Staging Sustainability – my likely schedule

This isn’t an absolute but a projection of what I am going to attend during Staging Sustainability. It’s safe to assume that I will be at keynotes and plenary events, but here’s my breakout schedule.

Monday, 10:15
How do arts organization integrate and balance sustainability as a core value?

The afternoon breakouts I am attending will be the Sustainability and Production stream.

Monday, 1:15
How is sustainable thinking changing the way we make and tech shows?
Monday, 3:00
How do managers and production staff integrate sustainable practice into performance and events?

Tuesday, 10:00
How are the social aspects of sustainability being considered in new work and the communities in which it is being made?
Tuesday, 1:00
How do you integrate sustainability into the audience experience? How do we communicate with them about what you are doing?

I am also always looking to make new friends and connections. Aside from in person at the conference, you can find me on Twitter.

What is a sustainable arts organization?

Sustainability is such a big word. When speaking of sustainability when it comes to arts practices, this word explodes to mean many things.

Google defines “sustainable” as such:

  1. able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.
  2. able to be upheld or defended.


Certainly with regards to the organizations I have worked with, and with respect to my own practice, “sustainability” has primarily meant maintaining a level of funding to keep the practice alive and performing at a standard set by the integrity of the practice. The communities that support the arts come to rely on this integrity, and also work towards making their beloved organizations sustainable.

But what if sustainability is a concept that goes further than this?

Fundraising and keeping an organization or practice alive is critical to the practice, but does this go far enough for the community that supports it? Or even more so, the total community this organization can serve?

Sustainability is also about growth. The creativity that sparked the genesis of our organizations and practices was never meant to be kept in a nutshell, and even if the organization is in a fixed building – bound by bricks and mortar – the notion of growth must be seen in every aspect of keeping our arts culture alive. It’s about reaching new audiences, generating new ideas, exploring concepts that challenge, and presenting it to a community. It’s about stretching past the bricks and mortar, the reach of our cultural groups, and pulling new people into new ideas. Diversity is key to innovation.

Sustainability is also about responsibility – the making defensible and upholdable. Arts organizations are at the vanguard of new ideas and problematizing the old and in this role they must also be stewards setting examples for the communities they serve. Arts organizations require resources given to them by communities, and must be responsible to those community resources. From consumption to getting the message out about change and new ideas, arts organizations must work within their mandate to communicate. Part of this communication, whether implicit in their practices, or explicit within their messages, must be about the broader world and community.

I am not stating that artists must be on the forefront of the political. Neil Young and others have chosen to add their voices to the indigenous communities about respecting treaties around oil sands and pipelines. Not all artists need to be spokespersons about issues. Indeed for some, it may be damaging to their careers. But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t things we can do as a broad artistic community to further meaningful change (or preservation!).

Sustainability is also about how we behave within our practices. Can we reduce our own footprints? Certainly small organization and practices are thrifty, frugal and reuse as much as they can – dictated by their budgets. Larger organizations who have bigger budgets are also bound by their bottoms lines with regards to consumption, and therefore, waste. But there is more we can do than just consider our own place in the cycle of consumption.

Do I have the answers to any of this? Not at all. In fact, these are questions and problems that have troubled me. How can I build more, grow more, and be a responsible citizen within the creative economy?

At the Staging Sustainability conference – in Toronto Feb 2-5 – these questions, and many more will be addressed.

We make work, but we want to reach new audiences. Tours are expensive, and require some of the most taxing resources. How do we shift an entire cast, some crew, and everything that makes a show in the least harmful ways? From New York, Broadway Green Alliance is an organization that works to educate and motivate environmentally conscious practices in all aspects of theatre. Working on Broadway, their influence stretches from the most famous theatre district in the world, across to several allies all over the planet. Their co-chair, Charlie Deull, will be presenting in a session on how to move and tour work more sustainably – on February 4th.

