Yearly Archives: 2008

The Ecological Sustainability of Theatrical Lighting

This Article was originally presented at the St. Louis University “Constructed Light, Constructed Meaning” Conference April 12th, 2008. To see this article with notations, please visit our Wiki by clicking here.

Theatrical production is an inherently unsustainable process. Stage shows can live long lives: The Phantom of the Opera became the longest running Broadway musical on January 8, 2006 when it had its 7,486th performance (McElroy 1), but the vast majority of theatrical productions have much shorter runs. Of the 14,000 non-profit productions in the US, in 2006 there were 172,000 performances (“Theater Facts” 2). This works out to an average run of less than 13 performances. While Phantom has enjoyed a sustainable success, the vast majority of professional theater in the United States is created in the non-profit realm. There are 14,000 non-profit productions, but there are only 39 Broadway theaters. This does not reflect the entirety of commercial production, nor does it include community or academic theater, or theater that is produced on a small professional scale without hopes of commercial success and created without non-profit status. But, it does offer a glance at the divide between two distinct modes of production. (more…)

Please Welcome Green Museum

Green Museum’s blog is now being syndicated here with the CSPA. You can now see the info coming from the bay area organizations feed, edited by Moe Beitiks. 

The online museum emerged from the creators experiences making environmental art and from seeing firsthand some of the challenges facing artists, community groups, nonprofit organizations and arts institutions when it came to presenting and discussing environmental art.

More than a museum, is a giant collaborative art-making tool. We hope you find it useful, friendly and easy to navigate. If you have any information you’d like us to know about or publish please let us know. Thank you!

Art + Environment Conference at the Nevada Museum of Art

Joyous of all Environmental Aesthetic Nerdfests. While the dust of the Dow settling has sent some scrambling, and the rest of the world plugs on with their day to day, The Nevada Museum of Art has taken it upon themselves to host a gathering of minds in order to analyze the sustainable future of Art and the Environment– and it’s happening this weekend.

Speakers include Fritz Haeg of Edible Estates, Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG and Crimson Rose of Burning Man. We’re looking forward to hearing some of the outcomes of this creative meeting and total green geekout.

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A question of Salt Flats rock graffiti

A grainy image for a grainy practice. Driving along Interstate 80 through Utah and the white-snowy-sparkled salt flats, you see blur after blur of rock-words: names, hearts, peace symbols, smiley faces. Couples, questions, signs. Some messages have dispersed into shattered versions of themselves.

The other day I was at a party talking about, and a woman asked me if the stacked straw-people on a highway corner in Stanford could be considered to be environmental art. They were big hay-bale people, with shields, and straw for fingers, like scarecrow warriors. It’s a question that’s continually floating around the “office”, as well. Is it enough to make something with found or natural materials? Or must it answer the essential Sam Bower question: do the worms care?

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NatureScupture at work.

There’s a land artist local to, Zach Pine, who gave us the heads up about a nature sculpture workshop he did awhile ago with some children from the Ursula Sherman Village in Berkeley, California. We do a lot of writing about the glory of eco-art and artists, and it was fun to read more about art in nature as a kind of playtime.

Pine led the children to a nearby creek for three early-evening workshops. They played and discovered and made their own artworks using materials onsite. The resulting pieces ranged from makeshift huts to circling grass-snakes. Afterwards, Pine presented the children with photos of their time by the creek.

“My Primary goal for the project was to connect the children with the natural environment through education, exploration, and art making. I also sought to provide opportunities for creative expression and to deepen the connections among the children, staff and parents through personal and collective action in nature. I wanted the children to not just feel more comfortable being in nature, but also to feel firsthand its ability to inspire and to bring people together in community. I also wanted to stimulate the children to care about nature and to inspire them to act on behalf of the environment throughout their lives,” writes Pine.

In modern urban environments, where the classic Calvin-and-Hobbes-tromping-through-the-wilderness childhood can be easily swallowed by concrete jungle, it’s great to learn about projects encouraging kids to play outside with nature.

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Saving Eco-Art from Death by Cliché

Those of you who read the newsletter know that I’ve been subbing for Kate in the teeny office while she was away in the UK. During one of the many discussions with Mr. Sam Bower (ranging in topic from celebrity crushes to the meaning and purpose of art) he pulled up the above graphic.

It’s from the Long Now Foundation, which exists to foster and support a cultural mind-shift– to a thinking in terms of tens of thousands of years. The drawing illustrates the speeds at which aspects of our world accelerate and change, with fashion constantly changing and nature moving at a much much slower pace.

Yes, but, well, why bring it up?

I was privileged enough to watch a panel this weekend while volunteering at the 2008 Bay Area Playwrights Festival in San Francisco. It was the 7th Annual Symposium of New Ideas and included Ken Foster of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, artist Sara Kraft, agent Morgan Jenness, and other important voices.

Playwrights Foundation artistic director Amy Mueller had called together these minds to discuss the changing medium of theater. As has been recognized and discussed by folks like Arnold Aronson, new technology and media inevitably change the ways in which we perceive, process and transmit information culturally. It changes the way we tell stories. Basically, there are a whole lot of new plays coming in that defy traditional “play” structure– that build like web pages, text messages, webisodes. Powerful plays that are somewhat foreign to folks who don’t speak tech. There’s even a play in development with director Kip Fagan that takes place completely in Second Life.

