Read Rose Fenton and Roberto Casarotto's recommendations
Green is the new gold
By Emily May
The truth is… I can’t lie. While I recognise and support the urgent need to take action to save our planet, as a 24-year-old at the beginning of my career, this doesn’t come without a pang of jealousy. Perhaps selfishly, I often feel unlucky that I just missed out on a glamorous ‘golden age’ where performers, journalists and producers could jet around the world to attend dance festivals, discover new work, and converse with like-minded people, without the guilt of wondering how many cubic metres of ice their flights were melting, or what marine life would be killed by the plastic straw in their Aperol Spritz.
In contrast, my generation is faced with countless sociopolitical dilemmas, an increasingly digitised dance scene, and fewer opportunities for international touring and exchange due to the need to reduce air travel. Or is there a way to be ‘greener’ without sacrificing all of the things that attract people to the dance sector in the first place?
Questions, suggestions, directions
Over the three 90-minute sessions of the Action on Climate inquiry, six Aerowaves Partners discussed potential steps to help the organisation become more environmentally conscious, from everyday actions like banning plastic cups and straws in venues, to larger structural changes, including the ideas of requiring Aerowaves Partners to establish environmental action plans and audits.
It was interesting to hear the Partners discuss the importance of communicating the plan of action: whether through detailing our climate policy online or developing a logo and green ‘kite mark’ highlighting our commitment, and hopefully inspiring others to respond in equal measure.
Some proposals did threaten to incur the sacrifices I was initially scared of. However, with compromise and lateral thinking, these ‘sacrifices’ could be turned into benefits. For example, while reducing aviation-induced carbon emissions is necessary, it also threatens the internationalism and diversity that is desperately needed in a political climate where many promote divisive ideologies over cohesion and exchange. Replacing air travel and in-person experiences with digital platforms is also problematic, particularly for a network dedicated to an inherently physical artform. So it was agreed that travel for the annual artist selection meetings and live Spring Forward festival is necessary. However, more emphasis could be placed on encouraging train travel over flying, for example.
Aerowaves also shows selected artists from East and Southeast Asia, giving a view from outside the European bubble and creating connections with Asian organisations. These in turn offer international residencies to European artists – who have no other option but to fly. In such cases, flying in artists from outside Europe should be permissible, but only when they come for multiple performances or conduct an accompanying residency, to make the trip more ‘carbon effective’. Once in Europe, they could travel using less polluting modes of transport.
Issues surrounding equity and diversity inevitably arose. When discussing environmental action plans, for example, it was made clear that not all partners could set and plan the same targets due to differing infrastructures and finances. Therefore, developing a set of Aerowaves values which Partners could use for their own action plans seemed more equitable than lobbying for identical environmental commitments.
Less is more
Should Aerowaves reduce its number of annual artists to lessen carbon emissions? Some worried this would affect diversity, and discourage risking the more experimental, ‘wild card’ creators. Yet less can be more. Aerowaves might be able to build deeper relationships. More funding for fewer artists might enable longer tours and seasons, allowing choreographers to connect with the places they visit. It is also more ‘carbon effective’ than being flown across Europe for one show.
Ashford proposed testing out selecting two Aerowaves artists from each cohort as Artists in Residence, who would receive extensive support over a two-year period. While some may see this as creating an inequitable hierarchy between artists, I – as a contemporary dance graduate who has been met with an array of short term opportunities – think long-term programmes like this would help young artists establish sustainable careers.
Gains, not losses
Considering all the challenges and compromises I was predicting at the start of the inquiry, I was pleasantly surprised by how many of the proposed changes were actually exciting. Establishing touring clusters, where artists plan a performance series around a geographical area using environmentally friendly modes of transport was a particularly interesting idea, as were proposals for Aerowaves to start commissioning and producing work, to proceed with its innovative virtual reality initiative, and to encourage applications from artists with innovative ideas for environmentally conscious touring built into their work.
In my opinion, many of these exciting prospects would be beneficial for the dance sector even if we weren’t facing an environmental crisis. While they might not be definitive answers, now is the time to test them out, see what works, and regroup to discuss new approaches if necessary – and they did help to abate my pining for the age of carefree, airborne, international arts touring. Now, I’m looking forward to a new golden – or should I say green? – age filled with hope, ambition, innovation, and optimism for both the dance sector and the planet.
