Interview by Isha Varma.
Evoke Creatives was founded by Rachel Wang in November 2018. Previously, Rachel was working with organizations including ECO Canada and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Despite the passion and expertise she brought to the table, Rachel often felt like an “imposter” environmentalist. She never really saw herself or her interests reflected in the modern-day environmental movement. Rachel eventually recognized there was a need for more diversity and creative artforms in the environmental movement, rather than being associated with the common image of a hippie hugging a tree with a sign that says “Go Vegan”. This need, along with her love for hip hop music and dance, motivated her to launch Evoke Creatives.
We sat down with Rachel and discussed more about her environmental background, the mission and vision behind Evoke Creatives, and her personal relationship with music.
Tell us a little more about your backstory. How did you first become interested in the environmental movement?
My entry into the environmental movement didn’t come from a passion to save all the trees and animals. It was a very robotic pursuit of what I thought I should be doing, not necessarily what I wanted to be doing. As a result, my academic career shows the typical evolution of an environmentalist - Bachelor of Science to graduate studies to environmental internships and volunteering.
Following graduation, I worked with WWF across Canada and the South Pacific for almost 6 years. I became a specialist in oceans and coastal management, working with communities on a variety of fisheries-related work. It wasn’t until last year that I questioned why I still felt like an outsider in the environmental field. I thought that because I don’t like hiking or camping every single weekend, I was a bad environmentalist. Or, when I was in a rush and didn’t have time to pack lunch, I felt ashamed to bring a plastic take out container into the office. But, then I realized this is precisely why many people are not receptive to the “environmental movement”; we are constantly being told that we are bad, stupid or doing something wrong. In fact, this confrontational approach works only with 20% of the population when it comes to behaviour change. We need to use more creative communication mediums to evoke emotion and personal motivations to transition to more sustainable ways of living.
That’s true. We need to move away from this stereotypical environmentalist because it just creates more barriers to people getting involved. Speaking to that, what audience do you hope to reach out and engage with Evoke?
Evoke Creatives is specifically working towards elevating the voices of youth in racialized communities experiencing environmental racism.
Initially, I did a lot of research around media culture and understanding its influence on Generations Y and Z, particularly lifestyle choices. Having some experience in the hip hop dance community, I specifically examined how hip hop and rap artists have used their music as vehicles to forward social and political change. The environmental movement can and should be part of these existing conversations. As these narratives become woven together, we will hear more about the disproportionate impacts of climate change on racialized communities. Currently, it seems like professional environmentalists have a monopoly on environmental leadership, however this has put non-professionals in a place of confusion and ambivalence. We need to re-inspire a sense of agency at the individual and community level.
Without representation and role models, it becomes a challenge to engage young people (ages 14-34) in individual action towards more sustainable living. More specifically, traditional modes of communicating environmental issues and calls to action include protests, pamphlets, posters, webinars and so on. As a young person involved in the environmental movement myself, I’m not even engaged by these mediums. Through Evoke, we are using hip hop music to transform and complement existing efforts through live performance, lyrics and even public relations. At its core, we are essentially unlearning and re-learning how knowledge is mobilized and consumed by the general public.
I love this whole story so much! Speaking more on the idea of Evoke, what is the mission or vision?
Our vision is to see more diversity on the frontlines of the environmental movement. Evoke Creatives works to build creative platforms for racialized youth in Toronto to participate in the environmental movement. This includes Evoke being at music festivals to offer waste management and sustainable alternatives, such as re-usable cups and water re-fill stations. It also includes improving environmental and climate literacy through music mentorship and interactive workshops.
If you could describe Evoke in four words, what would they be?
Diversity, empowerment, creativity and collaboration.
Follow Rachel’s journey and keep up with her exciting adventures here.