Arts and Music

Energy, Art and Cultural Engagement: Barry Lord and 34 Percent Voter Turnout

We cannot help shape our society if we do not get culturally and politically engaged.

By Margaret Lindsay Holton
Published November 07, 2014

Cartoon by Joel Pett
Cartoon by Joel Pett

Barry Lord

Barry Lord, visionary founder of Lord Cultural Resources, has come a long way from the backstreets of Barton and Kenilworth in Hamilton.

After studying philosophy at McMaster University he won a Woodrow Wilson Scholarship to further study at Harvard. Following that, he began working at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Through dogged determination and a 'non-institutional' McLuhanesque mindset, he soon launched an enviable international career as a museum consultant, high profile cultural planner and public arts provocateur with business offices in New York, London and Toronto.

And yet, even so, his roots remain profoundly linked to Hamilton, as you will soon discover...

Art and Energy

Recently, Barry Lord has launched a densely-packed 'idea' book, entitled Art and Energy: How Culture Changes, published by the American Alliance of Museums Press.

Illustrated with 60 colour plates ranging from cave paintings of now extinct euro-bison to a large format photography of a rambling tire dump in California, the contents inventively link the course of history to the energy sources that made cultures possible.

"Stewardship of the Earth, and the body," claims Lord, "is now the cutting-edge culture in the arts, and in our lives, that accompanies new renewable energy sources."

The emerging culture of stewardship, he continues, "must do battle with the remnants of the culture of consumption that was brought to us by the still dominant energy sources of oil and gas."

Provocatively and convincingly, Lord details the 'leaps' forward, as well as the cultural mindsets that hold any progressive innovation back.

Oil Rigs versus Wind Towers
Oil Rigs versus Wind Towers

Since humans mastered fire, major cultural shifts have accompanied each energy transition throughout the ages. As example, a culture of anxiety continues to linger associated with our inheritance and dependence on nuclear energy.

Contrast the somewhat euphoric culture of transformation that came to us during the era of electrification. That period was built on the culture of production, a result of the Industrial Revolution that was built, initially, on the released energy of the coal that produced steam.

Energy Debate a Conflict of Cultures

Lord argues that our increasingly volatile 'energy debate' is really about a conflict of cultures: one ending, one emerging.

This thought-provoking and highly recommended book is the fruition of a speech given earlier this year at a sustainability conference in Toronto. There, Barry Lord riffs on the up-coming contents, loosely paraphrased here:

"Why does culture change at all?" he somewhat rhetorically asks. When we understand that "energy is the source of all Life and that all our cultures depend on Energy, we realize we are in a relationship of dependence with any given source of Energy."

Every energy source carries an inherent set of values that establish how we live. "As each energy source becomes dominant, which is to say we become dependent on it, then it's values are universally accepted. Nobody talks about them anymore. They are mostly unconsciously accepted everywhere."

Thomas Edison, as example, with the invention of his light bulb in 1879, changed night into day. Equally, air conditioning changed indoor climate. As a consequence of these inventions, our cultures changed.

Energy is Not Culturally Neutral

Now, with the advances of electricity and wireless digitization, former physical and knowledge boundaries are rapidly dissolving around the globe. These remarkable advances have developed our confidence that "we can change the world."

What must be understood is that "every energy source is not culturally neutral." Oil and gas, as energy sources, created a culture of consumption - unlike coal, which generated a culture of production.

Cultural habits of "shopping at malls" is a result of the effect of oil and gas. Primarily a knowledge-based industry dependent on geology and engineering, oil extraction is not as labour intensive as coal. Once the rig is set and the oil gushing barrels can be shipped wherever.

Thus, the nexus of value shifts from heavy labour production to rapid market consumption. Worth noting, the first universal credit cards were credit cards for gasoline. It was the credit card companies that saw and established everybody as consumers.

Huge Cultural Shift

Until very recently, in Western civilizations, the culture of oil and gas, aka the culture of consumption, has remained dominant. It depicts a future of unending abundance, a cultural value, that has remained unchanged and unchallenged for decades.

Yet, the emerging cultural values of renewable energies - producing an alternative culture of stewardship - provide a momentous possibility of harnessing non-fossil fuel technology to give us the energy we need. We no longer have to be dependent on fossil fuels. According to Lord, "That's a huge cultural shift."

