Quarterly

Representing the Natural World

by Ian Garrett

Published in the Winter edition of the CSPA Quarterly, which was focused on the 2009 United Nations Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen.  To view or order back issues, visit http://magcloud.com/browse/Magazine/38626.  To subscribe to the CSPA QUARTERLY, join us! http://www.sustainablepractice.org/join-the-cspa/

While political demonstrations traditionally pit two opposing ideologies against each other–think World Trade Organization meetings and anti-globalization activism–the demonstrations and activities around the 15th annual Conference of the Partners (COP15) were surprisingly complimentary to the talks themselves. The grassroots activists were not opposed to the political maneuverings, but rather wanted to see them go farther. This “will to move forward” allowed for creativity in demonstrations and amplified artistic activism. Curation at local museums and art sites took advantage of the agreed-upon topics of COP15, setting programming well in advance. The more guerilla forces of the art world seized the collective momentum, and artistic presentation during the two-weeks of the climate summit spanned from museum gallery to street happening. While the politicians represented their national agenda, the artists represented the natural world.

HISTORICAL REPRESENTATION

The Nation Gallery of Denmark laid the ground work for understanding the environment through artistic representation with their exhibition “Nature Strikes Back: Man and Nature in Western Art”. The aggressive titling is meant to communicate the show’s theme of man seeking dominance over nature. It focuses on how nature in art is rarely a direct representation, but a symbol for itself and man’s relationship to it. This relationship is articulated through five themes:  Exploitation, Human Nature, Order and Systems, Landscape and Disaster.

Within the exhibition, “Nature Strikes Back” offers a picture of nature that highlights a clear separation between man and the natural world. A significant point is made to articulate the significance of the landscape conceptually. Having not  appeared in European language until the late 16th Century, the word ‘landscape’ has a loaded history of invoking ownership of that which is depicted. This exhibition also clearly addresses the issues of where the border between our inner and outer natures lie, our sense of the idyllic and edenic paradise, as well as our attempts to organize. The story here is one of control and mastery of the physical world and its latter-day break down. The strike which is being made in return is one that equates judgement day to severe climate changes as retaliation against our enclosure and exploitation. This conclusion keeps man at the center of the issue though, which is problematic. It continues to define nature as a logical system to which we stand opposed and from which we will see active retaliation against our harmful activities, missing the mark on man’s inclusion within natural systems.

“Nature Strikes Back”, and its importance, is clearest when its relationship to another exhibition called “Rethink: Contemporary Art and Climate Change” is considered. “Rethink” is an extensive exhibition of installations displayed across four institutions in three spaces and the virtual world. This exhibition was also divided thematically, though perhaps more opaquely by its titles: Rethink Relations at the National Gallery of Denmark, Rethink The Implicit at the Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art, Rethink Kakotopia at the Nikolaj Contemporary Art Center, and Rethink Information, which was on the Internet at a satellite exhibition at the Moesgård Museum (in Århus) and as public performance throughout Copenhagen.

Man at the center of natural representation, as found in a traditional gallery format, provides the historical background of “Rethink” both in the sense of nature in art and traditions in presentation. This exhibition of contemporary pieces focuses primarily on generative and phenomenological work, with many articulating systems through demonstration and/or dramatization instead of classification. Programmed into a heavily ambulatory, semi-public space, without a fee, dynamically connected to its other locations through virtual space, “Rethink” is not just contemporary work, but contemporary presentation. The work not only speaks to being connected to natural systems like in Thomas Saraceno’s “Biospheres” and Olafur Eliasson’s “Your Watercolor Machine”, but is placed in shared open space diminishing barriers to access and the creation of connection to the work.

Together, these exhibitions, including the other locations of “Rethink”, serve as a history and foundation for looking at other artistic endeavors in Copenhagen. Individually they look at representations of our understanding of the natural work. “Nature Strikes Back” represents it as something to be classified and contained, while “Rethink” represents it as something to be experienced and studied. Paired, they reflect what has changed in our perceptions over time. And, while they inform one another, they inform the less mainstream exhibitions outside of curated space even more.

REPRESENTING THE PRESENT

Millennium Art’s “CO2 Cube”, featured in this issue of the quarterly, uses a methodology befitting inclusion in “Rethink”. It is a 27 square foot cube, reflecting the volume of one ton of carbon dioxide, and floated in the lake adjacent to the Tycho Brahe Planetarium. It features current data and video about climate change, pulled from the internet that day, streaming across its two faces which are closest to shore. While its form articulates a natural relationship of man in the contemporary world (this volume of CO2 is what the average american produces in two weeks), the media reflected on its service aims for immediacy even with the lag created by the curatorial impact of the projects relationships with the United Nations, Google and YouTube.

One can also look at the example of “7 Meters”, also featured in this issue. It is a project that’s primary visual impact was in the plentiful flashing red LEDs mounted at seven meters above the ground to reflect the anticipated sea level rise should the ice of Greenland melt. Using projected data, it creates an expansive experience throughout Copenhagen, representing the ghost of climates future by tracing a drastic change in the immediate surroundings. And there is also Mark Coreth’s “Polar Ice Bear”, a polar bear skeleton embedded within an ice sculpture of the same bear, left to melt in public. It     exchanges data for exposure to the elements. While it never completed melting due to sub-zero temperatures later in the conference, it combined a known symbol of climate change (the polar bear) with a phenomena of climate change (melting ice) to produce an effective and connective experience through its thematic representations. Both of these projects connect directly to both their immediate environment and larger environmental issues.

All three of these examples were presented in public, high traffic spaces. They focus on a human relationship by representing our downstream effects, both immediate in the sense of the cube as our CO2 output, and that which is more abstract, as with the Ice Bear’s melt created by ambient temperature (which we have a long term collective effect upon). And so, these factors articulate the next step beyond the exhibitions of “Nature Strikes Back” and “Rethink”. They continue the  narrative of natural interconnection and immediateness and highlight the core difference between those gallery shows. Whereas “Nature Strikes Back” articulates man vs. nature, “Rethink” and these public space exhibits articulate man with nature.

ACTING AS REPRESENTATIVES

The red-suited, fedora wearing Climate Debt Agents (who sing), the similarly attired, but otherwise hued Mr. Green of OxFam, the aliens of Azaaz.org, the awards-night ambiance of the “Fossil of the Day” awards. These costumed, theatrical performances infuse humor and inclusivity into the plain-clothed protesters and demonstrators. In these performative, engaging acts, once can see that the opposite of cataloging nature is taking action on its behalf. These creative, complimentary demonstrations blur protest and performance art, and exist in the realm of happenings.

The Yes Men, artists who practice ‘identity correction’ by appearing as high-powered spokespersons of corporations, were most noted for their series of press releases on Monday, December 14, 2009. Teamed with Thierry Geoffroy, a.k.a The Colonel, and headquartered at Gallery Poulsen, the Yes Men created what was likely the most effective and affective of actions, where this performance/protest integration was most clear. They called into question   Canadian environmental policy through a series of official-seeming statements that were authentic enough to fool news organizations for a number of hours during the day. This temporary hijacking of political identity no longer relies on the representational visual articulations we see in the National Gallery.  Instead this direct, subversive action on the behalf of the natural world–using the authentic voice of the Canadian government–represents nature back to man through advocacy, rather than through symbols.

