The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at
The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at

The Art of Change in 2018

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Can the arts change the world? How does the role of artists and the arts help bring about change? How does culture borrow from society – and vice versa?

These are just some of the questions that we will be exploring in our 2018 season, The Art of Change. At a time of significant national and international uncertainty, throughout the year, we’ll be looking at how the arts respond to, reflect and potentially effect change in the social and political landscape.

The Art of Change will present bold artistic responses to vital global issues including feminism, climate changes and human rights – and provide a platform for voices currently underrepresented in the arts.

Browse the full programme for The Art of Change

We’ve broken down The Art of Change season into three key strands…

Changing times

Throughout key periods of history, artists have portrayed, reflected and sometimes embodied moments of great social change. These projects show how artists have bridged divides, shone a spotlight on issues and pioneered new ways of living.


As the notion of a ‘couple’ evolves with society’s changing approach to marriage, partnerships, family, parenthood and gender, we present Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde (10 Oct 2018–27 Jan 2019) the first interdisciplinary exhibition to explore the creative output of around 40 artist couples, demonstrating how their relationships were a significant factor in shaping Modernism and society.


Including the work of painters, sculptors, photographers, architects, designers, poets, writers, musicians, dancers and performers, such as Emilie Flöge and Gustav Klimt, Mary Reynolds and Marcel Duchamp, Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst, Varvara Stepanova and Alexander Rodchenko, Ray and Charles Eames, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson and Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, Modern Couples questions the history of modern art as one largely defined by solitary genius.


During their International Associate Residency, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis (26 Feb–1 May 2018) recreates the famous ‘King of Swing’, Benny Goodman 1938 Carnegie Hall concert – the first interracial concert at New York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall, and a watershed moment in American music history.



New York’s iconic theatre group, The Wooster Group, present The Town Hall Affair (21–24 Jun 2018) a mixed-media piece channelling a raucous 1971 debate on women’s liberation between pugnacious American novelist Norman Mailer and a panel of prominent feminist advocates including Germaine Greer and Jill Johnston, that still reverberates today. Featuring extended clips from Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary Town Bloody Hall, Elizabeth LeCompte’s The Town Hall Affair revisits that explosive night in a timely look at how the struggle for gender equality has evolved, nearly 50 years after the landmark debate.



As well as screening Town Bloody Hall, in the Cinema, we’ll be marking the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act and the 90th anniversary of the Equal Franchise Act, with Nevertheless She Persisted: A Century of Suffrage (18 –24 April 2018). This film season will examine the global struggle for women’s political voices to be heard, female access to institutions of power and the quest for equal rights.


Sir Simon Rattle conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Genesis Suite (Sat 13 Jan 2018), a work conceived in 1943 by conductor and film composer Nathaniel Shilkret, who wished to make a grand and shocking musical gesture, drawing attention to the horrors of the Second World War, and breaking boundaries of musical styles. We’ll also present the UK premiere of the concert-staged performance of Jake Heggie’s first opera Dead Man Walking (Tue 20 Feb 2018), starring Joyce DiDonato with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, based on the real-life story of Sister Helen Prejean, a nun who became one of America’s leading advocates for the abolition of the death penalty.


Powerplant’s The Filthy Fifteen (Tue 1 May 2018) is inspired by fifteen songs deemed too explicit by the committee of the Parents Music Resource Center in 1985 and which sparked debate about censorship and change in the music industry.


In Returning the Colonial Gaze (2–29 May 2018), we showcase filmmakers from former colonies whose work came to prominence after their nation gained its independence including Jean Rouch’s playful yet provocative satire Little by Little and Afrique sur Seine, considered by some to be the beginning of African cinema.

Changing perceptions

Work that celebrates our differences and provides a platform for voices from communities currently underrepresented in the arts.



At a time when individual rights are being contested and those on the fringes of society feel ever more marginalised from mainstream political and social narratives, we present our Spring 2018 exhibition, Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins (28 Feb–27 May 2018). Featuring a cast of transsexuals, cross-dressers, prostitutes, hustlers, bikers, eccentrics, circus performers, street urchins and tearaways, gang members, back-street peddlers and survivalists, the works in the exhibition present the outsider as an agent of change. The exhibition features the work of photographers including Paz Errazuriz, Casa Susanna Collection, Mary Ellen Mark, and Pieter Hugo amongst others.

