The Williams College Museum of Art’s historic Rotunda becomes the site for an ambitious sculptural installation and the hub of a collaboration with the international art collective Ghana ThinkTank. Focusing on the issue of climate change, the project brings solutions from “think tanks” in Indonesia and Morocco—two countries already grappling with the effects of climate change—to the Williams community. Members of both think tanks will visit Williamstown to give public talks, advise, and meet with students the week of March 13th.
Ghana ThinkTank seeks “to develop the first world” by flipping conventional power dynamics. The artists collect problems in the US and send them to citizen think tanks in “developing” countries like Ghana, Serbia, El Salvador and others to generate solutions. They then bring these solutions back to the US, where they are put into action. What follows is a range of interventions and events that turn the idea of expertise on its head.
Through a year long partnership, the Williams College of Art (WCMA) and Ghana ThinkTank teamed up to apply this process here in Williamstown. With climate change as their focus, the artists worked with an action team of Williams students to ask people in the region, “How does climate change affect YOU?” They sent these problems to the Moroccan and Indonesian think tanks to generate solutions. This spring, the team applies these solutions, helping to confront our assumptions about climate change, Islam, and the “developing world.”
WCMA and Ghana ThinkTank collected over 200 answers to their question. Some problems were personal and local, such as the disappearance of beloved winter sports and disruptions to agricultural production of local crops. Some focused on policy noting that “In Florida you aren’t allowed to use the term ‘climate change’ in any official document.” In response to this problem, the Moroccan think tank suggested we ‘rebrand climate change.’ The student action team will implement this solution by partnering with a local creative services firm to create an awareness campaign. The rebranding initiative will use new language to personalize an issue that is often perceived as abstract and distanced from everyday life. It also aims to draw attention to the fact that ‘climate change’ is disappearing from public discourse in today’s political climate. This spring, the action team will hold a community postcard writing event that targets legislative leaders across the country.
Another problem came from a longtime Williamstown resident who shared this concern about our small community: “Most people live nearby, yet many choose to drive, even though they only live a minute or two away.” The Indonesian think tank suggested that we incentivize community members to disrupt their own patterns of behavior. In response, the action team will pursue a partnership with the College to incentivize walking or biking over driving to campus.
Later this spring, the action team will also take over parking spaces in town for a day by turning them into mini parks, inconveniencing local commuters with delight, and awareness about the impact of personal decisions around commuting.
Members of the Moroccan and Indonesian think tanks will visit Williams the week of March 13 to help implement these and other solutions. On Monday, March 13 at 6pm they will give a public talk, sharing their own experiences with climate change and their reactions to reading our community’s climate change problems. “We are thrilled to welcome our partners from Morocco and Indonesia to Williamstown to advise us on this project,” says project curator Sonnet Coggins. “Not only does our work together allow our community to see itself from another perspective, it is all the more important given the divisive state of politics in our country and in the world.”
WCMA commissioned the project with Ghana ThinkTank as part of the 2016–17 campus-wide academic program called “Confronting Climate Change,” a series of events, talks, and curricular initiatives aimed at raising issues around the science and policy of climate change. “The collaboration positions artistic inquiry at the center of our deep investigation into one of the most critical political, environmental, and cultural issues of our time,” says Christina Olsen, Class of 1956 Director of the museum.
About the Artists
Ghana ThinkTank was formed in 2006 by John Ewing (USA), Matey Odonkor (Ghana), and Christopher Robbins (USA). Carmen Montoya (USA) joined the project in 2009. The larger Ghana ThinkTank network spans four continents and has included a diverse array of individuals, such as: an artist collective in Iran, a group of teachers in Mexico, a team of bike mechanics with disabilities in Ghana, a rural community radio station collective in El Salvador, a group of incarcerated teenage girls in Boston, MA, and groups in Cuba, the Gaza Strip, and Serbia. Additionally each iteration of the project involves collaborations with dozens of citizens and with local arts and nonprofit organizations.
This project received generous support from the Compton Foundation.