The New Life Festival, organized by Wooloo.org, did not produce or display art itself, but enabled the hosting and accommodation of visitors in Danish homes. It arranged housing for over 3,000 artists and activists during COP15. This allowed many people who otherwise could not afford to be present to  observe this moment in history. The New Life Festival also addressed perceptions of Denmark’s closed-off society. Primarily documented with guest books meant to help the guests and host families get to know one another, this project has completely forfeited aesthetic representational work, symbolism or synecdoche. Instead it has enabled direct representation, articulating a peopled mass by enabling it to gather.

Along with the ambitious collection of interviews by Open Dialogues, a literary UK collective, the ecological burial contracts from the Danish art group Superflex, and the anti-Coca Cola campaign from the Yes Men, these projects define success through congregation and collective energy in defense of the natural world. Working in the name of art, they give voice to two key entities absent from COP15: planet and people.

REPRESENTING SUCCESS IN REPRESENTATIVE FAILURE

In light of what is widely regarded as the failure of COP15 itself, having been unable to reach a binding agreement politically, there is hope and elements of success to which the arts can speak. Closing the Bella Center to NGOs, and the addition of a second credentialing process (meant to remove non-political dialogue from the meetings), underscores this ‘success’. That decision reflects a perceived threat from those who did not represent a political body’s or a nation’s political interest: the people in support of the natural world itself. This group that threatens the political process is the success of these two weeks in Copenhagen. It is a group from around the globe, from all walks of life, which is made of people that are as varied as the ways a changing climate will affect them, and which is reified by gathering and identifying itself as a mass en masse.

The Art of Sustainability

Visual Arts Organizations and the Modern Environmental Movement

by Jessica Broderick Lewis

Published in the Winter edition of the CSPA Quarterly.  To view or order back issues, visit http://magcloud.com/browse/Magazine/38626.  To subscribe to the CSPA QUARTERLY, join us!  http://www.sustainablepractice.org/join-the-cspa/

‘The Green Museum,’ sited in this essay, is available at our bookstore!

The goal of this study is to assess the visual arts community‘s status in the process of becoming more environmentally friendly. If visual arts organizations use the strategies presented here and choose to walk a greener path they may be able to better engage existing audiences and attract new ones, cut operating costs, generate positive public relations, increase funding opportunities, expand programming and contribute to the world’s environmental wellness.

There are five main arguments for why visual arts organizations should do their part to save the planet: impact on the  environment, role as community leaders and catalysts for change, public funding for art, saving money, and the parallels between art conservation and environmental conservation.

IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT (General)

 There are general operations utilized in most, if not all, organizations that can be assessed as having an environmental impact. The most common source of waste in businesses is the overuse of paper products, not purchasing recyclable  materials, and the improper disposal of recyclables. Moreover, materials such as ink cartridges and batteries are bought new, used and then tossed in the garbage, while the alternatives of recycled ink cartridges and rechargeable batteries are ignored. Toxic materials, which can include cleaners, paints, copy toner, printing materials and more, pose another problem for businesses and can be harmful to employees.

The most obvious impact organizations have on the environment, and often the most difficult to change, is the consumption of energy, water and electricity.  In 2008, the Environmental Information Administration estimated that “buildings represented 38.9% of U.S. primary energy use and account for 38% of all CO2 emissions”.  Additionally, it found that buildings consume 72% of U.S. electricity and 14% of all potable water per year (United States Green Building Council 4). This can be a result of the certain needs of an organization such as heating, cooling and equipment, but is often made worse by wasteful practices such as leaving lights and computers turned on, using outdated equipment, and poor insulation.

Finally, the transportation of employees, customers and audiences is important to examine for any organization. Many businesses encourage people to carpool, ride a bike or use public transportation. Others take it a more proactive approach by explaining the advantages of green transportation on their websites and offering incentives, such as metro passes for taking public transportation or alternative transportation stipends that can be used for the purchase and maintenance of Smart Cars or bikes.

IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT (Arts Specific)

All of the business practices listed above can be viewed as universal to most organizations, but within the visual arts there exists additional and often unique obstacles that need to be overcome in order to reduce the impact on our environment. Museums and galleries must be aware of how they transport their collections for traveling exhibits or moving to and from storage facilities. Authors Elizabeth Wylie and Sarah Brophy of The Green Museum assert that “next to energy use (for lighting and climate control), crating and shipping are generally seen to be the greatest resource link for institutions caring for visual and decorative art and artifacts” (200).

The safe transportation of a traveling exhibition is a top priority for museums and the delicate nature of the art requires that crating and shipping are of the highest standards. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts has found that building crates that can accommodate a variety of objects in different shapes and sizes is cost effective, time efficient and better for the environment (Wylie and Brophy, The Green Museum 200).  On solution is to use Greenshipping.com, which offers       individuals and organizations the opportunity to purchase renewable energy in order to offset the carbon footprint created by your package (Green Shipping).  

ROLE AS COMMUNITY LEADERS AND CATALYSTS FOR CHANGE

Artists and arts organizations have been viewed as community leaders for decades and the choices they make often set the tone for how society approaches or reacts to certain issues and can often be a the catalyst for change. At a recent arts symposium Dr. Ford Bell, President/CEO of the American Association of Museums, offered up data that showed the ability of museums to “educate, inform and change attitudes and behavior” (Pain & Central Nervous System Week 525). The American Association of Museums feels so strongly in the power of museums to shape communities that they undertook an initiative in 1998 to explore possibilities for expanding and strengthening their presence in neighborhoods across the country. Among the many positive results was a change to the AAM’s Museum Assessment Program’s Public Dimension Assessment, a modification that holds museums to greater accountability for their image in the community (American Association of Museums).

PUBLIC FUNDING FOR THE ARTS

In an article provided by Americans for the Arts, author Anne L`Ecuyer opened her discussion of public funding for the arts by stating that “communities demonstrate their priorities and values in part by the programs and services they support with public funds” (1).  For many, the argument is that the role of a visual arts organization is to exhibit and/or collect art and to educate the public on its value – not to be leaders in environmental conservation, but how can an organization claim to serve the public, when their very policies and procedures could cause future harm to the community they exist in. If visual arts organizations desire continued funding through public dollars, they would do well to demonstrate an interest in the priorities and values of their community, which includes environmental responsibility.

SAVING MONEY

In these tumultuous economic times, a move towards green business practices can put more green in the pockets of     museums. Websites such as the U.S. Green Building Council and GreenandSave.com provide information on the initial cost of implementing green strategies, the time it will take to see a return on investment, and the dollar amount of that return, to help assess which changes are feasible for an organization. Energy is often the most costly part of operations, but there are many green alternatives that can save money over the long run. Solar energy can save an organization roughly $1,200 per year and initial costs can be recouped in only 10 to 16 years depending on appreciation of property value. Heating and cooling accounts for about 40% of an office’s energy cost – a number that can vary for museums depending on size and collections. Using radiant floors instead of a forced air system can save up to 30% on heating bills. Installing a plant-filled roof can cost about $8 to $10 a square foot, while a traditional roof costs $4 to $6 a square foot, but the green roof can save 20% on summer energy costs. Installing LED lighting requires 16% less energy and lasts 100 times longer. Additionally, there are grants and government tax incentives for making these changes (GreenandSave.com).

ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION AND ART PRESERVATION

There are many within the museum community who make the connection between the preservation practices in the visual arts and the preservation of the environment. In an article entitled “Keeping Art, and Climate, Controlled” from the New York Times, journalist Carol Kino discusses the problems being caused by global warming and how museum officials are responding. She asserts that conservators have observed one rule for over 50 years: “Keep everything in the museum at approximately 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 55 percent relative humidity” and this has been made possible with the use of Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems, “which typically cope with unforeseen events by working   overtime”. However museum officials have had to rethink their approach to conservation due to the increase in energy cost, decrease in museum funding and the growing effects of global warming and climate change. Kino poses the  question; “Should museums add to global warming by continuing to rely so heavily on such systems in the first place?” a question that is beginning to be examined in places such as the recent International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works conference where a panel discussion was held to look at the relationship between art conservation and environmental conservation (Kino). By understanding the relationship between art and nature, organizations will be able to better perform their role as community leader, save money, and provide additional justification for public funding for the arts.

Over the course of my research, I have learned that while there are many environmental grassroots efforts taking place in visual arts organizations across the country, there is yet to be a truly unified, systematic effort from the field as a whole.  From the research I have conducted, I have singled out three recommendations for visual arts leaders; to create discipline-wide policy and best practices for the field, to market the field’s green efforts, and to collaborate across disciplines. 

DISCIPLINE-WIDE POLICY/BEST PRACTICES IN THE FIELD

The authors of The Green Museum support the implementation of environmental policies, asserting that it “institutionalizes behavior by providing vision and frameworks, defining process, identifying goals and evaluation methods, and delegating authority” (Wylie and Brophy, The Green Museum 200). This is the vital missing piece in the move towards environmental responsibility in the visual arts community at this time. Although many organizations are making commendable strides in green initiatives, there is no overarching understanding of what the visual arts should be doing. Of the organizations    surveyed, 29% have a difficult time in changing organizational culture, something that could be made easier if there were universal environmental standards in the visual arts. 

In order to better understand what environmental policies should mean to the arts, we can brake down Wylie and Brophy’s definition into four parts; vision and framework, defining processes, identifying goals and evaluation methods, and  delegating authority. “Vision and framework” puts everyone on the same page, letting people both inside and outside our visual arts communities know our stance on environmental issues. It provides a set of best practices that organizations can measure against and it creates a supportive community where ideas and obstacles can be openly discussed. “Defining processes” involves combining the efforts of galleries and museums, consultants and engineers, and other leaders in the industry, to create a collection of industry standards. This list of standards could be incorporated into the American     Association of Museums’ accreditation process and could serve as an outline for organizations to make changes to their operations. By “identifying goals and evaluation methods” for incorporating environmental standards into museum  accreditation there will be a consistent and objective means for evaluation “Delegating authority” empowers people to take responsibility and ownership over a project, plan or program. By designating a point person within the organization to oversee environmental policies it creates greater consistency in our operations and provides employees/guests a point of contact for questions regarding environmental strategies (Wylie and Brophy, The Green Museum 200).

Beyond the organization, authority on environmental issues needs to be delegated for the entire visual arts field. It is    logical that the American Association of Museums (AAM), in conjunction with the U.S. Green Building Council, would be a likely candidate. AAM is a well respected authority in the field and is called upon for leadership in many other areas of museum management. Their accreditation program is sought after by most museums and their recommendations are trusted by the field, perfectly situating them to unite the visual arts community in its pursuit for environmental  sustainability.

MARKETING OF GREEN EFFORTS          

According to “It’s Easy Being Green” organizations are not making enough of a statement about their efforts to be green; “In fact, many recent and planned art museum expansions incorporate high-performance energy-efficient mechanical,   ventilation and lighting systems yet their press materials don’t mention the operational cost savings and environmental advantages, and the average person is hard-pressed to know or find out about them” (Brophy and Wylie, It’s Easy). Brophy and Wylie attribute the silence to an organization’s belief that green strategies are not part of their mission. However,  marketing green practices demonstrates an investment in the future of the community and provides an opportunity to  connect the organization’s mission with the environmental strategies they are using. An organization can achieve this by creating signage that explains their environmental philosophy, developing programs around green initiatives such as building tours, and incorporating the information into their website.

COLLABORATION ACROSS DISCIPLINES 

Some compelling figures from the survey regarding resources and supporting the need for collaboration include; 91% (of organizations) need increased availability of funds, 33% (of organizations) want increased resources for understanding green processes and 22% (of organizations) want green consultants. Foundations such as The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Doris Duke Foundation that support both the arts and the environment would be invaluable resources in stewarding     collaborations between the arts and environmental communities. A database with resources including green consultants, engineers, funding opportunities and more, could be created and utilized by organizations across the country. By  providing organizations with a central location to research information on green initiatives, share experiences and        obstacles and interact with others looking to make a change in the way their organization operates would provide some of the support the visual arts community needs.

As an arts community we continue to make the case of “arts for arts sake” to our local, state and national officials. We  insist, with good reason, that the arts enhance our lives and contribute to the cultural fabric of our communities. I don’t believe we can in good conscious highlight the benefits we provide to the neighborhoods we exist in without addressing areas for improvement as well. Advancing the arts in America does not need to come at the expense of our natural world and by embracing environmental responsibility within our organizations we will ensure that the art we have worked so hard to create, conserve and exhibit will be enjoyed by many generations to come. 

Jessica Broderick Lewis holds a Master of Science in Arts Administration from Drexel University and is on the Board of Trustees for the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association in Alexandria, Virginia. This excerpt was taken from her paper entitled “The Art of Sustainability: Visual Arts Organizations and the Modern Environmental Movement”. For a complete copy of the paper, please visit http://www.library.drexel.edu/ or email jess_broderick@hotmail.com.

Deadline Extended! CSPA Quarterly calls for Digital Work

The summer edition of the CSPA Quarterly is now open for submissions!  The issue will go to print late August. 

For this issue, we’re interested in exploring the sustainability of digital work.  What is the life-cycle of digital art?  How can digital media impact performance?  Is digital art-making “green?”  What is lost when work is in the digital realm?  And, what is gained?  What happens when technology advances?  And, as always, what is being sustained (the earth, the artist, the community)? 

The CSPA Quarterly explores sustainable arts practices in all genres, and views sustainability in the arts through environmentalism, economic stability, and cultural infrastructure.  The periodical provides a formal terrain for discussion, and seeks to elevate diverse points of view.

Please send your opinion articles, project case studies, researched essays, and photos to: Miranda@SustainablePractice.org.  The deadline for consideration is July 23, 2010.

Featured Artist: Dianna Cohen

as published in the Fall 2009 issue of the CSPA Quarterly

Los Angeles-based multi-media visual artist, painter and curator Dianna Cohen is best known for her two-dimensional and three-dimensional works using recycled plastic bags – sewn together – ranging from small hanging pieces to room-sized installations. 

