Climate in Culture

As the Global Climate Action Summit gears up to take on San Francisco, we look at the hundreds of affiliate events surrounding the summit — and the process of creating cultural experiences around the issue of climate change

Gov. Jerry Brown
Gov. Jerry Brown

California has often been at odds with the Trump administration since the president’s election in 2016, and outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown intends to keep it that way. His aggressively green farewell party is a star-studded three-day climate change summit that will to thumb its nose at President Donald Trump’s environmental policies, reinvigorate the planet’s climate change community and show off San Francisco’s commitment to sustainability and green innovation. At least, that’s the plan.

The Global Climate Action Summit (September 12 – 14) will feature leaders and activists from around the world who will convene in the heart of San Francisco to collectively touch base on the goals set forth by 2015’s Paris Agreement. This large-scale event is not just an environmental conference. It will serve to display San Francisco as one of the country’s greenest cities and climate change leaders — despite Trump’s apparent intent to remove the United States from the Paris Agreement. In many ways, the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) is akin to the environmental Olympics, and it’s counting on San Francisco’s leading arts and culture institutions to pitch in and help host the global climate community.

At the heart of GCAS is the summit itself — a three-day environmental convocation with invitation-only and high-level panels and speeches for accredited delegates with guests like former Vice President Al Gore, former Secretary of State John Kerry, actor Alec Baldwin and entrepreneur Tom Steyer. (Much of it will also be streamed online for the public.) But in the days before, during and after the summit, the event’s organizers, summit sponsors, the city of San Francisco and hundreds of local organizations and businesses have worked together and independently to offer climate summit-related events for the public at large.

One of the many government organizations pitching in to participate is the San Francisco’s Chief of Protocol, Charlotte Shultz. Shultz rallied the city’s arts and culture community to participate in the summit by asking them to produce, curate and present events related to climate change. In direct connection with the GCAS, 14 participating arts organizations will offer free admission to summit delegates from September 8 through September 16 as part of “Culture for Climate,” the city’s plan to help demonstrate its world-class culture to the summit’s delegates. Beyond that, hundreds of San Francisco arts and culture institutions and local businesses are participating in the summit’s affiliate events program in an effort to expand the GCAS beyond the (soon to be LEED-certified) walls of the Moscone Center.

“People look to us for creativity, innovation, and we’ve been way ahead of the game in climate change. I wanted to really showcase that,” says Shultz.

The summit’s approximately 350 affiliate events and programs, many of which are offered free to the public, are the most visible and accessible way that Communications Director Nick Nuttall and his team are able to embrace a much wider audience than just the projected 4,500 summit delegates. Programs like a San Francisco Bicycle Coalition-sponsored bike tour of (flat) San Francisco and the Zero Footprint Dining Week in which participating San Francisco restaurants have agreed to go carbon neutral from September 10 through September 16, are intended to broaden the way the general public views and interacts with the issue of climate change.

“Because climate change is such a slow burn issue, even though it has unprecedented consequences for every man woman and child, you have to bring it down to the local level,” Nuttall says.

Affiliate events partners planned and produced their performances, special events, presentations, exhibitions and tours without much involvement from GCAS organizers. Summit staff pitched in when needed, namely with promotion, but once an organization committed to hosting a climate-related event, they were included on the summit’s affiliate event calendar. Essentially, once the summit organizers asked city leaders to help pull together hundreds of summit-related affiliate events, they’ve trusted San Francisco to pull it all off.

Only time will tell if Bay Area locals take advantage of low and no-carbon transit options to actually attend these events, which are set to begin in earnest after the September 8 “Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice” march in San Francisco and around the world.

(See below for our picks for the 10 Best Arts and Culture Events to Attend during the Global Climate Action Summit.)

“Everyone is really excited to play host the week of the summit. The arts is what makes San Francisco so unique and it’s a great opportunity for people coming to San Francisco to see what we’re all about,” says Kate Patterson, Director of Communications for the San Francisco Arts Commission.

