CCL Alumni in Focus: Julie Forchhammer

Julie Forchhammer, Klimakultur. Photo: Frode Bjørshol

Julie’s Bicycle’s Creative Climate Leadership (CCL) programme aims to build an international network of diverse and influential cultural climate leaders who will work with their communities to make change happen.

Julie Forchhammer took part in the CCL Scandinavia 2022 programme. She is the co-founder of the non-profit Klimakultur which guides the Norwegian culture sector on how to reduce emissions and implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) in their daily practices.

How has your journey unfolded since CCL, and what creative climate projects are you currently working on?

CCL changed both me and the work we are doing in Klimakultur in a big way. The programme made it very clear to me how the culture sector in Norway have been focused on lowering and calculating emissions (which we, of course, should do), but how little we have worked on issues like climate justice and understanding the importance of artists and culture workers to contribute to systems change and a fair transition.

Working with culture and climate justice in Norway is impossible without talking about fossil fuels. A lot.

You can attend so many seminars and conferences about culture and sustainability without ever addressing Norway’s role as one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers. We try to do something about that. We talk about oil. And we try to make other people talk about oil. We are happy to be part of a growing community in the art sector who are talking about oil and climate justice. It gives me a lot of hope.

Klimakultur and Rosendal Teater in Trondheim released an introductory guide about creative climate justice in a Norwegian perspective this autumn. We also created a workshop programme based on the guide which we are thrilled to have started delivering, and will be doing a lot more of in the new year.

Gathering people and getting them to share their reflections on climate justice, art, community building, representation and yes, feelings, feels amazing. Together we are creating spaces for talking about difficult topics like what it means for the culture sector that Norway has an expansive oil policy with its own state owned oil company Equinor.

I think it’s hard for people outside of Norway to truly understand how difficult it is to talk about the fossil fuel industry, especially the higher you get in the ranks of our society and cultural institutions. And yes, to be honest, we spend a lot of time trying to get funding for all of this work. I guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise that it’s easier to get funding for teaching people how to arrange their waste management at a festival or calculating a theatre’s emissions than talking about climate justice and fossil fuels in this country.

Luckily Klimakultur is placed in the beautiful mountains in Vang in Valdres so our day to day offices expenses are lower than what they’d be in Oslo – we have the national park Jotunheimen next door and all the nature you could possibly dream of. Also, I think it’s helpful for us to be at an arm’s length distance to most of the culture sector. It’s easier to see the scope of what issues that are being discussed, and not, when you are not standing in the thick of it all.

Creative climate justice workshop, facilitated by Klimakultur and Farah Ahmed from Julie's Bicycle at the launch of the guide with Rosendal Teater.
Creative Climate Justice workshop, facilitated by Klimakultur and Farah Ahmed from Julie’s Bicycle at the launch of the guide with Rosendal Teater.

What is a key piece of learning or inspiration you took away from CCL that you’d like to share with others?

An important inspiration comes from meeting all the other participants and facilitators. I get inspiration from them every single day, following their work, and knowing I am part of a growing network of people with a lot of skills, energy, empathy and fun. Lot’s of fun. The work is hard so we need to remember to smile.

It was also an eye opener when we mapped where we can contribute the most with our climate work. Having been in the music and culture sector since the early 90s I have worked with and know people spread all over the Norwegian society. It made me be more aware of, and appreciate, the access I have to people, and to be less afraid of reaching out and contacting them. Often people are happy to be invited into this climate space, to be able to get involved, to take action.

One year after CCL I have finally realised one important thing… At the end of the programme I had a mentor meeting with Julie’s Bicycle founder Alison Tickell and got a lot of good advice on how to take my work further. I asked how she kept going, working with these issues year after year. And she said it was a privilege. That she felt lucky to be alive at this moment in time, to be able to contribute and make a difference. I remember I smiled and nodded, like I understood what she was saying. But I didn’t, not then.

But now, one year later, I do understand. I do feel privileged to work with an issue like climate justice. I feel lucky to meet so many new people, being part of a community and contributing to starting new conversations about the biggest issues of our time. It makes me happy. Not that I know how all of this will end and unfold, but just to be a part of this. I do feel Klimakultur and my colleagues are making a difference, every day. That makes me smile.

