Resourcefulness

Arcola Theatre: setting a standard for resourcefulness?


Kudos to London’s Arcola Theatre for the announcement of their new plan to further green the theatre, putting sustainability at the centre of its work. The impressive thing about Ben Todd and his team at Arcola’s plan is it’s not just about bricks and mortar – though they do have the support of Arup’s sustainability experts on that; it’s about successfully integrating the theatre into the wider enviroment as a kind of signpost for more fundamental change. As Todd said in the launch document: “Wrapped around the main stage will be dynamic spaces to accommodate our ever-growing environmental sustainability and community engagement programmes.”

And the other, even more impressive thing, is that they’re putting much better funded arts institutions to shame with their implementation of this plan.

I’ve just been sent the book Theatre Materials, edited by Eleanor Margolies. There’s a good quote in there from Todd from the original Theatre Materials conference back in the spring about why theatre can be so successful at these initiatives – something that really fits with ourDesign team’s ideas of resourcefulnes:

“There is a big fear that theatre can’t go green because it costs too much money, but theatre has always operated with minimal resources. Theatre people are incredibly resourceful and theatre has always proven that it can operate with very little money. Theatre knows how to get things done.”

Let’s do the show right here, folks!

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Encouragement of the Arts

I’m wildly excited about two books, one coming out this month the other next year – both are radical insights about what environmental change means for the human relationship to the planet. One is Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto and the other is Timothy Morton’s The Ecological Thought.

What I find so vital in their work is that they are strongly against the misanthropy that seems to underpin much of the dominant narrative around the environmental movement. To my mind, the idea that humans are stupid, indifferent and deliberately destructive is not only an inadequate account of human nature it is heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking because it is debilitating at every level. At a time when we most need compassion and creative thinking the very sentiments that block these – pervasive cynicism and conservatism – are prevalent. (I’ve used too many words beginning with ‘c’ in that sentence, I’ll move onto the letter ‘R’ for a while).

What roots the rigorous accounts given by ecological experts such as Brand and Morton is that people are hugely capable of complex thinking, adaptive living, resilience and resourcefulness. We have created this situation of environmental change so now we must rise to challenge of transforming how we think and behave in response to it. And when I read documents like Peter Head’s Entering an Ecological Age, and see speakers at the RSA like Graciela Chichilnisky, not only do these extraordinary changes feel crucial they appear do-able.

Drawing on Brand, Head and Morton, I have written a short essay for the Copenhagen exhibition RETHINK: Contemporary Art & Climate Change.
Here’s a bit of it:  Art and ideas are not timeless, they are historically specific. The uneasy realisation of our current situation is that we are part of an ecological system that we influence more than we previously thought was possible. We are not outside observers, we are participants; we engage and affect systems whether we intend to or not. … we are the co-creators of our environment. Yet we do not yet fully recognise ourselves as such. This is a revelation awaiting to be fully explored through the arts.

It is the beginning of some work I’m developing for the Arts and Ecology Centre on what the arts may contribute  in moving us towards an ecological age.  Some of the ideas are controversial. And as part of this, writer Josie Appleton has been commissioned to write an essay for this website, as her work sets out to explore fresh thinking about human capability.The Challenge of Climate Change: Towards a New Human Consciousness – is a ‘thought experiment’, as she says in her blog – so comments are welcome.

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Are there too many climate campaigns?

Just as we’ve been publishing our ever expanding lists of campaigns in the run up to COP15, and as we’re on the verge of launching our own one, Arts for COP15, Green.tv asks the question “Are there too many climate campaigns?” [Their blog is currently down today… so you’ll have to take my word for it]. Have we become “bored” with the issue of climate change because of campaign overload?

For climate campaigners the real frustration is the slowness of change. The public still seem reluctant to clamour at politicians in the way we’d like them to. Could this be because they are just getting too many messages? That list of sixteen actions for COP15 is by no means exhaustive. Is this a case of too much information?

I don’t think so. Three reasons:

1) For a start, the nature of social media means that this fragmentation is going to happen, whether we like it or not. For better or worse, there will no longer be a single source of authority on any political discussion like this. On the plus side, climate campaigners like Franny Armstrong have shown how incredibly effective social media are for spreading a message.

2) Secondly, though the campaigns are diverse,  climate NGOs are showing a great deal of resourcefulness. Most of the campaigns listed below are actually partnerships between several campaigns – Greenpeace, WWF, Oxfam, Age of Stupid et al. Charities usually have a parochial tendency to defend their own turf with one eye on their own future fundraising – but in this case there is a lot of sharing going on.

3) So what’s the problem? With all this heat being created why aren’t more poeple taking action? Perhaps in this case we’re blaming the medium, not the message.  Most campaigns on energy and climate do not interest the mass of the people worldwide. The avaaz.org map of actions for Monday 21 September is worth looking at. Why is there a huge disparity between the numbers of actions being taken in different countries? We have to think hard about what messages appeal to the mass of people who are more aspirational than ourselves. (That’s not to say they need to be directly aspirational messages; the most effective political campaigns in recent times have usually been based on fear.)

We are in a research period, still looking for the right message. We have not found it yet. Now is not the time to start cutting down on the multiplicity of voices. Eventually one of us is going to get the right campaign, the killer one, the one that convinces more than just our friends.

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“You know more than you think you do”

designLast night at the RSA, the RSA’s Design & Society project launched its new project on resourcefulness, self-reliance and design with a essay by Emily Campbell: The challenge posed to design by today’s social and political agenda of inclusiveness is to ease the distinction between the professional skill of designers and the insights of users; to make these complementary and integral to the solving of problems.  But the popular narrative of design history stands in marked contrast to the agenda of inclusive process. The Designer – in fiction and often in reality – is famed for his or her passionately pursued, authentic and unique visual language. The designer is known by his or her mediated icons. The designer is famously unbending in his or her choices and only ever wears black. Despite its own rhetoric, design often disempowers us. How can it be made to do the opposite? The RSA’sDesign & Society team suggests that instead of designing for us, design should start from the assumption that we are not just consumers of design, we are all potential designers too.  Read about this project. [PDF 95KB]

knowCompetition | The “You Know More Than You Think You Do” poster, given away at the launch,  is designed by Anthony Burrill, and printed by hand from antique blocks in Rye. I have a signed copy to give away along with other goodies. Go to the Arts & Ecology ning site to find out how you can get it.

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