- Courtesy Of Alex Grilanc/degrow Us
An upcoming socially distant community art exhibit in Burlington's Old North End will encourage people to imagine a path forward that doesn't revolve around economic growth. The movement is called "degrowth," and DegrowthFest, as organizers call the art installation, invites Vermonters to participate by creating art inspired by a series of prompts.
DegrowBTV, the organizing collective, is a group of "activists, artists and academics ... wanting to challenge narratives that we see in our community that reinforce injustice and oppression," said Lindsay Barbieri, a graduate fellow at the University of Vermont's Gund Institute for Environment. The narrative of human progress, Barbieri said, is centered on economic growth. The inherently anticapitalist degrowth movement seeks to challenge that metric and envision different ways to move communities forward, including calling for decreased consumption.
Since the 1970s, activists and researchers have been sounding the alarm about the impossibility of infinite economic growth on a planet with finite resources, according to "The Radical Plan to Save the Planet by Working Less," a 2019 Vice article on degrowth. Fixation on growth comes at the expense of the environment, and the movement has been gaining ground as climate change becomes an increasing concern worldwide. In Europe, degrowth advocates have held several conferences in the past 12 years, though Barbieri said the Burlington event will be the first to use artistic installations to further the conversation.
DegrowUS, the umbrella organization for smaller collectives such as DegrowBTV, held a conference in Chicago in 2018. Funding for the local group comes from the New England Grassroots Environment Fund and the Leadership for the Ecozoic project. A Burlington event has been in the works for a while, but the pandemic changed the original plans, Barbieri said.
Instead of holding a traditional conference or festival-type gathering, DegrowBTV will distribute 2-by-2-foot plywood boards on which community members can respond to prompts, addressing what the pandemic crisis has revealed about current systems and what they want to create or leave behind in the future. The prompts are designed to be open-ended, centered on the question, "What does this collective future that we want look like?" Barbieri said.
The boards will be returned to DegrowBTV and installed around the Old North End starting on August 14, and can be seen on a walking tour or a virtual tour, Barbieri said. Anyone interested in participating can contact DegrowBTV to receive a board.
"People can create on their own, without necessarily gathering anywhere, and then we'll be installing them up around outside," she said.
Barbieri said the group already has enthusiastic participants, some of whom are planning much larger installations. She thinks the pandemic has given people the drive to imagine better futures; DegrowBTV simply wants to provide a platform. Contributions will be accepted until August 14.
Correction, 8/6/2020: An earlier version of this story contained a quote that misstated the goals of DegrowBTV, which aims to challenge existing narratives.