Sajje Solbakk from Riddu Riđđu Festival, at the "Music & Climate Justice Workshop" at Oslo World. Photo: Nabeeh Samaan.
Sajje Solbakk from Riddu Riđđu Festival at the ‘Music & Climate Justice Workshop’ at Oslo World. Photo: Nabeeh Samaan.

What does Creative Climate Leadership mean to you? What is most exciting about working in the arts/creative community on climate transformations?

Creative Climate Leadership to me means opening up the doors wider, inviting in more people, more voices, more art, more empathy. It means using every opportunity to include voices from the frontline communities who are living with the consequences of the climate crisis every single day. I am still learning how to do that and how to build new relationships to strengthen that focus.

I am very excited to see how the culture sector in Norway is starting to speak out louder and LOUDER against fossil fuels. This year 15 culture organisations, representing more than 19.000 artists and culture workers and over 500 venues and festivals, have voted yes to petitions against further oil exploration. That is amazing! These petitions are such an important signal to send. Especially since the people leading our culture sector often can’t talk about oil. If you’re accepting a leading position in the Norwegian culture sector you’re at the same time accepting talking like a climate denier.

At this moment I doubt if it’s even possible to lead any of our major culture institutions, such as our Arts Council or the oil sponsored Munch Museum, National Museum and Festspillene in Bergen, and speak out publicly against fossil fuel at the same time. That makes the clear message on no new oil exploration from 19.000 artists and culture workers so fantastic.

Participants at the "Music & Climate Justice Workshop" at Oslo World. Photo: Nabeeh Samaan.
Participants at the ‘Music & Climate Justice Workshop’ at Oslo World. Photo: Nabeeh Samaan.

What is your project looking to achieve and your ambitions for it? What transformations or visions of a liveable future are you working towards in your community or organisation?

Klimakultur would love to help build both awareness and a community engaged in arts, activism, creative climate justice and fossil fuels.

We would also love to help connect more Norwegian culture workers and organisations to international networks and organisations like Climate Live, Culture Declares Emergency, Culture Unstained, Julie’s Bicycle, Music Declares Emergency and the Climate Heritage Network. We are thousands and thousands across the globe connected in our love for art and the future of our planet.

The culture sector in Norway can really play a crucial role when it comes to fossil fuels and climate action. At first it made me depressed when I realised how the fossil fuel industry is present in all aspects of Norwegian society: In politics, civil servants, sports, schools, culture, media and just absolutely everywhere. But if we flip it around, this narrative opens up so many possible transformations in the future. We are only 5.4 million people in Norway. But our oil industry is one of the largest in the world. This means that we all, artists and organisations, are bumping into politicians, the oil industry and stakeholders all the time. We do have access to power. We do have a possibility to speak up and be heard.

Just imagine if we in the culture sector in Norway can help prevent things like Equinor opening up the oil field Rosebank in the UK part of the north sea. If built, that oil field alone will have the same emissions as the world’s 28 poorest countries.

I truly believe the culture sector in Norway can influence our politicians and the fossil fuel industry here. But we must speak louder. And we must include climate justice in this work. I am very hopeful that we will see a lot of creative climate action happen in the next few years. I’m here for that ride for sure.

Julie Forchhammer at the "Music & Climate Justice Workshop" at Oslo World. Photo: Nabeeh Samaan.
Julie Forchhammer at the ‘Music & Climate Justice Workshop’ at Oslo World. Photo: Nabeeh Samaan.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone working on climate-related projects right now?

To always include fossil fuels in some way. Working with culture and climate issues in Norway without ever addressing our expansive fossil fuel industry, is at best naive, at worst, it means supporting a system that is literally killing our planet. Knowledge and art and all kinds of reflections on the fossil fuel industry, the one industry responsible for almost 90% of all emissions, is important. No matter where you work or in which country you are placed.

The fossil fuel industry are masters of PR, with unlimited resources to influence and delay climate action. Artists and culture workers may not always be well financed but we also have one unlimited resource we can use: The power to be brave and tell the truth. If we work with empathy and compassion we come a long way.

Any upcoming programmes / webinars / events to mention?

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