Germany is way ahead of everyone else on this, as is Denmark. Changing our relationship to energy, and by extension developing a new participatory culture where we are both producers and consumers, we now have the possibility, through the revolution of renewables, to turn every building into a producer of energy.

We are in the early stages of the emerging culture of stewardship, where our fundamental values are and will be changed by the incoming values of renewable energy.

It goes without saying that we need greater support of renewable energy to move wholeheartedly into this emerging culture of sustainability and stewardship. Big Oil continues in the dominant position, maintaining the pervasive manners and mores of the culture of consumption.

Generational Issue

Renewable energy is in its infancy with fundamental problems, like: how do we store it?

The pervasive and now global culture of consumption has led to a lot of anxiety because of the increasing intergenerational clash of cultures over energy sources that, in and of themselves, have conflicting values. Oil versus Green has now become a generational issue.

Truth is, the production of energy today that we all use to power our private and public spheres has slowly been taken away from us. So much so, that most are now at the mercy of the one-way grid, a power distribution system controlled by governments in collusion with mammoth private and public corporations, banks and global markets.

Renewable energy owned, managed and distributed by local co-operatives that feed back into the grid, have been and will continue to systemically transform our cultural values from a combative, consumptive, anxiety-riddled culture to a culture invigorated by participatory stewardship of our planet, and of ourselves.

Renewable energy offers hope for all life's survival. Big Oil and fossil fuels do not.

Cultural clashes arise whenever the dominate culture is challenged by an emerging culture. We are in such a transitional period today.

Consider this:

The Crux of the Matter

Okay, preamble finished. So what does this have to do with voting in municipal elections?

It is very worrisome that upcoming important local initiatives will be instituted by government agencies that are not endorsed by the majority of the local populace.

We have just instated or re-instated municipal governments in the Golden Horseshoe region that have been recently elected by less than 35 percent of eligible voters. Consequently, our local governments will respond to vested 'stakeholders'.

These stakeholders invariably voted to have their particular interests protected. This creates a very lop-sided representation and 'closed system' of 'taxpayers priorities' when municipalities roll out their p.r. machines.

In simple truth: if we do not vote, we severely undermine our own capacity for self-determination.

For those who claim The system is corrupt, so why bother voting?, I respond, the system is corrupt precisely because you do not bother.

In order to reclaim a functioning and participatory democracy, taxpaying citizens must weigh in with more then just their taxes. We must vote!

We must re-engage with the issues of the day. We must challenge status quo Official Plans. We must research alternatives, and, if necessary, run for office.

Only then will we attain the representation that realistically and adequately reflects the diversity of circumstance - and opportunities - within our respective municipalities.

Our Duty to Engage

It is, fundamentally, our duty to engage, as active local citizens, within the broader global community of humanity. If we don't engage, we leave ourselves in the hands of self-perpetuating political bureaucrats, who, legally, have access to the public purse to create a future that buttresses the vision of those who have put them back in office.

That said, there are innumerable public and private initiatives emerging to remedy the growing disparity between those who govern, and us, the governed. We can do this.

Take your pick, and get involved. Push for the change that you want and seek. Do it for yourselves: do it for your children. Do it so that our species can survive - and thrive - on this ever generous life-giving mothership.

Yes, it is imperative that we collectively understand what we are up against.

Meanwhile, provincially, Ontario is trying to get liftoff with a renewable energy package that places a substantially heavier tax burden on households.

Artists Can Lead the Way

We need leaders like Barry Lord to keep our spirits up.

Artists too can lead the way. Arte Povera began exploring this new stewardship by salvaging or recycling found objects, as early as the 1960s.

Daria Fo's theatre in Milan began exploring participatory satirical theatre, working off newspaper headlines.

Earth Art, also known as Land Art, is now a familiar phenomenon, unheard of a mere 20 years ago.

Mariana Abramovic performance art at MOMA, The Artist is Present, manifests this new stewardship by demanding attention, not to what she has produced with her hands, but to her body.

She sat on a chair for 8 hours a day, giving 10 min 'sessions' with members of the audience, eye to eye, no talking, no words. Audience reactions were strong and emotional. Many spoke of an "awakening of self". Understanding this basic presence of the body equals an emerging understanding of the stewardship of the Earth.

