Cape Farewell and The Farewell Glacier

Artist David Buckland cares deeply for the health of the planet and believes the rest of the world should care as well. In 2001, he founded the Cape Farewell Project, an international non-profit based at the University of Arts London in Chelsea. He recently co-authored an article titled, “The Cultural Challenge of Climate Change,” along with authors Olivia Gray and Lucy Wood, which provides his reasoning for launching Cape Farewell. He hoped his nonprofit would spark a cultural reaction from artists, scientists and educators on the impacts of climate change. Cape Farewell has accomplished this goal many times over.

Beginning in 2003, Cape Farewell has invited educators, scientists and artists to voyage to the Arctic, the Scottish Islands, and the Peruvian Andes, to comment on what they see and experience. As Cape Farewell’s website highlights, “one salient image, a novel or song can speak louder than volumes of scientific data and engage the public’s imagination in an immediate way.” Cape Farewell’s ultimate goal is to elicit a human response to climate change, by engaging the public to build a more sustainable future, one that is less dependent on fossil fuels. To date, 158 artists, including film-makers, photographers, songwriters, novelists and designers have journeyed with Cape Farewell.

David Buckland deciding on the sailing route. (Source: Cape Farewell).
David Buckland deciding on the sailing route (Source: Cape Farewell).

One such artist is Nick Drake, a poet, screenwriter and playwright, who recently wrote the poem “The Farewell Glacier” in response to a 2010 Cape Farewell expedition to the Arctic. From Drake’s perspective, a more sustainable future involves taking action before this ecosystem disappears forever. His first expedition (and Cape Farewell’s ninth), led him to Svalbard in Norway on a ship named the Noorderlicht, for 22 days. He was exposed to the threatened environment, examined retreating glaciers, and explored scientific research about the region. Research is conducted aboard the ship during each expedition.

In this excerpt from Drake’s poem, he calls on the other artists not to forget what they witnessed in the Arctic:


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Drake also states, “Sailing as close as possible to the vast glaciers that dominate the islands, they saw polar bear tracks on pieces of pack ice the size of trucks. And they tried to understand the effects of climate change on the ecosystem of this most crucial and magnificent part of the world.” His poem portrays the urgency of the “climate challenge.”

Ecotourism at Svalbard in Norway (Source: Woodwalker/Creative Commons).

Two films were also spawned from the Project – “Art From the Arctic” and “Burning Ice.” Both films visually represent some of the Cape Farewell journeys to the High Arctic. “Art From the Arctic” was seen by over 12 million viewers. All the artwork that stems from Cape Farewell expeditions is expected to inspire a public conversation around climate responsibility. Other works generated from Cape Farewell expeditions include exhibitions such as “u-n-f-o-l-d,” an exhibit featuring twenty-five creatives who sailed to the High Arctic, and music festivals such as “SHIFT,” an eight-day music and climate festival held in London’s Southbank Centre.

Svalbard, Longyearbyen Isfjord (Source: Banja&FransMulder/Wikimedia Commons).
Svalbard, Longyearbyen Isfjord (Source: Banja&FransMulder/Creative Commons).

As these voyages occur, the public is kept abreast virtually, through expedition blogs by the artists. The first expedition began with a journey to Svalbard in the High Arctic, chosen as a starting place because of the visible impacts of climate change on the scenery and wildlife, with climate change in the Arctic occurring more rapidly and severely than in other regions of the world.     

Cape Farewell is continuing its mission to engage the public in climate change discussions, with each work created to inspire others to work toward a healthier environment. Current projects include “Space to Breathe,” a response piece to air pollution in urban settings. You can track Cape Farewell’s progress on their website and follow them on twitter @capefarewell.

Listen to Nick recite his poem “The Farewell Glacier” below: