The Intersection of Capitalism, Ecological Destruction, and Art: An invitation to Artists Dismantling Capitalism 

By Guest Author, Hayley Connors-Keith


Think of a box with unrecyclable materials that won’t decompose effectively in the environment. Let’s say capitalism is that box and art is the space outside of it. With art being an unlimited potential space, does it open up any possibilities for you? As a society, we must think beyond the box of capitalism to create the environmental economic reality we want.  

If we take a moment to think about what it means to live in a capitalist society, we can start to understand it as the root of the ecological crisis. Our capitalist economy is built on the idea that profit is more important than people, and profit is only accumulated in a capitalist society through exploitation of natural resources in our environment and/or exploitation of workers. We acquire resources, turn them into commodities, and distribute them around the world. One main resource we use to produce and distribute these goods is fossil fuels. Corporations and businesses produce a vast amount of things we don’t actually need and oftentimes products are purposely designed to have a limited life. This type of perpetual wasteful consumption cannot be sustained on a finite planet and is inherently destructive because it creates overproduction which leads to market failure, an environmental crisis, and inequality. How often do we look at our banks to see what they are investing in and giving to? Banks have been investing trillions of dollars in the fossil fuel industry for decades. Our investment money is inadvertently polluting our most basic needs. I could go down this path with a multitude of climate facts but that can often lead us to feeling overwhelmed and possibly cause inaction. Art, on the other hand, has the power to move people to feel, which can spark thinking, connection, innovation, and can be a guide to healing. 

As an environmentalist, I am still being introduced to and understanding the implications of how capitalism is affecting the environment — but why is this so? We are either not being asked or are still learning how capitalism is causing ecological destruction in the first place. As an artist, I am discovering ways to encourage art to manifest new solutions and realities.   

Participants at the February 2020 “Artists Dismantling Capitalism” symposium embodying what capitalism feels like to them. Photo by Johnathon DeSoto.

An exciting opportunity to practice this is coming up later this month: the fourth Annual Artists Dismantling Capitalism (ADC) symposium. This free event is being held virtually February 26-28th by Cooperation Humboldt, Access Humboldt, and the Ink People. ADC will be available through the web platform Eventee, aired on television through Access Humboldt, and will also be in Cooperation Humboldt’s archives after the event. 

This year’s virtual platform will provide a unique occasion to broaden the conversation with input and knowledge from organizers and artists from around the country who, just like us, are striving to transform their communities. ADC It is an opportunity to gather and network with our local community to better understand how folks are organizing to create a just, equitable, sustainable, and regenerative economy and society. 

ADC will open with a discussion about the role of an artist in social change and how we transition from an Extractive/Capitalist Economy to a Regenerative/Solidarity Economy. Following will be an opening performance of Only Skin Deep which is a show by dancers of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and mixed heritage in Humboldt County. A few of the sessions being offered during ADC are: Educational Role-play and Participatory Drama for Social Change, Decolonizing The Body, A Field Guide to a Crisis, In the Absence of the Sacred, The Role of Art in Black Liberation, and Humboldt EcoVillage. ADC will also be adding an art exhibit to the symposium this year with hopes to create a collective to work towards reframing society through art during and after this event.  

Art resembles time, which suggests movement and change, and can be a guide to healing solutions. The pandemic has changed the way we live and it has revealed to some that we must radically change our political economic system because it will never be sustainable. It’s time for a just recovery – one can’t simply fix capitalism with capitalism. 

As creators of our life we have the power to create our own reality. To create an equitable and healthy future that works for all, we must imagine new systems and ways of being. Art has always been deeply ingrained into our culture — it allows us to see through multiple lenses, and has the power to engage and change the world. 

All the crises we face are interconnected whether they are environmental justice, social justice, or racial justice — we can’t address one without the other. Colonialism and capitalism are why we are in a climate crisis today. We must acknowledge the harmful systems that have been fostered at the expense of marginalized people. Whether or not you consider yourself an environmentalist, every individual, organization, and business has a role to play in dismantling systems that no longer work for us and creating new ones to restructure our society where people come before profit. 

I hope you can attend this symposium so we can continue to envision and reimagine what our society could look like collectively. I look forward to being in a virtual space together, creating solidarity, and connecting with you. 

To learn more about ADC, please visit www.cooperation