A number of projects in The Art of Change will form part of Sky Arts Art 50, a landmark project to commission 50 artworks that will explore what it means to be British in a post-Brexit Britain. Art 50 is a partnership between Sky Arts, the Barbican, Sage Gateshead, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and Storyvault Films.



As part of Art 50, US performance company Split Britches present Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) (15–19 May 2018), a performance which will transform The Pit stage into The Situation Room – a daring new forum for public discussion. In Let Me Play the Lion Too (March 2018), Told by an Idiot call on a group of twelve performers, six of whom have a disability, to devise a new piece of improvised performance that seeks to affect change in the wider arts infrastructure.



Part of LIFT 2018, Australian theatre company, Back to Back Theatre, present Lady Eats Apple (14–16 Jun 2018), a tale of creation and destruction in which the epic and everyday, mythic and mundane coexist, created and performed by the company’s ensemble of actors with learning disabilities.


Transpose: Barbican (November 2018) returns for its third year with a programme of inspirational performances from artists from the queer and trans communities that deconstruct myths and challenges ideas on gender, sexuality and inclusion. This year, Transpose is curated by and featuring activist, author and singer-songwriter, CN Lester.


Changing society now

In our uncertain world, what role do artists have in shaping our present and future? These projects seek to highlight contemporary issues, spark debate and ultimately effect societal change.


Throughout 2018, Real Quick will be an experimental new platform for rapid artistic responses to the state of the world, advertised no more than seven days in advance. Programmed directly in response to unfolding political and social issues – these informal talks, discussions and experiments will take place in the Barbican’s public spaces intermittently throughout the year, and will involve a diverse range of contributors.

In Rhiannon Faith’s Smack That (a conversation) (12–16 Jun 2018), the inventive choreographer shines a light on the complex subject of domestic abuse in an empowering and participatory performance highlighting human resilience. Each member of the all-female cast, a close-knit group of non-performers and dance artists, fearlessly takes on the persona of Beverly, who is hosting a party with the audience as her guests, to convey turbulent, real experiences.


METIS’s immersive experiment for the invention of the future We Know Not What We May Be (September 2018) draws on cutting-edge research to ‘rehearse’ possible tomorrows. From AI and robotics to carbon taxes and universal basic income, this performance installation asks who could we be in the future? Audiences are invited to respond and can book for either UTOPIA or DYSTOPIA, exploring possible consequences of future scenarios, from the delightful to the terrifying.



In The Curve, we present a new commission by Moroccan artist Yto Barrada (7 Feb–May 2018) whose work investigates the subversive tactics and strategies of resistance that people develop to deal with everything from the mundanities of everyday life to shifts in power and migration, often focusing on her native Morocco.


In Autumn, we’ll work with Girlguiding London and South East England on Girls can, do and will, as Brownies and Guides work with artists, musicians, writers, and performers to explore how art and culture can influence, affect and enhance the cause for gender equality with a new creative social-action badge designed by a leading artist.



During their International Associate Residency, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel (2–4 May 2018) will perform the European premiere of American composer Ted Hearne’s Place – the story of growing up in Chicago, segregated and integrated as so many cities are, this is a modern-day oratorio – part memoir, part flash documentary. As part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s residency 50 young people from London and Los Angeles will create a Youth Manifesto entitled Imagining an Arts Centre of the Future.


London-based artist Gayle Chong Kwan presents, The People’s Forest, a new contemporary visual art project which explores the forest as a site of shared resources and competing claims, as well examining local issues and the impact of globalisation on communities, providing a voice for the people of Epping Forest. Chong Kwan’s 11m high sculpture of a pollarded tree The Fairlop Oak will be installed in the Barbican foyers in October 2017.


Giving a voice to The Art of Change season, throughout 2018, twelve young poets will write and perform work that speaks to our changing world in a monthly video series, Subject to Change, a project that fleetingly captures the shifting landscapes of the present through the timeless art of poetry.
Find out more about the events in The Art of Change on the season page.
For complete details of The Art of Change season announcement, visit our news room


Douglas Lee

Wonderful programme! Full marks to the Barb for adventure and innovation.

Rebecca Evans

This sounds fantastic, lots to look forward to as always from the Barbican!

Comments are closed.