016

As the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change met in Marrakesh, Morocco, KZSC spoke to TJ Demos, a UCSC Professor of History of Art and Visual Culture and the Founder and Director of the Center for Creative Ecologies. Demos appeared on KZSC’s Talkabout, and Tamyra Rice and John Sandidge interviewed him about his new book “Decolonizing Nature” as well as the intersections between political protests, art, and ecologies. [link]

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UC Santa Cruz
Humanities 1, Rm 210, 5:30pm
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
(The book's Introduction available here)

For the UC Santa Cruz launch of his new book Decolonizing Nature, Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology, Demos will read from his book and discuss his research into creative proposals of artists and activists for ways of life that bring together ecological sustainability, climate justice and radical democracy. While ecology has received little systematic attention within art history, its visibility and significance has grown in relation to the threats of climate change and environmental destruction. By engaging artists’ widespread aesthetic and political engagement with environmental conditions and processes around the globe—and looking at cutting-edge theoretical, political, and cultural developments in the Global South and North—Decolonizing Nature offers a significant, original contribution to the intersecting fields of art history, ecology, visual culture, geography, and environmental politics. Art historian T. J. Demos, author of Return to the Postcolony: Specters of Colonialism in Contemporary Art (2013), considers the creative proposals of artists and activists for ways of life that bring together ecological sustainability, climate justice, and radical democracy, at a time when such creative proposals are urgently needed. Decolonizing Nature, Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology is published by Sternberg Press.

This event is presented by The Center for Emerging Worlds and the Center for Cultural Studies. It has received additional support from the Institute of the Arts and Sciences and the Center for Creative Ecologies.

What are Creative Ecologies? T.J. Demos answers the question in Take Magazine (Delhi), Spring 2017

“Proposing a notion of creative ecology means decolonising nature—not in the sense of reclaiming some sort of original wilderness or pure nonhuman environment (these represent fictions of a colonised world), but instead releasing the environment from its reduction to “natural resources,” as if it exists purely for human exploitation and consumption.”

Spring 2016: Climate Justice Now! Art, Activism, Environment Today
UC Santa Cruz

As climate change threats grow more severe, and in the absence of government leadership, artists and activists are inventing creative strategies of consciousness-raising, mass mobilization, and ecologically sustainable thinking and living. This class and public lecture series, joined by a diverse array of guest speakers, all leaders in the area of climate justice and cultural politics, will explore current imperatives for making a just transition to a post-carbon future. View recent publicity here. Download Climate Justice Now Poster and class syllabus. And check out the Sonic Climate Justice Playlist, accompanying the course. Videos of lectures are available here.


Cultural Politics of Sustainability at UC Santa Cruz (more here, including videos...)

Fossil Free UC Nov Rally

Funded by the UCSC Sustainability Office, this two-quarter-long project comprises a series of UCSC interdisciplinary symposia and workshops dedicated to the topic of sustainability. Organized in relation to the research and practice of the Arts-based Center for Creative Ecology, the series intends to bring to campus speakers representing expertise in diverse areas of sustainability studies, and with them organize discussions with interdisciplinary members of UC faculty and graduate and undergraduate students on the history, meaning, and conflictual elements of sustainability. The project will also focus on critical discussion of UCSC’s Campus Sustainability Plan.