Socially Engaged Art and Agriculture: Experimenting with Extension
Solutions to environmentally damaging human practices require cooperation between many different communities. This article explores sustainability-focused education through the lens of a current work-in-progress, Sugar vs the Reef?, which involves collaboration between sugarcane farmers and artists in the arable catchment of the Great Barrier Reef in North Queensland. This is a socially engaged art project that is addressing the fraught relationship between the region's agriculture and the fragile ecology of the Reef. We introduce some of the specific aspects of socially engaged art (SEA) which commend it as a cross-disciplinary method for bridging diverse individuals and organisations - in particular, the notion of a "holding environment" for complex socio-ecological situations. We consider how this approach might broaden the agricultural practice of "extension" which aims to transform farming through educational outreach. Ideas emerging from contemporary socially engaged art practice may contribute to a toolkit for researchers and practitioners within and beyond the academy who are searching for ways to overcome the limitations of current methodologies and movements for social change.