“Every part of all the things living and breathing around us, whether it plants or people and whether it be in arts or food or transportation — climate change is affecting every part of the community. I wanted people to feel it and that’s the reason I wanted all these different entities to broadcast and display the image that they care about climate change,” Shultz says.


"Into the Okavango" will be featured as the opening film for San Francisco Green Film Festival.
“Into the Okavango” will be featured as the opening film for San Francisco Green Film Festival.


San Francisco Green Film Festival: September 6 through September 13
Catch 50 films over 8 days for a $200 film festival pass. Alternately, screenings are $15 or free to students/youth under 19. Screenings, panels and special events take place at the Castro Theatre, YBCA, Fort Mason Center and the San Francisco Public Library Main Branch.

Map Makers at the Children’s Creativity Museum: September 12 through 16
Children are invited to participate in exploring the effects of climate change with an interactive exhibit on mapmaking, weather and water. Admission ranges from free (on the evening of September 13) to $12.95.

Exploratorium After Dark: Climate Change: September 13
The Exploratorium’s weekly Thursday night even takes aim at Climate Change with an array of environmental presentations and demonstrations (including bug eating!) from 6pm to 10pm. This event is free to member of $17.95 to the general public and is for attendees aged 18-and-over.

Green Thursday: September 13
14 participating cultural organizations around the Moscone Center will feature climate change-focused exhibits, and be open late and free to the public from 5pm to 9pm, including SFMoMa, the California Historical Society, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the Museum of the African Diaspora. Yerba Buena Gardens will feature multiple live concerts and bike shares will be offered free to the public throughout the day.


San Francisco Bicycle Coalition will host "People Power: Advancing the Bicycle for Combating Climate Change."
San Francisco Bicycle Coalition will host “People Power: Advancing the Bicycle for Combating Climate Change.”

People Power: Advancing the Bicycle for Combating Climate Change: September 13
From 4pm to 6pm, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition will host a free bicycle ride to detail how San Francisco is leading the way in bikes’ ability to transform cities and the planet. The ride will leave from adjacent to the Moscone Center (RSVP for exact location.)

The Future of Food: Tech’s Menu for Sustainability: September 13
WeWork (a meat-free co-working space) and will team up to his this discussion on a more sustainable future through food innovation, featuring leaders in the food tech movement. Food and drinks will be served, including the “Impossible Burger.” Admission costs $25 – $35.

Clean Revolution: Dutch Design Expo for a Better World: September 13-14
40 young Dutch designers will create and display work created only from recycled materials. This free event will be open to the public from 9am to 6pm on the 4th floor of the Westfield Shopping Center

Glacier: A Climate Change Ballet: September 13 through September 15
Dancers from the MOVIEUS Contemporary Ballet will present the San Francisco premiere of “Glacier,” an elegy to ice choreographed by a climate change policy analyst and former ballet dancer Diana Movius. Performances take place at the Brava Theater Center and tickets cost $39.45.

San Francisco Symphony'sMichael Tilson Thomas conducts pianist Yuja Wang and "Appalachian Spring."
San Francisco Symphony’sMichael Tilson Thomas conducts pianist Yuja Wang and “Appalachian Spring.”

MTT Conducts Pianist Yuja Wang and Appalachian Spring: September 13 through September 16
Yuja Wang will join Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony for an “atmospheric performance,” at Davies Symphony Hall, part of which will feature projections of the COAL + ICE photo exhibit that follows the trajectory of climate change. Tickets run $34 – $185.

10,000 Fahrenheit and Young Suh: Wildfires: September 14 through November 17
Presented by the San Francisco Arts Commission, “10,000 Fahrenheit” is a climate change-focused group exhibition exploring the intangible (and named after the temperature on the surface of the sun.) Bay Area photographer Young Suh will also present an intimate look at wildfires through his four-year photography project on the subject. This exhibition kicks off with a free opening night reception on September 14 from 6pm to 9pm at the SFAC Main Gallery.

Keep reading: The pioneers of the organic farming movement are aging out. What will happen to their lovingly tended farms?

Beth Spotswood is Alta's digital editor, events manager, and a contributing writer.
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