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As Climate Crisis Intensifies, New Art and Science Fund Aims to Save the World’s Seas

TBA21-Academy divers in the Galápagos Islands.

COURTESY TBA21-ACADEMY

As climate change commands more and more attention, thanks to the work of activists of all kinds, art is entering into the realm of policy. In the midst of this week’s first Climate Action Summit during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Olafur Eliasson was named the first Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Development Program; artists helped dress up protests during the recent climate strike; the organization Art 2030 is staging a public artwork by Jeppe Hein in Central Park; and now—distant but connected in Europe—the ambitious arts enterprise TBA21-Academy is launching a new Ocean Academy Fund for projects related to sustaining the seas.

Established in 2011 and affiliated since with the storied art collector and patron Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, TBA21-Academy has supported aggressively interdisciplinary artist-led initiatives across the globe—many of them by way of a dedicated research vessel and a public home in a recently restored 17th-century church in Venice. The organization’s new Ocean Academy Fund will be dedicated to continuing its efforts with artists (who have included Joan Jonas, Superflex, John Akomfrah, Claudia Comte, Chus Martínez, and many more) as well as scientists, designers, engineers, and policymakers at work in disparate but interrelated ways.

“As has become clear, especially today”—after the release on Wednesday of a dire report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—“we need a different kind of engagement,” said Markus Reymann, the director of TBA21-Academy. “It reiterates the urgency for collective action that is trans-disciplinary and connective and works in new ways to try to find solutions.”

Artist Olafur Eliasson and scientist David Gruber in conversation with TBA21-Academy director Markus Reymann.

NICOL MIANA

The new Ocean Academy Fund—seeded by the TBA21 Foundation and managed by Fondation Philanthropia, a public-benefit foundation in Switzerland—aims to raise money that will be fully devoted to projects of the kind TBA21-Academy has historically championed. “We created this fund to invite collaborators, co-creators, and supporters to come into the platform and have absolute transparency,” Reymann said. “We have the commitment of the TBA21 Foundation for infrastructure, overhead, and administration. Now we want to invite people into projects without them feeling like they need to pay for our organization. The money will go to research and outreach.”

As models for the future, Reymann pointed to past undertakings by TBA21-Academy such as a three-year engagement with artist Joan Jonas, who traveled the world and made artwork all the while under the aegis of the group, and the development of a new Ph.D. program with the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Other recent developments include the opening of Ocean Space (the project in that 17th-century church, described as an “embassy for the oceans in Venice”) and the soon-to-launch online research repository Ocean-Archive.org.

“We want to be able to bring people who are disenfranchised into the conversation—people who live on the front lines of climate change, who deal with super storms but are completely disenfranchised from what’s happening,” Reymann said. “It is absolutely necessary that we bring these people into the platform and give them the possibility to be heard and to engage in conversations that become more and more urgent.”

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