Breaking the climate silence:
a new platform for creative youth leadership


Climate Speaks:
A spoken word training program and competition

March – june 2019


Sixteen young people stand on a stage. They break the silence in the room, sharing words about burning forests and flooded neighborhoods. Words about inequality intensified. Words about dreams they can’t hold freely, the impossibility of a future without fear.

And words about rising together to meet the climate crisis. Words of courage, determination, and hope.

The Climate Museum presents Climate Speaks, a citywide youth spoken word training program and competition dedicated to themes of climate change and social justice. Climate Speaks unites climate advocacy and New York City’s spoken word culture to transform both.

Climate Speaks is presented in partnership with the NYC Department of Education Office of Sustainability and with special thanks to Urban Word NYC.


How does it work?


Climate Speaks will run from March–June 2019. The program has three phases:

1. Workshops and trainings

In February, March, and April 2019, working with our network of non-profit allies, the Climate Museum will recruit a broad pool of diverse NYC youth and provide workshops, training, and mentorship. Themes for discussion will include the climate crisis and its intersections with social justice; climate communications; and artistic and poetic expression. Check back soon for a complete calendar of events. Climate Speaks participants must attend at least two workshops to be eligible for the competition.

2. Selection of finalists

Young poets will be invited to submit their written pieces, either as individuals or as teams of two through an online portal. Submissions will be due in mid-April; details will be announced soon.

A selection committee will choose 32 semi-finalists, who will receive in-depth performance training and mentoring. Semi-finalists will be invited to perform their climate justice pieces before a panel of judges. Sixteen acts will advance to the final round.

3. Performance

In June 2019, finalists will participate in a public performance (venue to be announced soon). Three winners will be selected by a panel of judges. The audience will include followers of spoken word and climate arts and, through outreach and promotion, draw new communities as well.

After the public contest, we will provide ongoing educational, performance, and leadership opportunities for Climate Speaks finalists.


Who is eligible?


You must meet the following criteria in order to apply for the Climate Speaks competition:

  1. You must be enrolled in and attending high school in Spring 2019.

  2. You must live in the New York Metropolitan area.

  3. You must attend at least two Climate Speaks workshops in March–April 2019, prior to submitting your written application in mid-April.

All semi-finalists are expected to attend one or more performance training sessions in May 2019, and participate in the auditions for the final round, which will take place at in mid-May (exact dates to be announced).

All finalists are expected to attend two or more performance and mentoring trainings in late May 2019, and participate in the final public performance in mid-June (exact dates to be announced).


How do I apply?


All Climate Speaks applicants will submit:

  1. One original poetry piece focused on climate justice, broadly defined, that can be read aloud in under five minutes.

  2. One short essay (200 words) that describes your interest in climate change and/or the performing arts, and explains why you’d be a good fit for the Climate Speaks training program and competition.

Written applications will be accepted through an online portal in mid April 2019. You must attend at least two Climate Speaks workshops prior to submitting your written application. The calendar of March and April workshops will be posted in early February; please sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of this page to receive updates.


Why spoken word?


Letter from the director

We have seen the hunger youth have for creative ways of engaging with climate action, and how their imagination and vision inspire audiences. Climate Speaks will galvanize performers and listeners alike.

In January 2018, the Climate Museum developed a workshop focused on bridging art and science in climate advocacy. We provided 16 high school students from across New York City the opportunity to create innovative media designed to engage their peers in climate dialogue. To our surprise, having been given magic markers and iPads, many of the students chose to use spoken word. The energy in the room and the extraordinary work the participants created made us aware of the urgent need for programming that uplifts youth voices on climate change.

Acting on this recognition, in September 2018 we presented a spoken word performance at a major impact investment conference in Park City, Utah. Working with Urban Word NYC, the Climate Museum team brought together a team of six New York youth, training them in climate communications, mentoring them on poetry, and giving them room to lead. Young poets who had never written about climate change came together with young climate activists on our Youth Advisory Council who had never performed poetry. Together, they created and choreographed a 15-minute climate justice-themed spoken word piece, sharing powerful words and calling hundreds of conference attendees to action. The audience was transfixed by the poets’ talent, compassion, and power. The six poets from Utah are now the Climate Speaks Youth Leadership Team, advising the Climate Museum and conducting outreach and recruitment.

Young people deserve better than climate chaos, and they know it. The recent report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sounded a new level of alarm, intensifying the call to transform our society to stave off the worst impacts of climate change and build towards a more equitable, climate-safe future. We still have time to act, though the window is shrinking. Youth voices cut through the accumulated fog of passivity, driving home the moral imperative of immediate action.


“Traveling to Utah was an amazing and worthwhile experience that I’ll never forget.

The idea of sharing my creativity on something I am passionate about with a large

audience was nerve-wracking at first but with every workshop I grew more confident.

Overall, the experience brought me out of my shell, and I’m really excited to help plan

Climate Speaks.”

—Anya Martinez, Climate Museum Youth Advisory Council member and poet

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“We kicked off our event with a spoken word performance from these brilliant young

leaders who provided the inspiration and urgency we needed to have a productive

retreat. The students were incredibly passionate, authentic and well-versed on climate

change. They engaged with our community and were true leaders in the discussion.”

—Thomas Knowles, Partner at Gratitude Railroad

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