7 March 2024


How can artist unions structurally and systemically engage with and address the climate



This report, put together by a working group from the UKS board, is a result of three workshops held by UKS in 2023. It is a tool for artist unions to identify structural and systemic ways of addressing the climate crisis. Every artist union is already in a unique position to act: this document aims to offer something across a range of approaches. An approach can be understood as a strategy that guides the development of specific actions. Artist organisations might make use of an approach as a starting point from which to make actionable plans; it can also help prioritise action points within those plans.

The workshops used a classification of approaches developed by the scholar Karen O’Brien et. al. and adapted by Julie’s Bicycle: dutiful, disruptive or dangerous. These three characteristics can be mutually reinforcing, and are discussed in more detail in the report. What follows is a summary of the three approaches synthesised from the workshops.



The internal union structure
Knowledge sharing and awareness raising are core functions of the union. The climate crisis will affect all of our labour conditions and as unions we stand with environmental activists and other concerned organisations for a climate just future. This can be sustained through adding clauses and articulating a commitment to the climate by including it in the principles and strategy plans.

Climate justice as part of working conditions
A traditional approach to labour rights is to make working- and living conditions visible, and to build awareness about expectations and insufficient practices. Another is to demand collective negotiation rights of industry standards and legislation. It can be effective to implement climate awareness into union practices, for example in the description of best-practice contracts for artists, or in collective agreements locally or nationally.

New political and economic frontiers
Protecting artistic labour is artist unions’ primary concern. The climate crisis and allied policies from the government, like the green transition, will impact artists’ labour conditions. The artist unions must negotiate a seat at the table to co-create the criteria for policies and reporting.

Sustainability in work culture in the arts
Sustainability needs to be thought of as intertwining material and social concerns. The art world puts pressure on artists to constantly produce new work with artist incomes remaining more or less the same. While artist unions fight for fair pay for artistic work, are there other kinds of practices in the art world that might constitute a more sustainable approach? For example, what would an emphasis on circularity of material and artworks mean for exhibition making?



Mobilise within existing networks
The forthcoming climate policies for the cultural and creative sector will largely be applied to the sector as a whole and not only the visual arts. To collectivise the effort, artist unions must strengthen their existing networks as well as build new ones. This approach builds on existing capacities to organize, connections with grassroots activism, and the ability to speak a versatile language that builds trust with members, cultural institutions and policy makers alike.

Building networks: finding allies
Artist unions can build new networks specifically focused on climate concerns. There is a growing climate action movement in the cultural and creative sector globally. Building networks of solidarity with them might also provide opportunities to exchange strategies and methods. Occupy Climate Justice is an example that maps and documents grassroots initiatives that tackle the climate crisis.

Accountability goes hand-in-hand with building and strengthening networks. As museums and exhibition venues begin the process of inscribing their climate pledge into strategy plans and action programmes (e.g. The Green Producers Club), artist unions can play a role of holding them accountable to these promises.



Responding as creatives
The ability and practice of artists to imagine and create alternative systems to the current, in critical and ethical ways, is an asset towards realising sustainable worlds. With questions of care, justice and alternative ways of organising society already a driving force for artists, we nurture many seeds of contribution to a climate just society or even a climate utopia.

Artist unions can be sites of education; our political work a site for radicality; our exhibiting spaces, newsletters, social gatherings, networks, a platform to publicly express our imagination.





Working group 2023-2024: Prerna Bishnoi, Ina Hagen, Jiska Huizing, Helle Siljeholm
Working group 2022-2023: Prerna Bishnoi, Ina Hagen, Miriam Wistreich


Contributors to the workshop:


Feedback on this document:

  • Margrethe Kolstad Brekke
  • Randi Nygård
  • Simona Barbera
  • Steffen Håndlykken



  • NBK fagpolitisk funding
  • UKS fagpolitisk funding



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