Cohen’s work has been applied to surfboards in the acclaimed group show FLOW – fine lines on water, which she also curated. In 2007, Cohen expanded into making wearable art pieces using recycled materials, including stage outfits for alt-rock duo The Ditty Bops and a “green carpet” dress for actress Rachelle Carson. Her “conscious couture” and art were featured on Ed Begley’s environmentally themed HGTV series Living With Ed and on the CBS EcoZone Project with Daisy Fuentes. 

Other projects include:  The Curse, a book of stories at: www.thecurse.com and Citizenlove, new 2008 textiles based on her plastic work and viewable at: www.citizenlove.com

Solo shows include post, Art Affairs gallery in Amsterdam, the Sutton Gallery in Melbourne, and Frank Pictures in Santa Monica, CA. She has shown in group exhibitions at Affirmation Arts in NYC, the Riverside Art Museum in Riverside, the Bronx Museum in NYC and the Tampa Museum of Art in Florida.

In 2008, she had work in the exhibition Just How Does A Patriot Act at The OCCCA in Orange County and at SPARC in Venice, CA and in the exhibition Recreate in Santa Monica.

In 2009, Cohen had solo exhibitions at Elizabeth Budia Gallery, Barcelona, and Art From Scrap in Santa Barbara. In 2010, her work will be exhibited in BCN: Nights Gallery in Barcelona, Spain.

www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org

www.diannacohen.com

Demo Eco MO

(Demonstrations of Ecological Modes of Operation for Art)

by Linda Weintraub

as published in the Fall 2009 issue of the CSPA Quarterly

My goal as a curator was the earnest pursuit of environmental responsibility. I invited ten artists to boldly break the conventions of art display and production that arose during the first flush of industrial productivity.  We pledged to scrutinize the innumerable aspects of creating and exhibiting artworks that are still ignored by many art professionals.  We vowed not to take abundance for granted, nor tolerate waste, nor disregard the contaminating effects of our    efforts.  The artists fulfilled the mandate imbedded in the title of the exhibition: “Demo Eco M.O.” (Demonstrations of Ecological Modes of Operation).  The exhibition opened on July 18, 2008, at NURTUREart, a non-profit art gallery in Brooklyn.

Instead of protesting against the environmental ills that are still rampant in the art profession, we attempted to set examples of responsible behavior by conserving resources, minimizing waste and energy use, and avoiding harmful by-products.  This mission determined every component of the exhibition, including the opening night refreshments.  Guests ‘ate local’ by sipping filtered rainwater collected from the gallery roof and nibbling on sprouts grown on site.  

Such unconventional materials, tools, and processes became the norm for this exhibition.  Each artist assumed the role of art eco-crusader.  Their fervor for environmental reform entailed minimizing art’s footprint upon the          environment while maximizing art’s mark upon the culture.  Despite this challenging task, each managed to preserve humor, commitment to community, and generous offerings of good will.  Together their contributions could constitute a hand-book of eco-alternatives for artists, gallerists, art supply manufacturers, and other art professionals. 

Writing this essay relieves the one regret that lingers, regarding this project. The most ground-breaking innovations were not visible to the visitors.  They occurred behind-the-scenes during the weeks preceding the opening.  That is when the artists and I discussed ways to emulate the interdependencies, interconnectedness, and efficiencies that characterize vital ecosystems.  Our spirited exchanges resulted in the artists reformulating their art practices.  Instead of behaving as independent creators, they performed services for each other.  As a result, all the pieces in the       exhibition were linked, comprising a network of connections. Consider the following

  • Mediums were traded among the artists. One artist’s material excess fulfilled another artist’s needs.
  • Tools were fabricated and shared.  One artist’s ingenuity provided another artist’s means.
  • Exchanging these tools and mediums between the artists’ studios, and delivering artworks to the gallery were   conducted in the basket of a bicycle driven by one of the artists.
  • General maintenance regimes were designed into some participants’ contributions. 
  • Illumination of each artwork was provided by one artists’ light sculpture. 

Meanwhile, the network of interactions expanded to  include members of the gallery staff.  They participated in the material exchanges and scrupulously applied  sustainable criteria to the production of the exhibition catalogue,   invitation, and wall labels.  Even members of the board were enlisted to supply components of works of art.  As the weeks progressed, opportunities multiplied to be a recipient and, simultaneously, to serve as a contributor.  In all these ways the rigid borders that isolate artists in their studios and separate professional roles dissolved.  It was   replaced with a dynamic multi channeled arena of participation that avoided redundancies, reduced consumption, eliminated waste, and conserved energy..

The contributions of the individual artists demonstrate the environmental advantages of such cooperative behaviors: 

Carol Taylor-Kearney applied her creative and aesthetic ingenuity to fabricate art-making tools.  By lending them to other artists in the exhibition she helped reduce unnecessary expenditures of material and energy associated with manufacturing, packaging, and transporting art tools. 

Christina Massey gathered unsold and rejected works of art donated by the other artists and utilized them as her   medium.  She not only avoided purchasing new art materials, she helped other artists reduce the material and energy costs associated with storing and preserving art. 

John Day offered artists and gallery visitors alternatives to purchasing newly manufactured art mediums by focusing on the formal qualities of society’s discards.  The waste stream became a site of enticing aesthetic opportunities. 

Tamar Hirschl methodically inventoried neglected resources and documented the new contexts and uses for these items that she initiated in her artwork.  Visitors were invited to help themselves to these items, providing a record of their      intentions within the gallery, and then sending the artist reports about how the material was utilized.  In this manner she not only exemplified responsible engagement with material, she provided an opportunity for the visitors to join her. 

Joyce Yamada and Joanne Ungar’s sprawling installation anticipates the particular effect the collapse of eco-system functions will have upon art.  The consequence of ignoring their warning is not a pretty sight. Yamada and Ungar       assembled an array of decrepit artifacts from our misbegotten culture to convey the specific scarcities, infirmities, and  dilapidations that will befall artworks and artists if we don’t shed our complacency, stifle our indulgence, and temper our greed.  Viewers are jolted by an uncompromising accumulation of grisly details – giant rats gnawing hungrily on stained and torn plastic wrappings meant to protect rolled canvas, pigeons trapped in the toxic fluid leaking out of a sculpture, a protective shelter for art hastily constructed out of branches and shreds of plastic, tools crudely configured from smashed plastic bottles and metal debris, a food processing rack where a few pathetic vegetables are drying and some radishes are making a valiant attempt to complete their life cycles in plastic bottles. Joseph Cornell’s “Hotel Eden” a masterwork that addresses a longing for a lost paradise, appears aged and crackled in this work.  The artists offer a a dire warning when they state, “The dream of Eden is a dangerous fallacy. Nature is neither benign nor stable. We ignore its true functioning at our peril.”

Gunter Puller demonstrated the full cycle of disintegration and creation by dismantling multiple outdated Yellow Books and then exposing them to the sun and rain.  As the pages decomposed, they transformed into a growing medium for seeds that travelled in the urban air and settled there by chance.  

Lynn Richardson reduced the electricity used in galleries by creating a sculpture that consists of light fixtures and surveillance technology.  The light from her sculpture was designed to illuminate the other works in the exhibition, but only when they are being viewed.  Thus, electricity was drawn only when it was needed.

Scrapworm performed on-site narratives that revealed the recent and historic manipulation of Williamsburg ecosystems.  The performance aspect of her contribution avoided the ecological costs of material fabrication, display, transport, and storage of art, while it magnified the ecological history of the ecosystem within which Nurture Art is located. 

