Can Artists Save The World?

Can Artists Save The World?
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A photograph of me circa 1977 hangs over my desk. It was taken by Toni Beatty, an American photographer I met when we shared adjoining villas and a garden in Tepotzlan, Mexico.

"Why didn't you include artists in your book?" she wrote in an email after reading We Are the New Radicals. My reply was honest -- it hadn't occurred to me. But, as you might imagine, I've been collecting examples ever since, and will write about arts and social change soon.

In the meantime, great stories keep popping up. About to board yet another plane as I travel the continent giving talks about the New Radicals, I grabbed a copy of The Guardian Weekly (that and the International Herald Tribune are my favourite papers to read while on the road -- what about you?).

At first I thought an article headlined "A Grassroots Movement" was about gardening, as in the new vegetable patch on the grounds of the White House -- 100 square metres of lawn torn up to make way for an organic community garden. The article suggests that the idea for this particular garden may have come from an article in the New York Times by food activist and writer Michael Pollan. He advised something rather larger, telling Obama to "Tear out five prime acres of lawn and plant in their place an organic fruit and vegetable garden." And it seems the idea may stretch back even further. To an artist.

San Francisco artist Amy Franceshini is the originator of a "Victory Garden" planted in front of City Hall in 2008. It's filled with an astonishing variety of food -- beans and broccoli, chicory and Chinese cabbage, leeks and sunflowers. Read about how this Victory Garden and others like it around the city became edible art projects in the article by William Shaw. I guarantee it will make you feel good about the world.

Also read the Financial Times on my flight, including "Lunch with Tom Stoppard." The playwright is starting to sound distinctly New Radical (New Radicals are people who put skills acquired in their careers to work on the world's greatest challenges -- for more, please see archived articles). Jan Dalley, the paper's arts editor, wrote that Stoppard said he had to write a play, "There are all these vast subjects thrusting themselves at anybody who presumes to deal with -- I don't, but perhaps it's time I did -- to deal with big contemporary issues. So you think, 'right, should I do climate change, or should I do torture, or Afghanistan...?'" Dalley adds, "This does not sound like the playwright once quoted as saying he wanted his work to be 'entirely untouched by an suspicion of usefulness'... but that was before his involvement with human rights became more intense, including visits to eastern Europe and a growing friendship with Vaclav Havel."

More to come on artists and social change. In the meantime, please share your stories with me -- as well as those you've heard about. And help me answer the question -- for my friend Toni, and for the rest of us -- whether artists can help save the world. Post a comment below, or email me at

Photograph: #476, Morelia, by Toni Beatty. Julia Moulden is on tour talking about the New Radicals. She also writes speeches for the world's most visionary leaders. And, when no-one's looking, she paints.


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