Is ‘Hope’ the new hot button?

slice of geography of hope book cover

As an artist, marketer and environmental activist, I’ve been asking myself lately, “How do we move more people to action? Is it through fear? If they imagine a scary future will they act now? Or is it by planting seeds of hope? Is ‘Hope’ the new hot button that will galvanize the world to take action?”

Money and celebrities trump humanity’s survival

Many people are becoming numb to the world’s problems, and retracting into their cocoons. Something that brought that fact into sharp focus for me was this… As I flipped through the newspaper looking for something interesting to read, this headline caught my eye: “Humanity’s survival at stake: UN”. It announced the UN’s 572-page report, Global Environment Outlook.

Hmmm. Isn’t that curious? Humanity’s survival at stake is not front page news! The front page stories were about the soaring loonie (the nickname for the Canadian dollar) and a hot, young hockey phenomenon, John Tavares.

Does humanity’s future being bumped by the loonie and a fledgling hockey star sound loony to you? I don’t know… It must be a defensive play to sell newspapers. The editors know the public can only take so much bad news before we shut down and lose all hope. So they push in our faces the stories they think we really care about. Money and celebrities trump humanity’s survival.

The frog in a pot of boiling water

frog photo and drawing by franke jamesAt times, I fear we are like the proverbial frog in a pot of boiling water. The story goes like this… If you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump out. But if you place a frog in a pot of warm water and gradually turn up the heat, it will very happily boil to death. Because the frog’s survival instincts are only triggered by sudden changes. And so it is with climate change. We’ve heard many warnings about climate change over the past 30 years, but somehow we are deaf to them, and unaware of our impending doom.

Pitching Hope to Solve World Problems

geography of hope book cover

Well, clever marketers, artists and writers sense the water is getting a bit too hot, and are serving up the solution. This new crop of “Hope products” could be just what the world needs to inspire action and jump out of the pot.

So where am I seeing evidence of hope? Seemingly disconnected dots have started joining up and a pattern is emerging… Is it a trend? In the past week I’ve been to a book launch for Geography of Hope (which gives us hope by showing signs of a sustainable future unfolding around the world). I also attended Chest of Hope, an art exhibit raising funds for cancer research (which rekindles the hope that cancer can be beaten if we all pitch in and contribute to medical research). Hope is an emotion that savvy Breast Cancer fundraisers have used for many years. Even the packaging on my favorite whole wheat bread features the familiar pink ribbon and a Harvest of Hope campaign to raise money for the cause!

Chest of Hope, 3 sculptures by Christa Gampp

But hope is too powerful a force to be owned by any one cause. Marketers know that hope sells — and some would argue (me included) that the environmental movement could motivate more people by injecting ‘hope’ into their message. Humanity’s survival is at stake — but too many people are tuning out the message. How are we going to flip this around? Personally, when I read about a successful green project it inspires me and gives me hope that perhaps my efforts are not wasted.

Hope as an inspirational force

Hope as an inspirational force is springing up everywhere. I also read news articles about actress Hilary Swank and shoe/clothing designer Kenneth Cole who have jumped on the hope bandwagon. Each promises to tell us how to achieve our dreams (if we buy tickets to their Power Within events in Vancouver and Toronto).

Swank offers hope to young women, “I feel like there’s not a lot of great women role models for girls. If a girl can see my story and somehow say, ‘Hey you know what, I’m NOT going to give up on my dream’ … then I am going to continue to tell my story.”

Cole offers hope to business people when he talks about his company’s efforts which have funded AIDS research and anti-poverty initiatives, “What I’m doing is taking a business that exists and somehow connecting it to a bigger purpose; it wins on every level.”

And this morning’s paper offered more hope in the form of a new book: Jean Vanier, Our Life Together. Vanier is the Founder of L’Arche, the international network of homes for people with disabilities. Vanier urges students to keep “hoping and dreaming.. the important thing is to go ahead and do it.” His message to students is to have the courage to do something different with their lives, “We don’t have to be doing what everyone else is doing… We don’t have to be like a bunch of cows or sheep.”

I say, “Amen to that!”

The common element in this cornucopia of new products — which all pitch different causes — is that they are selling hope that is backed up by action and offer doable solutions. They are giving us a glimpse of a hopeful future. (Listen to Turner’s podcast on for more inspiration.)

But the dilemma is we need a lot more Vanier’s, Turner’s, Gampp’s, Swank’s and Cole’s to get us to wake up and jump out of the pot!

The big question is: Are you ready to take action? Can you plant a few seeds which will offer the world hope? Franke james photo of jumping frog


© 2007, Franke James,MFA

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Franke James speaks on Climate Change Art

mcmichael logo On October 10/07 Franke James spoke to 150 high school students and educators at the McMichael Gallery about Climate Change art. Franke presented her animation of A Green Winter: Will Global Warming be Good for Canada and Six Tools to Make Climate Change Art.

Franke wanted to give the students insight into what climate change art is, and the thought process she uses to construct her visual essays. So she developed a presentation for them that explained the six basic building blocks she uses…

The Six Tools to Make Climate Change Art:
1. SYMBOLS: How to show climate change when you can’t see it
Give old phrases new meaning
3. WITNESS: How do you help the viewer see what you see?
4. CULTURE CHANGE: What will we lose?
5. HUMAN NATURE: Can you touch a nerve?
6. ACTION: Do something green and record it

Franke’s ‘call to action’ for the students was: “Do something Green and document it! Make a story. Draw pictures. Take photos. Tell the world what you’ve done and why.”

Feedback: A Parent
“Thank you for the delightful presentation at the McMichael last week. My daughter does not consider herself artistic… or did not until you showed your Six Tools to Make Climate Change Art presentation… like you, she has a quirky sense of humour and sees the world a bit differently. You showed her how one can use WORDS and humour to make art and influence people! Many thanks for your energy and inspiration.”

Feedback: Scott McDonald, Director Education and Programmes, McMichael Canadian Art Collection:
“Rarely do the talents of a professional artist and educator come together in equal measure as they do in the work of Franke James. Her Six Tools for Climate Change presentation at the McMichael was the ideal vehicle for presenting complex material in a compelling and accessible format for everyone in attendance.

Franke has the rare skill of presenting important abstract concepts with immediacy and relevance through her art. Simply outstanding.”

Feedback: Christa Gampp, Art Educator
“Your presentation must have lit quite a few “green” lights in the minds of our young audience! I am positive that the students went away with that “spark” to start on their own creative project. Today’s youth can very readily relate to your imagery and messages due to your use of media. Your artwork is very creative and relevant to our times. I loved your mentoring message to the students: to choose a topic that is related to their own surroundings and interests. I am looking forward to seeing the student art exhibition at the McMichael next year and I am sure I’ll be able to spot your positive “influence” in the artworks! Thanks again!”

Feedback: Stephen Leahy – Environmental Journalist:
Make Climate Change Art, Not War
“Toronto artist Franke James is doing great work both in expressing her concern and understanding in her colourful and insightful visual essays about climate change but also as a teacher of others in workshops for young artists — Six Tools to Make Climate Change Art.”

Feedback: EcoSherpa: Franke James’ Audio Visual Essay?
Anyone who has read this blog on a regular basis will know that I’m a BIG fan of Canadian artist & environmentalist Franke James



The McMichael Gallery holds a special place in Canadian art history as it boasts one of the largest Group of Seven collections in the world. You can read about its founders, Robert and Signe McMichael. The event was organized by Scott McDonald, Director Education and Programmes and Rosa Calabrese, Educator at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection to inspire the students to make art about climate change. The student’s work will be featured in a juried exhibition in 2008.