Anne Katrin Spiess provided a low carbon dioxide emissions alternative to motorized transportation of mediums, tools, and art works.  She performed these art pick-ups and deliveries on her bicycle wearing an official uniform to draw       attention to her performance.  Photographs and a video documented her contribution. 

Patricia Tinajero established a functional reintegration between the gallery and its ecosystem by collecting the rainwater that falls upon the gallery’s roof.  This free resource supplied gallery visitors with water to drink and it was directed to sprouts that were served as refreshments throughout the exhibition.  She thereby severed the gallery’s   dependence on municipalities to provide water for business and life-supporting activities.  Furthermore, she demonstrated that even     galleries are capable of sustainability by generating their own nourishment and beverages. 

The spirited conviviality that developed among the participating artists originated in pragmatic environmental concerns.   It culminated on the roof of Scrapworm’s Brooklyn studio on the night before the opening.  As the sun set over Manhattan, the artists and I gathered to revamp the wasteful conventions of art catalog production.  We engaged in a communal book-binding party by assembling a great heap of binding materials gathered from our respective waste streams and using them to playfully assemble the pages that had been printed as sustainabily as we could afford.  The covers were supplied by Patricia Tinajero who made the richely textured papers by using rainwater run-off from the Nurture Art gallery roof, and scraps from the gallery’s waste bins.  Between sips of wine and bites of pizza, we braided, sewed, theaded, and           embellished several hundred catalogs. Each was unique, a testimony to a reassuring truth – respecting environmental    constraints can liberate the imagination.

The most significant aspect of “Eco Demo M.O.” was to expand the application of environmental considerations far beyond artists’ choices of medium.  The  artists in this exhibition demonstrated that their footprint can also be reduced during exhibiting, transporting, storing, and maintaining art.  Artistic collaboration emerged as the core to achieving ecological ethics.  It enables artists to activate roles within systems of exchange by sharing resources and providing support services to each other. In these ways the artists contribute to contemporary culture in a manner that far exceeds the limits of their profession. They demonstrate principles of sustainability for all human behaviors. Such art asserts that artists’ responsibility to the environment begins with a thorough review of its own professional practices.  Hopefully, it exists without an ending.  Such art can ripple through society as a model of sustainable behavior.   

Submitted by Linda Weintraub, guest curator gallery@nurtureart.org www.nurtureart.org

Code Green

A Comparative Look at Worldwide Cultural Policies for Green Events

by Sam Goldblatt

as published in the CSPA Quaterly/Fall 2009

In the Fall of 2008, London and New York, the two greatest theatre cities of the western world, simultaneously announced campaigns for reducing the negative environmental impacts of the respective   theatre industries in the West End and on Broadway In September, Mayor of London Boris Johnson revealed his 58-page, comprehensive Green Theatre plan, which was followed in November when New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg staged a press release for the Broadway Goes Green campaign, featuring green-colored characters from Broadway shows singing a newly composed show-tune for the campaign.  While they feature similar strategies of energy-efficient marquee lights, use of recycled materials in set construction, washing costumes in cold water and audience education, the two initiatives reflect the differences in the two governments.  Bloomberg’s campaign, which relies primarily on private companies and associations such as The Broadway League, serves partly as a publicity stunt to spark the stilted Broadway economy.     Johnson’s 58 pages of policy, on the other hand, which delve into far greater municipal detail in areas of carbon emissions and energy  efficiency, serve not as much to promote the West End as to regulate it.  

These twin initiatives reflect a growing trend to apply sustainable  standards, long established for the automobile and energy industries,   towards newer industries, namely those of the arts, events and tourism.  While there remains a dearth of policy regarding sustainability in the fine arts, policies concerning sustainable cultural events, such as festivals, large-scale performances and sporting events, continue to emerge    worldwide, providing a fertile area for analysis and cross-country comparison.  This article will examine the ways in which US policies toward    sustainable cultural events promote private enterprise and education, while UK policies deliver more thorough and far-reaching strategies for sustainability.

American Entrepreneurs

Bloomberg’s green Broadway initiative, with its musical celebrity launch and its website’s focus on press, bears the hallmarks of a publicity campaign designed to invigorate the Broadway (and New York) economy.  Broadway Goes Green capitalises on the “Creative Economy” trend promoted by sociologist Richard Florida, which has successfully convinced Mayors of America’s biggest cities to support major arts and cultural projects in order to drive their cities’ economic engines.  The rapidly rising trend towards green entrepreneurship promoted by President Obama in initiatives such as the Clean Energy Economy shares Florida’s emphasis on job creation and improved standards of living.  Both theories of the Creative  Economy and the Green Economy combine ethical pretenses (i.e. supporting culture and protecting the environment, respectively) with economic incentive, a strategy perfectly employed by Broadway Goes Green, which embraces both culture and the environment as tools to rebuild New York’s economy.

Independent campaigners Green Theater Initiative capture these twin trends of Florida’s Creative Economy and Obama’s Green Economy in an article bluntly titled, “Will the NEA Fund Green Arts Projects?” in which the $50   million awarded to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in a February economic stimulus bill is compared to the $100 billion reserved for environmental projects.  The article argues that:

“In this funding environment, it seems likely that any projects applying for federal funds, be they green projects or no, will be evaluated at least partly on the basis of their contribution to a new green economy, or, alternately, on their benefit to the environment or environmental education.”  (Banner 2009)

While the article eyes the new administration both optimistically and opportunistically, critics of the Creative Economy or the Green Economy theories might question why the intrinsic values of art, culture and the environment need   economic justification.  A Creative Economy, after all, reinforces the US government policy of “cultural Darwinism,” which Kevin Mulcahy argues causes harm to less lucrative but more beneficial arts institutions.  Why, for instance, has Bloomberg focused on Broadway, America’s most profitable commercial arts corridor, and not the many comparatively economically stagnant dance companies and concert halls in New York?  In the same vein, one might ask whether Broadway Goes Green seeks primarily to stimulate the economy or protect the environment.

While the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not yet generated policies toward theatre and the fine arts, they do provide guidance on Green Meetings (inclusive of cultural events), filed on their website somewhat incongruously under “Prevention, Pesticides & Toxic Substances.”  EPA guidance comes in the form of Blue Green Meetings, an interactive but simplified web-based guide to producing green events, consisting of 16 short pages, available at bluegreenmeetings.org.  Lacking mention of alternative energy, carbon offsetting and advice on implementing a green event plan, Blue Green Meetings provides modest tips which critics could easily describe as pandering to the establishment.  Hosted by Canada’s Oceans Blue Foundation and America’s Green Meetings Industry Council (GMIC), Blue Green Meetings lists nine businesses and industry associations on its Advisory Committee, plus nine other    private funders as sponsors, showing a private sector audience somewhat divorced from the US Federal Government.  Created by and for professional meeting planners, Blue Green Meetings provides basic guidance as well as a wide range of further references and resources for green events, without challenging industry practices or seeking an audience beyond industry insiders.  By sponsoring the website, the EPA supports private research and initiatives   without creating its own; the US Government continues to act as facilitator to private sector schemes.

