Ben’s Strategy Blog: Art+Renewables Connections
The Beautiful Renewables Practical Workshop brought together people from all sorts of fields and proposed some provoking ideas...
At last week’s Beautiful Renewables Practical Workshop, two interesting ideas arose that support one of Creative Carbon Scotland’s main aims: to encourage and support more cross-fertilisation between the arts and cultural sector and others working on sustainability. (I hesitate to call it the ‘sustainability sector’ because it is so broad and all-encompassing: renewables, low-carbon technologies, energy demand management, clean-tech, adaptation, environmental pressure groups… and that’s just the beginning of the environmental sustainability part).
- Chloe Uden from RegenSW, a community energy organisation in Exeter, argued that every community energy group should invite an artist onto its board, an idea she has followed up in her blog at Power Culture. Interestingly, her list of characteristics and skills – that artists might have and the boards might find useful – has some similarities with the American artist, Frances Whitehead’s, piece What do Artists Know?, that I blogged about recently.
- Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry from the Land Art Generator Initiative posed the idea for a ‘Percent for art’ as a requirement for energy projects, adaptation projects, environmental remediation etc. Some people may remember that this was an idea that used to have some currency, mainly for more general civic development, new office buildings etc. Section 75 of the Town & Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 provides the opportunity for local planning authorities to ask for some planning gain when approving a planning application (in England it’s Section 106, and thanks to Ross Anthony of the valuable Theatres Trust for his advice on this). So the mechanism exists.
We at CCS would support both of these ideas – of course we would! And both the LAGI team and Chloe provide a good set of reasons why each idea is a good one. I want to add a few more comments.
First, I’d argue that not only should community energy groups look for artists to join their board, but also artists should fight to join them. Why? Because they’ll find it interesting, they’ll meet all sorts of interesting people who they otherwise wouldn’t – engineers, project managers, even planners! They’ll be escaping from the art-world bubble and they’ll be playing a full part in civic life. The benefits will be to both sides. Both of the case studies we used during the Beautiful Renewables workshop brought together cultural heritage and renewables.
In Hawick particularly, there’s a large flood prevention scheme underway with the potential to use the project to reinvigorate the town’s relationship with energy derived from the power of the river. Water power, which can be devastating if not managed, is also at the heart of the town’s history with numerous textile mills, and so its history of crafts and textiles. Borders choreographer Claire Pencak is working to ensure that the arts are involved in the project, but without that effort, culture could get left out. Artists of Scotland, get out there and find your board to join!
Second, why should community energy groups have all the fun? The boards of arts organisations are always being urged to find a lawyer, a marketing expert and an accountant to join them. Why not an energy or a sustainability specialist? Think how it would change their approach and broaden their viewpoint – not to mention improve their bottom line – if they had someone who really knew about building management, renewables generation or resource efficiency round the table. And for the sustainability person, they’d be thrilled to get to know the arts from the inside out. Arts boards of Scotland, advertise your vacancies in different networks!
And similarly, in exchange for a ‘Percent for Art’ from energy projects, what about a Percent for Sustainability in arts projects? If every funding application had to demonstrate how the project would contribute to future sustainability, how many exciting ideas could we develop and how many new audiences could we appeal to? This applies to capital projects, where renewables, low-carbon technologies and so on could ensure that our new arts buildings are as leading and modern as we hope the organisations are that build them. But it could equally apply to other projects, with creative thinkers progressing sustainability by applying their non-linear thinking, their invaluable and extensive experience of taking ideas from conception to reality and their ability to understand, synthesise and disseminate complex ideas from other fields of thought to a wide and hungry audience.
Creative Scotland’s Environment Connecting Theme is one mechanism here, and although the Open Project Fund doesn’t yet ask a question about a project’s contribution to the Theme, if piles of applications start demonstrating their commitment, they’ll have to take notice! Funding applicants, add a percent for sustainability to your plans and your budgets!
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