Five ways University of Leeds academics collaborate with internationally based artists to help shape a more sustainable future.

Cultural Institute
Cultural Institute
Published in
7 min readMar 31


Academics from the University of Leeds harness their expertise to support climate change initiatives in Kenya, Turkey, India, Zimbabwe and Ghana as part of the ‘For the Public Good’ programme.

A group of community members viewing a co-produced Artificial Intelligent artwork on the screen in India.

Encouraging global collaboration

For the Public Good

For the Public Good (FTPG) is an online international research project which connects academics with artists from around the globe to explore different ways of responding to climate change and justice. The 8-week project was developed by the British Council, LEEDS 2023, Horizons Institute and the Cultural Institute.

The foundation of the project is adjacent to the Cultural Institute’s Leeds Creative Labs, a programme where artists and academics collaborate without the expectation of producing an output.

FTPG is part of a larger body of work under Smeaton300, an inventive programme led by LEEDS2023, paying tribute to Leeds engineering John Smeaton (1724–1792).

Now the 8-week programme has come to an end, we take a look to see how the five collaborations went.

Hopeful futures, and speculative visions.

If we can’t imagine a sustainable future, how do we know what to strive for?

Community group discuss what sustainability could look like in their local area.

‘Speculative Visions’ was led by Kanchan Joneja, design researcher and co-founder of Off Centre Collective in New Delhi, and Dr Viktoria Spaiser, Associate Professor in Sustainability Research and Computational Social Science.

Joneja applied to the programme to find ways to support marginalised communities within India, who are disproportionately affected by climate change.

Together with AeSha Foundation, the collaboration looked into the creation of artificial intelligence (AI) generated artworks the community’s hopes for the future.

In a workshop, local community members spoke about how they imagined their neighbourhood could look like in a sustainable future. Their words were fed as prompts to the AI live during the workshop, instantly generating artworks that allowed the group to see their visions come to life.

Dr Spaiser explains:

“What we tried is to use AI to empower people, who are rarely given a voice when we explore our post-carbon futures, to do exactly that, to imagine a positive, post-carbon future, that includes communities like their own.”

AI generated Images informed by community discussions

Joneja agrees and explains that:

“…ideation and visualisation are great tools to build a collective sense of a liveable future.” Building AI artworks together helps kick-start a dialogue within the community, which can then allow for community driven solutions.”

This collaboration hopes to continue to interrogate the dialogue of climate change solutions, to help strengthen grassroot culture, and build a stronger campaign effort within various communities in India.

Dr Spaiser notes:

“We genuinely hope that this small pilot will inspire many more similar projects; that it will be a seed that creates a movement, as we believe there is so much potential in the work we did.”

Games, climate change and the LGBTQIA+ community.

Members of community group Trans and Intersex Rising in Zimbabwe engage in a discussion on climate change.

Patrick Miller, playwright and public advocacy consultant from Zimbabwe, was paired with Dr Martin Zebracki, Associate Professor of Critical Human Geography.

Miller’s practice is driven by the role technology can play in affecting positive impacts on socio-cultural, political and economic development. He is determined to advocate that the gaming industry can positively affect climate awareness.

The focus of the partnership with Dr Zebracki looks at ways to integrate gamification as an artistic activism approach, for investigating the relationship between environmental justice and social inequalities.

Miller explains that gaming is an empowering tool to educate communities about climate change, as participants immerse themselves in new environments that reflect acute environmental changes. Through this project, Patrick worked closely with non-profit organisation, Trans and Intersex Rising in Zimbabwe (TIRZ), to deliver workshops on climate change impact and gaming.

Participants of the workshop play video games during the climate change workshop.
Miller leading a session on climate change and gaming.

Through immersion, once can learn about the impact current social behaviours can have on climate change. Therefore, Patrick explains, games can act as an empowering tool in disseminating knowledge.

He says:

“Video games are the next wave in climate activism” and reports that the United Nations is working with the gaming industry to inspire a new wave of climate action.

Sustainable practice in music production

Sound recording session overlooking the Bosporus, Istanbul.

Ercan Bektas Ulger, an Istanbul-based electronic music composer, was paired with Phil Purnell, a Professor of Materials and Structures in Civil Engineering.

Ulger’s practice focuses on the relationship between sound, sonic arts, environmental issues, and technology. Together with Purnell, they examined the questions that arise from the rapidly changing soundscape and suggested circularity as a way of reducing consumption in the acoustic environment and material medium.

Ulger explains that “…air molecules need energy to vibrate, and sound waves need a material medium to travel”. The project with Purnell looked at exploring the meaning of unsustainability in the sonic world, citing examples such as air conditioner sounds, harmful use of car horns, and machine sounds in factories.

The circular approach can benefit the sustainability of music production, Urcan explains. Through FTPG, he worked with local music makers and field recordists by sharing leftover sound samples instead of creating them anew. He believes that sound should be viewed as a material that has the potential to be sustainably circulated.

The next stage of this project will see the publication of a series of essays in Dünyahali (the state of the World), a non-profit magazine that focuses on environmental issues and seeks new ways to fight climate change and the environmental crisis.

Community co-created fashion standards

Kantamanto Market in Ghana. Photo by Kwadwo Agyei Addo, courtesy of The OR Foundation

Paul Akrofieand, Chief Executive Officer of award-winning African fashion design & manufacturing company, Real People’s Company was paired with Dr Neil J. W. Crawford, Research Fellow at the School of Geography.

Akrofieand’s aim from the outset of the project was to research ways to introduce sustainable practice into the local community in a meaningful and authentic way, that has not yet been done in the past.

He explains that the fashion industry in Africa, which is currently worth $31 billion, is growing rapidly. With more economic activity comes more production, and therefore more waste. He says that 50% of clothing and accessory bales are thrown away every year.

For the last 3 months, Akrofieand, together with Dr Crawford and local artisans from the Kantomanto market, have come up with a unique solution — creating an index score framework with symbols that have intrinsic meaning to the community.

He explains that the global symbols for sustainable development, such as the green recyclable symbol, falls short of making an impact on a local level. Instead, he has been working with local artisans from the Kantamanto market, to adapt Ghanaian symbols into a bespoke index card for local ecosystem, by using AI technology.

Example of testing AI technology on Ghanian symbols to produce an index score card.

Akrofieand and his team are continuing to develop the index card and build training materials and guides for local artisans and designers from the market. He hopes that his work in community co-created index score frameworks, can be expanded on to other markets in the region.

The Climate Change Library

Notes from the development of the Climate Change Library

Wanjiru Koinange, writer and restorer of libraries from Kenya was paired with Dr Diane Morgan, Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies.

Koinange’s artistic practice is driven by societal changes. Her work as a restorer of libraries has seen the successful transformation of two of the oldest libraries in Nairobi into centres of art, or in her own words “palaces for the people.”

Given Koinange’s expertise in this field, herself and Dr Morgan looked at the role of libraries in acting as a centre point of information for climate change and climate action. Koinange has built an online repository of resources on climate change that bridges academic and artistic information for diverse audiences.

Notes from the development of the Climate Change Library

“This library is intended as a tool for anyone looking for climate change information specific to Kenya,for now. this library is truly designed for everyone: children, adults, educators, creators, researchers, professionals, scientists, policymakers…. Everyone.”

While the library is available online for now, Koinange hopes that the future of this project will see a physical travelling library that will visit cities across the country, to empower Kenyans at grassroot level with the knowledge they need to start implementing sustainable practices in their lives.

Visit the Climate Change Library website.



Cultural Institute
Cultural Institute

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