With green power comes green responsibility
By Charles A. Catherine
When it comes to green issues, we’re overwhelmed. By facts, by numbers, by images. By the overrunning adrenaline of acting here and now and the deep sorrow of feeling helpless. What can dance do about this? What can theatres and festivals do? A dance network?
Art and artists
My experience of dancers and choreographers indicates a high level of climate awareness. Many know about global warming and over-consumption, and are making small steps personally and professionally. What more can they do? Belgian performer Cassiel Gaube said that if he wanted to reach green goals, he shouldn’t be an artist any more. Is art a superfluous pleasure, a polluting luxury?
If we consider art to be necessary, then artists are necessary. So, then, are rehearsals, studios, creation, performances, theatres, festivals, communication, audiences, programmes, the whole package. What should we adapt, what should change? First, we need to protect artists and their working conditions. Even while opting for train over plane, choosing natural food and eco-conscious hotels, we must focus on something else to gain ground in the green revolution. Less is more, for sure – but let’s think wider.
In 2020, a group of French artists, venues and producers founded the ARVIVA network, offering information and actions to help theatres and festivals in their ecological transition. Their motto: “no performing arts on a dead planet.”
This Aerowaves inquiry led to a different point: though most managers and programmers are aware of the need for change, they feel unable to influence much beyond reducing their printed materials and plastics, or recycling unused merchandise. These are indeed useful – but why do these professionals feel disempowered from taking more action? Mostly because they don’t own the buildings they work in, and because the most significant choices are made by other decision-makers: local, regional and national councils.
Change needs information
The conversation on the dance network focused on the tip of the iceberg: touring. The question was answered only broadly, with strong recommendations but no pressure. My impression was of the speed with which the climate question was reduced to transport, with flight reduction as the response. Local audience travel seemed less significant than the international artist travel. But what about digital sobriety? Shared information? How can a venue or a network act on that?
We need more facts, more figures. Most of us know that electricity, heating and transport have the heaviest impacts on climate. But what do we really know? Do we know that the pollution created by private cars is higher than all other modes of transport combined (so maybe action on public transport is more effective than on flights for artists)? Do we know that by 2025 the greenhouse gas emissions of the digital world may surpass those of the car? Do we know which of a Zoom meeting and an online performance has the biggest climate impact?
We need structured knowledge for concerted action; hence, evaluation tools. These are available online (for example ADEME, Julie’s Bicycle or Good Planet Foundation). Online tools such as Carbonalyser, Framasoft or The Shift Project can give information about data stocking and streaming to plan your greening strategy. We also need to think what we use our resources for. Lighting a building all night may use less power than a two-hour outdoor performance, but which is more useless?
A network is a place of collaboration, but can’t it be a political force too? Let’s talk about soft power.
Culture-sector actors often think they’re helpless, unable to carry weight in decision-making. Yet in France, we were astonished a few years ago to discover culture was more profitable than the car industry. That more people were working in live arts than in agriculture. That bookshops were more important to people than clothes stores. These are weapons to remind our political representatives when setting policies.
Dance is a small sector in the cultural economy – which is why acting within a wider network may give us more power. Venues and festivals could act on their local or national levels. Encourage authorities to develop public transport for the audience. Take training in ecological practices. Finance green energy, local recycling plants or tree planting. Write a national charter for greener culture. Promote tools to measure carbon footprints and waste. It is possible, so it is necessary.
All this may just sound like grand words, but Aerowaves has an empowering ability that each member can benefit from. Some artists have succeeded through Aerowaves: Jan Martens, Christos Papadopoulos, Jann Gallois, Marco da Silva Ferreira, Meytal Blanaru and many others have used its power to nurture their speech and develop their career – and they are thankful for it. Theatres and festivals can surely do this too.
All together – now
Let’s go on sharing good practices, let’s co-ordinate our efforts, let’s make decisions together – theatres, festivals, producers, artists. The main question of this inquiry was: what can we do as a network? The answer is: do everything you can, as soon as you can.