Dryden Goodwin’s ‘Breathe’: The role of public art in helping drive policy change around air pollution in cities globally

A great example of how art isn’t just there to entertain, but to educate us, too

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan on Breathe (Art Newspaper, Oct ‘23)

Breathe, the multi-site public artwork by artist and UCL Professor Dryden Goodwin has since 2012 utilised highly-visible artistic interventions to explore pressing policy issues around the global health emergency of air pollution. The work, which took over bridges, buildings and billboards across London and the UK, has been viewed by 13 million people to date.

Breathe (2012), worked with Professor Frank Kelly, Kings College London (key health advisor to the government on air pollution, which led to the implementation of ULEZ) and Guys & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust to raise awareness of health impacts. Ten years later Breathe:2022 (2022) and Breathe for Ella (2023) worked with Dr. Ian Mudway Imperial College, Lewisham Council, Mayor of London, high-profile air pollution campaigners including Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah CBE, and Baroness Jenny Jones MP to highlight the upcoming ULEZ expansion and the proposed ‘Ella’s Law’ (that would enshrine the right to breathe clean air in UK Law).

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah has campaigned tirelessly in the wake of the death of her 9 year old daughter Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah in 2013, the first person the world to have ‘air pollution’ listed as a cause of death in a landmark ruling.

The impact of Breathe to date lies in its unique methodology of animating a city’s infrastructure and collaborating with the key stakeholders – public transport providers, scientific and research institutions, campaigner and advocacy groups, politicians and policymakers, local and city councils, business improvement districts, law professionals, and educational establishments – who all inform, support or drive action around air quality and public health in our cities. Our partnership with JCDecaux’s Community Channel initiative also provided the work with a vastly extended canvas, taking over 250 additional sites across the London and the UK.

Above all, Breathe seeks to provide a striking and wide-reaching public platform so that audiences can better understand both the serious health impacts of air pollution but also the vital role clean air policy can play in bringing about urgent change. Our position is that to be pro ‘clean air’ for us and future generations, we also need to be pro-clean air policy.

“Never until this evening had I really stopped to think about the autonomic process of breathing. When you do this, it starts to hit home just why clean air is a human right.”

Breathe for Ella Audience member, Feb 2023

Breathe has told London’s story of air pollution; generating wide public discourse around policies on city infrastructure and health – but each city has its own.

Global Tour

As part of an ongoing UKRI-funded enquiry, supported by UCL Public Policy (Faculty Impact Award ‘Breathe as vehicle for impactful engagement in air-pollution related policy issues in the UK and beyond‘) Invisible Dust and UCL Professor Dryden Goodwin have been exploring new cities to tour the artwork to; grown with each new iteration to include a new figure who represents that city’s own story around air pollution.

As in London, Breathe plans to work in partnership with a range of key local governing bodies and campaigner groups to better understand the health and urban policy issues in each new city and through the interventions publicly animate and interrogate – them.

By highlighting policy contexts in new cities we can:

  • Connect London’s air pollution policy learnings and challenges to efforts in other cities globally
  • Generate a high-profile media campaign highlighting growing and shared global efforts
  • Enable a global best-practice exchange around policy-focused art

We’re delighted that we have been commissioned to tour the work to Lahore, Pakistan for the Lahore Biennale in October 2024 and we are currently in conversation with Belfast stakeholders including Belfast City Council and Queens University about an iteration of the work as part of Belfast 2024: People, Place and Planet (more detail to be announced soon!)

Event: Making Art ‘Work’ – Annual Lecture on Breathe at Bath Spa’s Centre for Cultural and Creative Industries – May 21st 2024

Dryden Goodwin and Invisible Dust associate producer Lucy Wood will be delivering the Bath Spa University CCCI (Centre for Cultural and Creative Industries)’s Annual Lecture on the 21st May 2024: Making art ‘work’ – Discussing the potential for art to be truly ‘useful’ in a time of environmental crisis.

Join Breathe artist Dryden Goodwin and its creative producer Lucy Wood to hear how they combine their unique artistic practice and producing skills, contributing to real-world impact around pressing social and environmental issues. Looking at their work across London, and upcoming plans to work with other cities globally, they pose how this approach might form a blueprint of how artists, producers and populations can think about the way to help leverage urgent change, through artistic interventions, in their own communities.

More info and book your place

📸 Main Image credit : Dryden Goodwin, installation view of ‘Breathe for Ella’ (2023) © the artist and Invisible Dust.

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