There was a lot of talk of the purpose of art– to wit, “to interrupt habit.” An excellent segue into cultural shifts, no?

When the panel was opened up to questions, I brought up, of course, the environment: how relevant did these thinkers see the planet, the non-human audience, to the future of American Theatre? Since we’re already talking in epic terms here.

Ken Foster immediately said something that struck me. “Within a year after An Inconvenient Truth came out, the green thing was already cliché.” He spoke of his frustration with art that does not change perception, let alone interrupt anything. “C’mon, you’re showing me plants here,” he said.

If I were different person, now would be the time I would speak of our cultural blindness. I would talk about the Long Now Foundation, about the health of the planet being beyond cliché.

But the fact is, I’m an American trained in the Arts, and I respect Ken Foster’s work. The fact is, even at we see a lot of of art that is planet-devoted but aesthetically uninspiring and unoriginal. Thank you for making art that serves, respects and supports the planet. Now use it to interrupt my habit.

It’s Ken Foster’s job to present art for a contemporary world, to find art that provokes unapologetically. And: aesthetics have their own ecosystem, embracing everything from Warhol Soup Cans to whale songs. I love the works that barrel down on me with their newness. And: it’s good to hold space for the simpler, slower stuff.

After the symposium, several people came up to me and thanked me for bringing up the issue, passing along info about water-operas and PhD dissertations on eco-art.

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National Summit Report

Here’s my long overdue field report on the National Summit on the Arts and Environment, held by Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, Americans for the Arts, and the Aspen Institute on July 14th. Twenty “national thought leaders” in business, community development, the arts, and the environment gathered to lay the groundwork for arts action in the resolution of environmental issues. It was a big day-long meeting , deftly facilitated to get a varied group of folks to synthesize some conclusions related to art and the environment. You can read their preliminary report for a sense of things. Of course it was much more than that.

Some very interesting conversations. At one point, Robert Stanton, the former head of the National Parks Service declared that every national science and resource management agency should have programs to encourage collaborations between scientists and artists. Other people focussed on the “greening” of existing museums and performance spaces and we were fortunate to have several of sustainability experts in the room who offered useful suggestions. I tried to make the point that if we’re really interested in sustainability, we should consider looking at art from a non-human perspective. What would the worms and watersheds like and appreciate? Unless the Earth notices, can any of this really be said to be sustainable?

I came away encouraged that national leaders and business people are beginning to see the link between arts and sustainability. Most still see it from a marketing perspective and not as an integrated approach to addressing the needs of communities and ecosystems in any holistic way. Nonetheless, new resources will be flowing and connections made to support this. I hope significant funding gets directed to the grass-roots nonprofits and networks who have been working in this field for years now and not only towards educational recycling programs in major museums (which is important, too!.

The 2009 Americans for the Arts Annual Big Convention will be dedicated to “The Arts in Sustainable Communities” which is a wonderful milestone. I also hope we can organize an International Summit sometime. We all have a lot to learn from other nations on how to implement and encourage these shifts. I’m thrilled that the gears are in motion and optimistic about the future of this movement. Let’s make this happen.

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Lorna Jordan’s Terraced Self

The recently announced recipients of the 2008 Americans for the Arts Public Arts Network Awards include a work by Lorna Jordan called Terraced Cascade.

It’s a xeriscaped park/abstraction of the human body.

Can’t get much more direct than that.

It’s a landscape of plants designed to utilize resources as efficiently as possible, with stormwater flowing down a (”spine-like”) path into (”rib-like”) terraced recesses. There are also pathways with seating areas, so the place can be appreciated as a pretty garden and as a functional work of art and as a metaphor for our connection to the Earth. Sounds like the next best thing to feeling spiritually connected to a piece of wilderness untouched by man. Plus it feeds your conceptual intellect. Ahem, I say: woot.

Terraced Cascade can be viewed at Chaparral Water Treatment Plant and Park in Arizona. Check out 4Culture for all the info.

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Norm Magnusson: Your Garden Steps Up.

In the theme of Words as Art, take a look at the project Flower Markers, by Norm Magnusson. On little tin strips and plastic garden tabs you expect to see words like “marjoram,” “marigold” or “mint.” Instead, Magnusson very simply and cleverly lists the names of places which have suffered some form of ecological disaster. The juxtaposition is jarring and effective. All of a sudden the garden has ironic attitude. Boo-yeah.

The markers are currently on display at Le Petite Versailles, a sculpture garden in NYC. You can read more about what Magnusson is up to on The Art of the Prank.

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This is our commons.



Hey folks.

There are a lot of amazing writings on the site, and today we’re spotlighting one of the newer ones, by Chris Desser.

It’s called Art and the Commons. Within it lies a detailed examination and debate about the lines between private and public space, property, experience, thought. The concept of the commons is pretty all-out-there for those of us interested in sustainability. Depending on who you read, corporations are trying to privatize the universe, private property is the only thing providing musicians with a steady income, information wants to be free, or, nobody should be allowed to wear a pepsi t-shirt to school on coke day.

Commons commons. So let’s hear it. If you’re part of the community you’ve heard our recent cries for members and contributions. The website itself is one of those grey places, maintained by a few but devoted to the many folks in the webiverse. Love to see some comments on the idea of commons in general, and maybe even some shout-outs about ways this commons can work better for you.



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