With Bloomberg’s forward-thinking public-private partnership Broadway Goes Green as a notable exception, the most successful US initiatives in green events, and those with the greatest influence on industry policy, tend to come from the private sector.  Live Earth, founded by Former Vice President Al Gore and mega-concert producer Kevin Wall,  produced the world’s largest green event to date with a 2007 concert series spanning 24 hours and seven continents, featuring the world’s most famous musicians and reaching around 2 billion people.  A private enterprise with a public policy agenda, Live Earth not only educated its massive worldwide audience on climate change and lobbied governments for environmental regulation, it created and implemented landmark green event policies.  The Live Earth    Environmental Guidelines, which, at 73 pages, even top Johnson’s Green Theatre document, provide a comprehensive guide to green event management so meticulous and authoritative as to render the EPA’s Blue Green Meetings obsolete.

Tackling special issues such as composting, restrooms, production design and artist management and providing a comprehensive guide to planning and implementing green initiatives at events, Live Earth’s Environmental Guidelines stand as the world’s authority in green event planning.  More than any article filed on a government website, the   private organisation Live Earth stands as the world’s most visible green event role model, and Environmental Director John Rego frames the Live Earth Environmental Guidelines as supplemental public policy:

“Even without local, national or international regulations, concert and event organizers are setting their own standards.  We designed this manual to act as a companion guide to your personal or governmental standards.”

By setting standards, raising benchmarks and policing industry practices, Live Earth takes a firmer, more proactive stance on green event policy than both the EPA and Mayor Bloomberg.

One must recall, however, that these Environmental Guidelines are ancillary to Live Earth’s most visible impact as a green event: education.  The Guidelines clearly state the mission of Live Earth “to trigger a mass movement, empower individuals to change their behaviors, and urge corporations and political leaders to enact decisive measures to   combat the climate crisis,” and the website measures this mission in terms of press, publicity and outreach.  Similarly, the Guidelines, written one month before the concerts and perhaps cognisant of the herculean task before them, set modest goals, instead emphasising the greater impact in the public discourse:

“It is the goal of Live Earth not only to implement a few of the solutions presented in this manual – and be a global low-impact, carbon neutral event – but to create a legacy that starts a conversation and shares best practices, lessons learned, and sets benchmarks that enables future events to continue to achieve further sustainable progress.”

While Live Earth has certainly invigorated the global conversation on climate change, its  impact on the events    industry is less direct: its Environmental Guidelines show no distribution plan, and, indeed, were only discovered via an internet search that opened a private page of the Live Earth website.  In fairness, Live Earth’s public site provides most of the same information in an accessible, 9-page Green Events Guidelines section which still rivals Blue Green Meetings in terms of detail.  Although commercial Green Events in the US continue to focus on audience education rather than detailed green regulation, they are still broadly more successful than meager government initiatives.

Green Britain

Perhaps in recognition of Live Earth’s limitations in shaping event industry policy, Rego, in the Environmental    Guidelines, anticipates the creation by the British Standards Institute (BSI) of a “Specification for a sustainable event management system with guidance for use,” known as BS 8901.  Indeed, many event professionals expect BS 8901 to bring authority and accreditation to the field of green events, because of BSI’s reputation as Britain’s National    Standards Body and the world’s leading authority on setting industry standards based on empirical data.  

As its title suggests, BS 8901 does not dictate specific Environmentally Friendly Practices (EFPs) but rather provides the specification and methodology for creating one’s own sustainable event management system.  Although unique EFPs are highlighted in areas including biodiversity, archaeology, equal opportunity and supply chain management, BS 8901 focuses on managerial tools such as defining objectives in terms of scope, performance level, criteria and consistency, using key performance indicators (KPI) to measure progress, and documenting results.  Charts are provided, including an “Outline structure for a sustainable development maturity matrix–guidelines for continual   improvement,” which shows how progress in areas of inclusivity, integrity, stewardship and transparency can be measured from “minimum involvement” to “full engagement.”  Most importantly, although it encourages gradually increasing EFPs, BS 8901 firmly states that sustainability “should be an integral part of the event management process, and not regarded as an ‘add-on’ component,” and that “its influence should extend throughout the entire supply chain.”

Rather than provide baseline advice, available elsewhere, on EFPs, BS 8901 targets the higher goal of redefining event management altogether with a new system and a new ethos.  Although the standard, at £120 per copy, is inaccessible for grassroots events, it attracts high profile companies such as Live Nation which seek industry prestige and competitive advantage.  In presenting Live Earth at Wembley Stadium in 2007, Live Nation, the world’s biggest concert producer, became an early adopter of BS 8901.  Live Nation Production Manager Andy Pearson frames the decision in terms of savvy business advantage:

“Sustainability might not be a massive issue now but I think in the next few years it will become one. If you fail to do something now, you will find yourself in a position of scrambling to catch up, or simply out of business.”

Pearson reflects a desire to stay at the forefront of his industry and in good standing with government policy, values shared by the other high-profile implementers of BS 8901 thus far, which include professional conference organisers EC&O, sports venue the Lord’s Cricket Ground, and major arts event the Manchester International Festival.

Other major event producers, however, see BS 8901 as an opaque document typical of UK bureaucracy.  Ben Challis, lawyer for the renowned Glastonbury Festival, co-founded the organisation A Greener Festival in 2006 as an informational resource and an awards scheme to promote and validate outstanding Green Events.  He was unimpressed by an early copy of BS 8901, saying that, “It was the most appalling document I had ever seen.  Fifty pages of nonsense and a really good spreadsheet.  It was unreadable, and we knew full well that no small festival would ever use it at that stage.  It is bureaucratic.  It provides the processes, and that is what British Standards can be like.”

Going beyond a standard criticism of government bureaucracy, Challis argues that BS 8901 was created in a vacuum, without proper input from actual producers of Green Events.  While the well-documented BS 8901 Case Studies show BSI seeking practical experience to improve the standard, it remains unlikely that the document will target smaller festivals.  Instead, the document is being refined to serve a greater geopolitical purpose, what event scholars term a “mega event,” the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Developed specifically within a timeframe to provide the Olympic Games with a world-class standard for sustainable events with proven results, BS 8901 plays a critical part in London 2012’s ambitious Sustainability Plan.  This Plan, a December 2008, 36-page update of which is downloadable from the London 2012 website, begins by noting that,  “Sustainability has been a central theme of London 2012 since the beginning of the bid to host the Games.”  Thus does London 2012, and the government supporting it, position the UK in line with “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” as sustainable development was first defined in the UN document Our Common Future, or “an enduring, balanced approach to economic activity, environmental responsibility and social progress,” as it is defined by BSI.  The fact that this ethical and environmental theory takes precedence over any economic or political goal in the London 2012 plan represents a milestone for Green Events and for the Olympic Games.

London 2012 takes a broad view of sustainability, including five areas that London 2012 seeks to impact: Climate Change, Waste, Biodiversity, Inclusion and Healthy Living.  Of these initiatives, each of which is outlined in detail over several pages, only Inclusion, which focuses on regeneration and access, mentions explicit economic or political    interests.  The other initiatives, which include a carbon footprinting study, construction of new habitats for wildlife, a National Skills Academy and a free swimming initiative, are designed not for short-term economic gain but for long-term social growth.