Singer and songwriter Neil Young has recently linked environmental issues to the Rights of Native peoples in Alberta. He manifest the emerging culture of sustainability and stewardship by associating his personal art form with the plight of a people's direct affiliation with the planet.

Margaret Atwood, famed Canadian author, has lent her voice to the Future Library public art project, where authors compose works to be published 100 years from now on pulp from trees planted today.

To conclude, consider the lead-by-example of Barry Lord (and his wife Gail), who returned to Hamilton in the early 1980s to take on three significant projects: the commissioning of Westfield Heritage Village, the restoration of the steam engines at the historic Hamilton waterworks and the initial studies into the possible raising of the Hamilton and Scourge 1812 warships.

Barry Lord got down and dirty.

Barry Lord got political.

Barry Lord did it.

And so can you.


You can watch a panel Discussion with Barry Lord. Panelists include: Elle Flanders (Public Studio), Jesika Briones, (Advanced Energy Centre), Jeff Melanson, (CEO Toronto Symphony), and Edward Burtynsky, (Photographer). Moderated by John McGrath, Energy Communications Consultant (1:24 hr. VIDEO)

Another person who understands this transitional period is Naomi Klein. In the next video, she discusses her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate.

A mid-career Golden Horseshoe artist and author, Lindsay is available for commissions and assignments via 'mlhpro' at 'hotmail' dot 'com'. See samples at


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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted November 07, 2014 at 10:20:06

As your fearless Editor opined four years ago, right before the 2010 election:

"I'm inclined to think elections are overrated. If you vote for a candidate once every four years but don't get involved in the meantime, it doesn't really matter much who you vote for. Once politicians get inside the bubble, it's impossible to keep any kind of perspective without ongoing, substantive interaction with 'regular voters' for grounding. Which is why it's so important for citizens to: a) elect councillors who will allow themselves to be engaged, and b) keep up their end of that engagement between elections."

As much as I have fervently yammered on over the past few years about the importance of informed ballots cast as opposed to simply increasing turnout, I'm finding myself more and more questioning the decision-making process for those who vote beyond name recognition.

To whit: Why did you choose the Ward candidate you voted for? What was this decision based on? What were the differences between this candidates and those who didn't pass muster for you?

I ask these questions simply because of the nature of Municipal governance, where, in the main, no Councillor possesses the power to have their 'agenda' put into play. So most declarations can be seen as 'strategic platitudes'. So does it really come down to simply how comfortable we feel with a particular candidate?

More and more, I believe what Ryan proffered to be of immeasurable value...mostly because it places the responsibility for good governance where it should be: on the resident. After all, we are the employers in this scenario, and Councillors and the Mayor are our employees. It's up to us to guide them in leading us. "You don't ask, you don't get."

Comment edited by ItJustIs on 2014-11-07 10:20:23

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By Missy2013 (registered) - website | Posted November 07, 2014 at 10:42:27


At best, good governance is an 'on-going dialogue' between elected Councillors and their Ward constituents.

But if we don't vote, we don't have a leg to stand on.

There are other ways, of course, to become engaged within our communities at the grassroots level, but the 'lead time' is generally longer and the results usually less visible.

Municipal governments are multi-million dollar corporations. If we are moving in the same direction, their resources can and should amplify residents preferences. If we don't vote, or engage, we remain 'governed' - without representation.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2014 at 12:37:44

Since the advent of time-of-use billing in May 2006 to April 2014, on-peak rates have risen 23% (or 2.4 cents per kw/h) from 10.5 cents to 12.9 cents per kw/h (23%) while off-peak rates have risen 105% (or 3.7 cents per kw/h) in the same period — from 3.5 cents per kw/h to 7.2 cents per kw/h.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted November 07, 2014 at 18:39:40

Love the cartoon and isn't that the point. Who cares if climate change is not man made or even if there is any change outside of the "norm." Waste is waste.

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By missy2013 (registered) - website | Posted November 07, 2014 at 21:00:49

What's astounding is that 'we' have allowed the pillage of the Earth to happen as long as we have. Yes, waste is waste, and energy prices are rising, but as long as the 'developed', and now the developing 'worlds', continue on with little to no respect for the planet's finite resources, we remain as much as the problem, as we ARE the solution. A 'mind shift' is needed, from Consuming Extractors to Mindful Caretakers ...