Another speaker that has me excited is Marie Zimmerman – the artistic director of Hillside Festival. For locals, I don’t need to say much here. Hillside is known for its all-star lineup combined with heavy hitting new talent, and a deep commitment to maintaining high environmental standards in a large festival setting. She is presenting in two sessions: the first on the 3rd of February is about how programmers are thinking about sustainability, and on the 4th, she is talking about how to integrate sustainability into audience experience – how to communicate.

And to move away from ecological questions in arts, and dive into building arts ecosystems, Fractured Atlas‘s Tim Cynova is coming to us from New York. As a mission, Fractured Atlas indicates that “empowers artists, arts organizations, and other cultural sector stakeholders by eliminating practical barriers to artistic expression, so as to foster a more agile and resilient cultural ecosystem.” They state this as the “unsexy stuff” and yet, these are the foundational pieces of making a healthy arts cluster… and something that me and my Waterloo Region colleagues could likely use help with. Cynova will be speaking on how to integrate sustainability as a core value in artistic practice. Read a blog post of his here: 7 ways to build a sustainable art career this year

Theatre is resource heavy in the arts. It requires a community of people to create anything, and budgets to match. With the crystallizing of my career around creating theatre, this conference seems like a great way to broaden my practice into deeper consideration. Certainly, with presenters like these, I will be given plenty of food for thought on my own practice, and how to more deeply engage the broader community.

Waterloo Region based arts org motivates national conversation

Staging Sustainability

Disclosure: I really don’t like conferences. From marketing conferences to tech conferences, where the questions of gender parity of speakers is abysmal, as are any other attempts at representation and accessibility, to the lack of relevance of speakers, topics and how they pertain to the markets they serve – the appeal to cult of personality over substance.

But then I found this conference. Staging Sustainability. Excellent representation of gender, topical panels and speakers, and a stunning offering of discussions and performance.

This conference presented by Arts Build Ontario, a Waterloo Region based organization, is creating a national dialog around two issues that are close to my heart: Art and sustainability.

So here we have it: the arts have the power to create massive cultural transformation. They can be used for propaganda. They can be used to deliver information. But even when they are deeply esoteric and not performing a political function, the arts are a powerful tool for communication.

Sustainability should be a consideration for Canadian artists. Certainly in my own practice the question of sustainability is implicitly addressed through scant resources. There is little possibility for waste and primary consumption (the act of buying things that enter into the waste cycle) is minimal. Reuse, and repurposing is default for most artists.

But is this enough?

Staging Sustainability is presenting an extraordinary line-up of speakers and performances that address this and many other questions with regards to sustainable practices in the culture industries.

Julie’s Bicycle hails from the UK. Sholeh Johnson (link opens to Twitter), manager of their Art Programme is one of the speakers who will be engaging in this national conversation. From their website:

“Julie’s Bicycle is a not for profit organization making sustainability intrinsic to the business, art and ethics of the creative industries.

“Founded by the music industry, with expertise from the arts and sustainability, Julie’s Bicycle bridges the gap between the creative industries and sustainability. Based on a foundation of peer-reviewed research, we sustain creativity, enabling the arts to create change.

“We work with over 1000 arts organizations across the UK and internationally, large and small to help them measure, manage and reduce their environmental impacts.”

This conference also promises to take the question of sustainability further.

Karen DiLossi, from Philadelphia PA, is on a panel that asks the question: How can we innovate in existing arts facilities to integrate sustainable technology and practices? Think of that – using the old and adapting it with the latest and greatest. DiLossi is coming to us from Partners in Sacred Places (with the tagline “at the intersection of heritage, faith and community”). I can’t wait to hear her point of view on that particular question.

And as a final point: what’s an arts conference without art? Worked into the schedule are several performances. The conference is also tied in with the Carbon 14: Climate is Culture exhibit at the ROM.

The schedule of events, panels, speakers, and shows are astounding. The conference  is grounded in the arts, is speaking about how to build our practices as socially and environmentally responsible, but also tickles with innovation is so completely up my alley. I really can’t wait to get there. Also, expect to hear more from me about this fantastic event and the Waterloo Region-based organization who is spearheading what very well may become a new movement in Canadian art.