National Summit Report

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

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

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

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

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