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Social Design Institute Meet the practitioner: David Cross

Painting of an arctic-type setting with tents and a fire on snow next to the sea which has lumps of ice
Painting of an arctic-type setting with tents and a fire on snow next to the sea which has lumps of ice
Natural landscape painting by Amy Grimes, BA Illustration, Camberwell College of Arts © UAL
Written by
Cat Cooper
Published date
16 March 2021

Social Design Institute publications are an open series of position papers, sharing diverse research perspectives on social and sustainable design from UAL researchers and practitioners.

Currently with 11 papers by 12 authors and more on the way, the series reflects the wide scope of social and sustainable design across multiple contexts and subject areas - from fashion and textiles to cultural practices and crime prevention.

Each month we highlight one of the practitioners - and their key idea for social design in 2021.

Get Well Soon: Planetary Health and Cultural Practices - David Cross

David Cross is a Reader in Art and Design at Chelsea College of Arts, UAL. His research, practice and teaching have long been informed by a critical engagement with the relationship between visual culture and the contested ideal of ‘sustainable’ development. His action research includes participation in UAL’s Climate Assemblies, and advising on how UAL can get to Zero Carbon within a just share of the global carbon budget. David recently co-led an In-Conversation with Janine François on the topic Intersectionality and Planetary Health, which opened UAL’s 2021 Research Season. He is currently co-hosting Planetary Health - Creative Sanatorium with Gabriela Grigorjeva.

David’s paper Get Well Soon: Planetary Health and Cultural Practices stems from the theory that planetary health is the basis of human health, both physical and mental. It connects 3 of the defining challenges of our time: Covid-19, the climate emergency and the legacies of colonisation, as inter-related crises that ultimately point towards “social breakdown and ecological extinction.”

Countering this catastrophic direction of travel, David proposes that there is a role for art, design and the humanities to nurture this holistic ideal of planetary health – and make way for a cultural transformation centred on ecological regeneration and social justice.

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Confronted with the explosive injustices and existential threats of the social-ecological crisis, fear is part of a healthy response. But so too is creativity: alive to complexity and uncertainty, art and design can offer ‘safe spaces’, enabling people to test their assumptions, compare different perspectives and explore hopes and anxieties. Here, then, is potential to develop the ideal of planetary health, bringing together ecological regeneration with restorative justice in a project of cultural transformation.

— David Cross - Get Well Soon: Planetary Health and Cultural Practices

Watch: Intersectionality and Planetary Health

Watch David Cross In-Conversation with Janine François Course Leader, BA Culture, Criticism and Curation, Central Saint Martins, on the topic: Intersectionality and Planetary Health. This event opened our annual research showcase UAL Research Season, March 2021. This year's season focuses on the theme: Earth and Equity: integrating environmental and racial justice.

Chaired by Dr Pratāp Rughani, Associate Dean of Research and Chair of Professoriate and Professor Charlotte Hodes, Co-Chair, and featuring introductions from UAL Vice-Chancellor Nigel Carrington and  David Isaac, Chair of UAL Court of Governors.

UAL Social Design Institute

Championing research and practice in social design and design for sustainability, UAL Social Design Institute develops and uses research insights to inform and change how designers and organisations design. Its mission is to make a positive social and environmental difference.

The Institute’s focus areas are value and valuation through design, systems and design, and policy contexts and implications. It works closely with colleagues across UAL including the Centre for Circular Design, Centre for Sustainable Fashion and Design Against Crime Research Centre.

The Social Design Institute is working with BOP Consulting to develop the methodology for the Design Council’s Design Economy 2021 and recently launched its first short course, Introduction to Social Design.