Curiously, I see in The Spectator that 15 activists took a stand when an oil executive was on the podium at McMaster University recently. It may not have been the 'best place' or even the right kind of action, BUT, it was a 'stand taken'.

That act is a clear example of the "battle" of cultures of which Lord speaks about above. It's playing out too south of the border with Keystone XL and in the west of Canada with the Northern Gateway pipelines, and locally, with Line9. A new consciousness, a new awareness, a new sense of 'stewardship' for the planet and for ourselves is challenging 'the norm'. Good thing.

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By Missy2013 (registered) - website | Posted November 11, 2014 at 14:16:50

Of interest, last weekend, The Globe & Mail ran an editorial on this 'issue', in part. 'How to fight global warming without destroying the economy? Use a little Econ 101 ... '

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By Missy2013 (registered) - website | Posted November 13, 2014 at 10:05:59

Agree Ryan.

Particularly with this statement, "If we ever get past the special interests and ideology that have blocked action to save the planet, we’ll find that it’s cheaper and easier than almost anyone imagines."

It has been repeatedly proposed by those 'on the left' that the best way to usurp "the special interests & ideology" is to a) have 'Polluters Pay' and b)legislate compliance.

When new measures were brought in to curb auto emissions, as example, there was, initially and predictably, squawking from the auto industry, but today, with the on-going raising of public awareness and legislation, the 'race' is now on to design the least polluting vehicle ... Emissions testing is now de rigeur, something unheard of a mere 13 years ago. The same thing needs to be done for cultivating decentralized renewables.

Part of the problem with the German 'model' is the over-zealous intervention on behalf of the government. Solar energy is subsidized, but manufacturing of solar panels is not. So, energy providers purchase low-cost panels from China, thereby undercutting the 'innovation' of manufacturing jobs for the local economy.

The same thing happened in Ontario recently with the 'subsidy' of Samsung. That business was offered huge tax advantages as well as fixed price 'guarantees'(fair above the norm) to set up shop here, again, undercutting the local market. See:

From that article: "Under that “feed in tariff” (FIT) program, ... owners will receive 44 cents a kilowatt hour for all the power it generates OVER THE NEXT 20 YEARS (caps mine), about three times more than the retail electricity rate of less than 14 cents a kilowatt hour."

The FIT program was suspended in 2013, but the RATES are locked-in. Not surprisingly, a number of 'new owners', mostly cagey investment funds, have bought up or bought out businesses because the GUARANTEES are there. This 'bad deal' for taxpayers is essentially a result of too much government intervention.

Finding the 'happy balance' remains an ongoing challenge as we dance between hope or despair ...

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By Missy2013 (registered) - website | Posted November 14, 2014 at 00:00:27

ps ~ Just out via Bloomberg, 'Fossil fuel with $550 BILLION subsidy hurts renewables' ...

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By Missy2013 (registered) - website | Posted November 15, 2014 at 12:48:51

US & China strike historic deal on carbon cuts in push for global climate change pact ...Wonderful News, no?

YET, Mexico's state owned petroleum company, Pemex, ( just inked a $10 BILLION credit line with China's state oil company CNOOC, and financial institutions - China Development Bank (CDB) and ICBC ... Um, not so good. Lozoya Austin, CEO of Pemex, "stressed the importance of these agreements for economic growth and job creation in Mexico."

So here we have a clear example of how 'nation governments' SAY one thing on 'public record' and for 'the press', but, in fact, do quite another thing with their investments ...

Moral? Stay ever vigilant and PUSH for LOCAL government to be responsive and responsible to LOCAL constituents. Be every leery of global investment bankers (including state-controlled bankers) whose primary goal is 'profit' - not clean air, water, soil and/or good husbandry of humanity and natural resources.

It's all up hill, BUT progress can and will be made ...

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By Joshua (registered) | Posted February 14, 2015 at 23:17:07

This is an excellent article. Lord's book was also favourably reviewed in a past People's Voice newspaper. Thanks, Lindsay, for writing this.

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By Lindsay (anonymous) | Posted March 10, 2015 at 12:19:57

Thanks Joshua. The more we know, the better prepared we can be ...

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By Missy2013 (registered) - website | Posted April 01, 2015 at 18:31:10

Barry Lord has created a blog to continue to address these issues. See: https://artandenergybarrylord.wordpress....

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