The London 2012 Sustainability Plan constantly refers to its Legacy, the final phase of the Plan based on the concept that sustainable development should benefit future generations.  It is only here, in the UK Government’s Legacy Action Plan, that economic and political ambitions arise: in the last of five promises that otherwise cover regeneration and sustainability, the government aspires toward “Demonstrating the UK is a creative, inclusive and welcoming place to live in, visit and for business.”  Whereas political and economic ambition often rule a country’s Olympic Games    policies, it clearly takes a modest, ancillary role in London 2012.  With sustainability as a guiding priority, the long-term, government-sponsored initiatives in its Sustainability Plan, and the prodigious generation of policies such as BS 8901, London 2012, which reflects the UK government’s outstanding commitment to sustainability, aspires to become a landmark Green Event and a blueprint for others to come.

One World

If London 2012 promises a proactive approach, Beijing 2008 began on the defense, combatting the city’s reputation as a smog-infested center for polluting industries.  In “Smog and Mirrors: China’s Plan for a Green Olympics,” Spencer Reiss articulates the geopolitical and economic incentives behind Beijing’s environmental plan:

“The Olympics are China’s coming-out party, payback for smug Westerners and a victory lap for the Godzilla of the global economy. The stone-cold suits who run China Inc. don’t want the celebration spoiled by smogged-out skylines or marathoners in face masks.”

Although in many ways it serves to distract from China’s increasing role as the world’s largest polluter, the Beijing 2008 environmental plan does deliver significant green outcomes for China as well as advancements in the field of green event policy.  Beijing 2008 not only installed cutting-edge sustainable features in their spectacular new venues, such as the Bird’s Nest stadium’s “rainwater-capture system” and the Water Cube’s “high-efficiency thermal polymer skin,” they also created the “Green Olympics, Green Action” initiative to teach citizens EFPs and created greenspace on 74 Beijing rooftops.  

However, far from London 2012’s environmental legacy, which looks 150 years into the future, Beijing 2008 exploited the short-term strategies of temporarily shutting down construction and relocating factories outside the city.  While Beijing 2008’s environmental plan enhanced the Olympic Games and benefited Chinese citizens, it clearly does not reflect a long-term policy shift toward sustainability in China. 

As a point of comparison to China’s bombastic yet shallow green events policies, the Canadian government continues to produce quiet yet comprehensive, world-leading policies in green events.  Environment Canada’s 2007 Green    Meetings Guide combines the EFPs of Blue Green Meetings with BS 8901’s strategic management systems into a  comprehensive guide to managing sustainable events.  Written completely by the government and thus reflecting   Canadian policy, the Green Meetings Guide takes a practical approach to green events, defining them as those      ensuring, “that all aspects … including its location, food services, transportation and the provision of materials are  approached with pollution prevention in mind in order to reduce its environmental impact.”  Unlike London 2012, with its ambitious social agenda incorporating issues such as regeneration and healthy living, Canada focuses on the more practical, and more feasible environmental issues.

Conclusion

Government documents such as Environment Canada’s Green Meetings Guide provide the most accurate view of a government’s official policy and values towards green events.  Green Meetings Guide provides a complete, practical guide to all environmental issues in event management, reflecting Canada’s serious valuation of environmental protectionism.  Both the UK and US provide similar, but much simpler, publications for download on their government websites.  The UK’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published a Sustainable events guide  in 2007, which takes the broad UK definition of sustainability to advise event managers on EFPs within the areas of transport, venue, catering, preparation, social wellbeing, raising awareness and evaluation.  The US EPA’s corresponding document, It’s Easy Being Green! has not been updated since 1996, and provides more basic advice on waste management, procurement and education.

Like the green theatre initiatives put forth for London and New York, these two documents reflect national values.  It’s Easy Being Green! boosters entrepreneurs with promises of cost savings and competitive advantage, while emphasising green education as a core value.  Sustainable events guide, on the other hand, lays out a more far-reaching and well-rounded set of EFPs which are advocated for their inherent ethical merits.  As all three documents from the US, UK and Canada mention their application to internal government meetings and events, they should be taken to reflect strict government policy.  

As David Hesmondhalgh notes, however, policy, especially when intertwined with terms like culture and sustainability, can be expressed in many ways, events being one of the most visible and memorable methods for communicating policy.  Live Earth reflects the American entrepreneurial approach while inspiring and anticipating Green Events as a major growth industry.  London 2012 promises to raise global standards for green events while triumphantly aligning the UK with the ethics of sustainable development.  If the US and UK governments can meaningfully interact both with each other and with the world-leading producers behind these Green Events, perhaps more effective, practical and supportive Green Event policy will emerge.

Is Joy a Sustainable Fuel?

By Moe Beitiks

as published in the CSPA Quarterly/Fall 2009

Creative Visions

 

When you see a big painted bus driving down the  highway (a BIG bus, an old school bus, not some passenger van) that says RUNS ON VEGETABLE OIL; when that bus is covered in a thousand brushstrokes of color; is filled with young folk who may or may not have dreadlocks, may or may not play drums, and may or may not flash you a peace sign, what do you do?  Do you roll your eyes?  Do you smile?  Is the joy that seems to sustain them for real?  Can it last?  Or is it the glory of youth and naïveté?

Common Vision is a hippie caravan, in the best sense of the word.  The fleet of vegetable-oil powered buses travels the country in seasonal “Fruit Tree Tours,” planting saplings, leading workshops and giving earth-celebratory performances.  Photos from the tour depict dreadlocked smiling folk beating on african drums and dancing.  It seems like a stereotypical portrait of hippie earth-worship.  Except that in addition to gleefully celebrating the earth, it’s effectively spreading sustainable strategies.

To be sure, green touring is not a foreign concept.  Artists like the Grateful Dead and Dave Matthews Band have been running on biodiesel for years.  Even Broadway shows have begun to offset their carbon footprints.  The company that provides such a service, Touring Green, is one of a number of organizations that have developed to support sustainable touring:  REVERB, Bid for Green, the list goes on.  But there’s something pure and joyful about the Common Vision celebration.  It’s a no-holds-barred earthy celebration accompanied by real, measurable action.  It almost feels like . . . cheating. 

Common Vision has been touring since 2000.  They’ve planted hundreds of fruit trees in schools and communities along the west coast and beyond.  They’ve taught workshops and inspired kids (and they’ve got the crayon-drawn thank-you notes to prove it).  “We see ourselves as what I call ‘shooting star energy,’ something that you see, recognize as beautiful and feel inspired by,” says Common Vision founder Blair  Philips. “Now is the critical time to spread the inspiration accompanied with the education to rekindle a relationship with the earth.”

Common Vision is not a lone painted hippie bus, but part of a generation of veggie buses, fueled by waste oil and uncensored joy.  “Biodiesel is the gateway drug to sustainability,” says Biodiesel Station founder Sara Hope Smith, and veggie buses have proven it in droves.  Indeed, the idea that you can fuel a car on vegetable oil is a cultural catalyst.  It’s something that makes a sustainable future seem possible and viable, even if you can’t completely replace  petroleum with waste grease. 

