Myths

The PlanetShifter.com Interview with Ian Garrett, Executive Director: The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, Los Angeles | www.planetshifter.com

Where are you? In the present? In the future? See my lament for clues:

Things only happen here to make what happens next.

Is LinkedIn a viable artistic community in your opinion? How would you improve it?

I don’t think so, and I don’t think i wish it to be. I don’t know if LinkedIn represents a community really as much as an infrastructure. I think it exists separate from something like Facebook without competition because one is about social networks and one is about businesses networks. I also don’t see how it accommodates the needs of an artistic community.

I don’t think there is a social network that does effectively represent an artistic community out there. How specific do you allow it to sort itself? the arts are too expansive with too many points of access to be represented effectively through a network with a defined set of sortable criteria. For self-sorting facebook is more effective because it is focused on individuals not labels. For curated sorting a wiki is better since everything is of equal weight.

That’s the issue with getting past post-modernism isn’t it? Modernism was about the universal, post-modernism was about the categorized, and post-post-modernism is about the unique.

What is at the intersection of mythology, innovation and sustainability?

From now on.

What new symbols, songs, secrets, myths are you driving in the green movement?

I can tell you that I’m trying to drive it away from the color green and images of leaves. The image that bugs me the most is actually grass, since in most places it’s impractical and wasteful regardless of it’s green-ness. I think an era’s aesthetics speak to values and I think we’re pushing the value of the first nature and something more raw, less processed. It’s happening in design, supply chains and our food. I’m also trying to break the myth of technological solutions.

I’m irked by the layering of systems over existing systems to solve problems with the existing system. I’d rather break it down to it’s elemental parts. I’m a big promoter of archaic technology, like using steamed banana leaves or not vitrified drink ware in Indian. Things that were discarded as incorrect in a modern manufactured world that persists into the contemporary era.

Are you an alchemist?

No, there is plenty of magic in real science.

Tell us about your favorite modern painter and how you feel when you gaze at the work.

Are we saying modern or contemporary. I’m a traditionalist when I define the Modern era as something that happened in the beginning of the 20th century out of industrialization. If we’re talking painters though I can name a few. Magritte for being clever and questioning the mudane, Haring for balancing accessibility, message, and challenging art world constructs. I do however find myself most drawing to the infrastructural and phenomenological though and insofar as that is concerned am more trilled by visual are that engages those parts of my brain. That’s not always present in painting, so I have to mention Olafur Eliasson, who fascinates me.

How do you manage the bureaucracy that you’ve created at The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts? How do you personally support your members?

There isn’t much Bureaucracy. We’re extremely small and nimble. We’re the least incorporated we can be and have foregone 501c3 status to stay lean. I suppose we deal with the bureaucracy of partnership with more cumbersome organizations and then it’s oftentimes working within their structure.

We can make our decisions and change methodology rapidly to best accommodate our members and partners since all of the power rests between two equal executives. We’ve yet to expand our power-sharing, outside of partnerships, and those are all project based. It’s not the most profitable, but it’s in line with our core mission, which is really about information and infrastructure. We’re like the opposite of the CIA, we don’t see value in protecting our information, and support ourselves through others valuing sharing information as a desired act.

For the second part of the question though, it’s hard to say. I mean, we don’t have funds to directly support their activities. But, we try and talk directly to all of them. They have our address, phone numbers, email addresses, and ultimately all of our lines of communication like our website, social networks, twitter and so on is all us personally. If you get in touch with the CSPA, you’re getting in touch with us directly. We don’t filter that, and don’t understand ecologically mind organizations that put up blocks, since we gain absolutely zero (aside from profit I guess) from not talking and being transparent if we plan to not destroy the planet and the billions of lives that will impact.

And, ultimately, it helps that I’m the web guy too. It’s part of what I do, so there is nothing standing in the way of our web presence, we do.

What were the 3 – 5 best innovations from last year’s CSPA Convergence?

Well we did this in partnership with the University of Oregon’s School of Theater, so mind you a couple of these might be theater centric.

  • The Convergence itself. I go to a lot of conferences and I deal with but don’t like the hierarchy and artifice that often surrounds them. I prefer the camp model which, like wikis, aims to gather people around a topic and allow all of them to offer something. So I think it’s in expanding the convergence model to get between these models of conference and camp and add on more doing, not just talking.
  • Marbles in a Jar – This is Avery simple re-use model we’ve been working on. It looks at volume of material used as a marble in a jar. You fill the jar until you’re done and then add a second jar for the next and so on to next iterations. For each unit of reused material you move a marble from the first jar to the one for the current project, if you use new material you add new marbles. It doesn’t have to be marbles and jars, but it’s a very simple way to engage your use of raw material
  • Energy Budgets – We’re trying to get theaters to incorporate the expenditures of energy into budgets for making. It incentivizes energy innovation by the user. If no one uses energy efficient devices, it doesn’t matter.
  • Eliminating recycling programs – this idea started at this convergence in response to the 6 receptacles the University of Oregon had for waste. It’s too much. The idea waste receptacle is only one for compost-ables. It’s not entirely feasible though. When speaking at APAP last month I brought this into a more realist goal. Not recycling because you don’t have anything to recycle. At the CSPA we print proofs of the Quarterly for editing that we share and otherwise we don’t generate material waste by our business. That sort of blows people’s minds.

I think Jack Capitalism and Eli Sustainability are headed for a blow-out, down and dirty fist fight in the months ahead? Ready?

I’m ready, but I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be particularly violent. I think that the necessity of sustainability will be the biggest check on a capitalist future. I think about the labor movements of the post-industrial world and the evolution of that “conflict”. I also think about the 4 roles in the actor-centric model of political change and the political pendulum. Sustainability is different still, it’s an opportunity if we want it to be, but as with all of these models of shift, the future is hybrid, not contrary.

