by Nala Walla



This essay discusses the reasons why the arts—particularly the live, participatory, bodybased arts—must be restored to their central role in community life if we are to achieve the goal of sustainable living. I am addressing the many people all over the globe who are working so hard to design and implement ecovillages, cohousing communities, permaculture homesteads and sustainable living projects with the hope of opening a much-needed dialogue about what role the arts must play in these communities and why. I am also addressing the many artists out there who seek to direct their art towards social and ecological health.

Here I can only begin to touch upon a subject which is largely absent in literature on sustainability and permaculture. For example, Bill Mollison’s now classic text, Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, whom many (myself included) consider to be a permaculture “bible” of sorts, hardly even mentions the word “art.” This nearly six-hundred page text is devoted to the laws and principles of good, sustainable design, including pattern understanding, settlement design—even diversity, alternative economic models, and right livelihood, but includes nothing on how we must design to reincorporate the arts into these settlements. I do not intend this statement as a criticism of Mollison, whose contribution to the cause of sustainability (which is in itself an art form) cannot be overestimated. Rather, I mean to draw some attention to what may be a “blind spot” in the permaculture and environmental movements in general.

I strongly believe that any attempts to build a new paradigm for sustainable human communities will be unsuccessful unless the arts are restored to a central role in that paradigm. We may have remarkable technical prowess in eco-building design, beneficial plant guilds, and alternative energy systems, but if we do not consistently utilize the arts to heal our decimated social infrastructure and to engage our whole selves, this prowess will be insufficient. This is not to say that technical or scientific knowledge is unimportant. Rather, the time has come to recognize that the knowledge gained in practicing more intuitive arts is just as essential as rational scientific knowledge. Indeed, scientific knowledge cannot be whole unless it is balanced by the arts.

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