Hard Rain Project wins UNESCO education prize with dazzling mix of arts and science

“We cannot be ordinary people any more,” says Mark Edwards, founder of the Hard Rain Project, one of three winners of the UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) 2017. “Our global problems are too serious.”

The prize, which is funded by the Government of Japan, consists of three annual awards of USD 50,000 for each recipient.

Featuring exhibitions, a film, books, a documentary talk and educational materials, the UK-based winning project, brings together art and science to engage audiences in dealing with the challenges around sustainable development. 

The original 60-metre long Hard Rain exhibition, which links the words of Bob Dylan’s iconic song ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ to a series of Mark’s photographs, is a moving and involving experience that shows how our problems are linked by cause and effect and need to be tackled together.

Since its start in 2006, some 15 million people have seen the exhibition at over 150 venues in Europe, the USA, Africa and Asia and tens of thousands of people have emailed the project in response.

The successor exhibition WHOLE EARTH?, which grew out of the debate sparked by those mails, focuses on the opportunities provided in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the areas of climate, energy, fresh water, oceans, agriculture, poverty and education, and ways to participate. It has been shown at over 50 universities in Europe, Africa and Asia with venues in Europe, the United States and South America to come.

Mark was the first photographer to specialise in environment and development issues and spent 30 years travelling to over a hundred countries. “I have learnt about the SDGs from people at the sharp end of the debate. The idea in our exhibitions is to give these people a voice, and work with leading figures in the arts and science, together with students, to reach out to a wide public and show the solutions hidden in our global problems.”

The exhibitions, books and Mark’s talk show how, “We can reinvent the modern world so it is compatible with nature. We can all live more sustainably in our own lives, but we also need to bolster the resolve of political leaders to act in favour of the future. They want to help create a secure world - they have kids and grandchildren, but they need widespread public support to make this extraordinary transition to a more sustainable world.”

Despite the huge numbers who have seen both exhibitions, the Hard Rain Project has so far been largely funded by the sale of Mark’s photos.

“The prize is absolutely marvellous. It’s really helpful to have the stamp of approval from UNESCO and the funding means we can start work on our next exhibition, set in a maze. And we can rebuild our awful website!

“The Whole Earth Maze will bring alive the SDGs. Achieving the goals demands solutions to the problems highlighted in the original Hard Rain exhibition. Poverty, hunger, climate change, inequality, and the destruction of ecosystems are among the challenges the planet’s governments have signed up to deal with by 2030.

“Visitors are moved to leave feedback and to re-visit. The uncertain path through the Maze will add a further element of fun and interactivity to the exhibition. The passages through the Maze illustrate the Goals.

“Cul-de-sacs show viewers our current problems; taking a wrong turn puts a visitor face-to-face with a sustainability issue in a novel manner. Reaching the core, visitors will see proven solutions - from governments, business, civil society and citizens - that illustrate how the Goals can actually be delivered. Visitors will get lost, find their way, and leave transformed!”

The ceremony to award the recipients will be held at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris on 3 November 2017. As with all winners of the UNESCO-Japan Prize, UNESCO will invite the Hard Rain Project to join its Partner Networks of the Global Action Programme on ESD (GAP) and foster close, long-term collaboration.