Though veggie oil fuels have been part of the popular lexicon for the past couple of years, there’s still some confusion about them.  Here’s the breakdown: vegetable oil behaves like a diesel fuel when thinned.  Chemically thinning the oil produces biodiesel, which can be used directly in a diesel engine without modification.  To use Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO) as a fuel, a diesel engine needs to be outfitted with a fueling system that will physically thin the oil with heat.  This often requires the installation of a second tank and fuel filter, as well as an in-line heater or two.  Both forms  reduce emissions significantly— some by seventy percent– and neither contain sulfur, which in emissions contributes to acid rain.  Plus, the exhaust smells like fried goodness.

That’s the basic spiel I gave while traveling aboard a bus called ‘Unifried, the Biofuels Bus’.  Five years ago, I lived on that converted school bus for five months, giving veggie fuel workshops by donation at farmers markets, schools and festivals across the country.  Our bus was not covered in a mural, just a few crisp, solid stripes of color, and we had our own crew of inspired and willing volunteers who had saved their cash and set aside some time to go preach the good green word.  There was a sense of irony about the whole thing; we knew we looked like evangelical hippies.  I even gave tongue-in-cheek “Grease Sermons,” touting the good-God-glory of greasy goodness.  Still, we dove into grease dumpsters with grinning joy.  We were using waste as fuel!

On the road, the eco-inspired traveled in droves.  There was the Sustainable Solutions Caravan, which made several treks between San Diego and Costa Rica, touting cobb-building and grease-gathering along the way. Julia Butterfly-Hill’s We the Planet Bus, outfitted with a bamboo interior and energy-efficient appliances, drove all over America on used vegetable oil.  The Big Tadoo Puppet Crew would put on colorful shows at festivals, celebrating farmers and permaculture ideals.  Groups of friends with no specified mission bought buses together, vacationing and celebrating in painted school buses running on restaurant waste.  There got to be so many veggie buses that for awhile they gathered themselves in a Clean Fuel Caravan Coalition, a body of alternatively fueled   vehicles supporting each others’ sustainable goals.  The buses would gather at festivals, green events, and celebratory retreats. “If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable,” says Philips.

Still, buses cannot be fueled by waste oil and joy alone.  Though volunteers founded and continue to run many eco-educational tours, there are the costs of feeding and watering those volunteers, as well as internet access, bridge tolls, fuel filters, auto parts, and the occasionally necessary swim break.  Even the prominent Bio-Willie blend of biodiesel, backed by singer Willie Nelson, ended up tanking financially.  There’s no touring, no fueling, no sustainable future without some hefty regard for logistics.

The reality of biodiesel has also changed.  The fuel is commonly made from virgin GMO soy stock as well as from Waste Vegetable Oil.  Producers of Palm Oil in places like Indonesia are widely criticized for deforesting rainforest land in order to grow a “sustainable” feedstock.  In response, the Sustainable Biofuels Alliance emerged to develop a “green” standard for biodiesel.  It even toured with REVERB this year to spread the sustainable biodiesel message.  The supercharged, pure-white joy of a sustainable future must constantly face a slightly gray reality. 

Some of the veggie caravans evolved. Natural supermarket giant Whole Foods sponsored the Conscious Goods    Alliance, which traveled from store to store, touting fair trade goods. Parts of the Sustainable Solutions Caravan, The Big Tadoo Puppet Crew, and the Clean Fuel Caravan merged into the Sustainable Living Roadshow, a massive-volunteer-run, traveling eco-carnival. Some buses are parked and gathering dust: some are touring musicians: some are creating new caravans.

Still, whether a bus is adorned with corporate logos or earthy brush-swishes, touring sustainably can be difficult when time and energy aren’t properly managed.  A spirit of earth-devotion and self-sacrifice can lead to volunteers working themselves to exhausted extremes, or absorbing fleet costs on their personal credit cards.  This can lead to a different kind of unsustainability: one of spirit.

Recently Arcola Energy defended their future touring plans by analyzing the manner in which they tour,  asking: Can the miles involved, the size of the touring party, the negative impact of the tour be reduced?  Can the positive impact of the tour be increased?  In the context of these questions, Arcola looks at its own booking arrangements, multiple-destination tours, and staffing, rather than just the carbon footprint of the cultural endeavor.  Sustainable touring is made more so by smart and efficient planning, and requires the ability to face the inglorious realities of schedules, mileage, and budget.

Is it worth the effort?  Do veggie buses make the world a better place?  Are they, in fact, being the change? “To be honest,” says Phillips, “I don’t think that there is such a thing as touring sustainably. True sustainability starts when there’s no need to tour because the message is being heard and people start localizing food   systems and making decisions based on the recourses available to them with in 100 or so miles . . . However, when you reference people touring with a strong message and education against the making of disposable plastic toys and trucking them across the country, or flying them around the world so that they can end up in a plastic island in the middle of the ocean, touring is the lesser of two evils.”

Personally, I can say this: that while touring with the Sustainable Living Roadshow as a Road Manager, there were many, many moments when I had exhausted my glee reserves.  Our all-volunteer crew constantly worked 12 to 14-hour days, setting up and breaking down the carnival, running games, conducting workshops,  booking venues, hosting film screenings, moving gear, finding fuel, mapping routes.  Many people took on jobs they had no experience with, simply because they needed to get done.  The tour was not nearly as   efficient administratively as a more experienced or well-funded tour might have been, and we learned many lessons on the fly.  

But then someone would thank us for coming.  Someone would say, “I’ve never heard of any of this; I’ve been wanting to learn more about wind power; tell me about biodiesel; this is awesome, thank you.”  Many attendees credited us with being a catalyst for information-sharing and community networking.  All in all, the Sustainable Living Roadshow successfully reached folks at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, and at the Tupac Shakur Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia, among many other places.

Philips believes that Common Vision’s effectiveness is evident, “When an inner city youth starts connecting the dots about where his food comes from . . . or when a student gets excited and takes ownership of the tree she planted, and exclaims that she’ll be happy when her little brother will get to eat the fruit of the tree when he makes it into 7th grade.” 

Common Vision’s accolades aren’t only from elementary school kids: a documentary made about their project for PBS’ Natural Heroes has earned them an Emmy Award. It’s an excellent representation of veggie buses at their best, working as a kind of cultural crowbar for the green meme. An accomplishment that is deserving of joy, great gleeful gobs of it, dreadlocked or otherwise.

Moe Beitiks writes about environmental art and eco-culture for greenmuseum.org and inhabitat.com. 
She can be found in the San Francisco Bay Area working in theaters or pumping biodiesel.

CSPA Quarterly

The second edition of the CSPA Quarterly is close to publication!  It will be available by the end of the month.  The second issue focuses on international eco-policy; policy’s effect on the arts, and arts’ effect on policy.  Events and installations from COP15 will be featured, including the CO2 Cube, the Seven Meters installations leading to the Bella Center, and others.  

In celebration of the new year, we’ll be publishing last quarter’s articles to the blog.  Keep your eye out for articles written by Sam Goldblatt, Moe Beitiks, Linda Weintraub, Patricia Watts, Thomas Rhodes, and Olivia Campbell.  

Submissions are accepted year-round for the quarterly, and all content is volunteer-based.  Articles, Academic Papers, Case Studies, and photos can be sent to me at: Miranda @SustainablePractice.org

To subscribe to the Quarterly, or to become a member of the CSPA: http://www.sustainablepractice.org/join-the-cspa/