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Ian Garrett Bio –

Executive Director of The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts (CSPA), a non-non-profit arts infrastructure organization where he collaborates with others like the LA Stage Alliance, University of Oregon, York University, The Arcola Theater, EcoArtSpace, the Royal Society of the Arts, Diverseworks ArtSpace and others to work towards sustainability in the arts, ecological and otherwise.

Programs at the CSPA include a rich online resource guide, curricular development, a quarterly journal, annual convergence, and the development of collaborative local materials re-use programs and a certification program for arts making being initiated through an international partnership between US, Canadian and British producers. The center was founded by funds received through the 2007 Richard E. Sherwood award for emerging theater artists from the Center Theater Group (CTG) awarded to be used forming a working relationship consulting with CTG on the integration of ecologically sustainable practice into their production.

Ian teaches Sustainable Theater and Management Technology courses at the California Institute of the Arts and has been featured in American Theater, DramaBiz, and The Design Magazine and has spoken at The Central School for Speech and Drama, St. Louis University, and the Indy Convergence along with most arts conferences in the United States.

He originally studied architecture and art history at Rice University in Houston, Texas, but has since come to build an awarding winning practice in live performance and installation art, having also attended California Institute of the Arts to complete MFAs in Lighting Design and Producing.

Connections –

Ian Garrett
Executive Director
Ian at sustainablepractice dot org
The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts
c/o LA Stage Alliance
644 S. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Profile Summary: William “Willi” George Paul Green Business Certified Sustainability Consultant and strategic vision planner, writer and program designer for environmental planning, civil engineering and non-profits for over 15 years. Executive producer at PlanetShifter.com generating 125+ thought leader interviews and 1200 posts to-date since EarthDay ’09. Produced two innovative online community building projects as a PhD Student in Environmental Planning and Design at Virginia Tech. Designed the electronic charrette while earning MA in Urban Planning. Developed marketing and online community building strategies for over thirty Internet start-ups.

Willi Paul, Art and Sustainability Consultant
415-407-4688 | willipaul1 at gmail dot com
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Environmentalism is the new religion? So what if it is?

Sceptics often say that environmentalism is a religion rather than a science. It was the late Michael Crichton who stirred this one up originally, writing: “environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.” Fair enough: just like Marxism, which predicted a paradise to come after the end-time collapse of captalism, much of environmentalism undeniably draws its inspiration from 19th century millenarian Christianity. There is a catastrophic reckoning coming; there are saints and sinners. We’re all going to BURN in the post-Six Degrees world. And so on.

And, in this increasingly secular slice of Northern Europe, in particular, to call anything a religion is to belittle it.

But what if it is a new religion? Environmentalism certainly acts in the same way as many of the great non-conformist religions did. Those religions were passionate. They were about leading a more moral life. They were about taking action collectively rather than individual action. They held meetings regularly, gathered on commons and played loud music together. They too were derided as a bunch of feckless, dangerous, sandal-wearing wastrels.

I should say at this stage that I don’t have a religious bone in my body – though I once wrote a book on new religious movements that came out in paperback with a nice quote from Matthew Taylor’s dad on the front cover. I wrote it following the Waco siege, and what I came to realise when writing it was that it wasn’t that cults had become madder in recent decades, rather that we had become increasingly intolerant – even scared – of religious behaviour. This trend of suspicion and fear manifests itself intellectually in the radical scientific positivism of Richard Dawkins, for whom all believers are both deranged, and reducible to fundamentalists and Creationists. It manifests itself in the way we have conflated Islam with terrorism. And so on and on.

Religion has been around as long as human society; ideas of the sacred have been a crucial way in which we understand the physical world around us. From a historical point of view, what’s really odd is the aggressive secularism that’s taken hold in this small piece of the world.

But anyway. It turns out that the legal system is one step ahead. In yesterday’s Guardian blog, Andrew Brown points out that environmentalism is on the verge of accidentally being accorded the status of religion:

Is committed greenery entitled to the same protections as a religion? The question has come up with the appeal against the judgment in the case of Tim Nicholson, the former head of sustainability at Grainger, a property investment company, who claims he was dismissed in part because he took his green convictions seriously and the company did not. After a 2007 change in the regulations, he may be protected under the anti-discrimination law in the same way that a religious believer would be, providing only that his philosophical beliefs are cogent, serious and “worthy of respect in a democratic society”.

So there you go.

But thinking about environmentalism as if it were a religion is an interesting way to go. So far, it has to be conceded, religion looks a lot more successful at achieving its aims worldwide than the environmental movement has. The Pope still draws a bigger crowd than any Franny Armstrong video. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so shy of those elements of quasi-religious conviction that float into environmentalism.

The big difference is that environmentalism is of course, based on modern science, rather than old books and prophets. This is a secular religion, above all. But if it’s going to succeed, there has to be an element of faith there too. That sort of all-in this together faith that there is a possible future that is the other side of the apocalyptic vision. As Mark Dowd, Campaign Director of the church-based environmental campaign Operation Noah comments in theGuardian online today:

I believe virtue and example are contagious. Look at what happened recently with the launch of the 10:10 campaign, which the Guardian is backing. No sooner had Ed Miliband signed up to cut his own carbon emissions by 10%, than we were being told the whole Tory front bench were getting ready to endorse the pledge. Within 24 hours, the entire cabinet had also jumped on board and Liberal Democrats announced they were looking at moves to make this a resolution which would bind the whole party.

EDIT

I see the aforementioned Matthew Taylor is also musing on the positives of religion in his most recent blog.

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