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Ben Twist Culture and Climate Change

project

Culture and Climate Change

A two-year fellowship working with cultural and creative organisations towards a low-carbon Scotland, led by Creative Carbon Scotland, a partnership with Edinburgh’s Festivals, the Federation of Scottish Theatre and SCAN Scotland, to help the sectors they represent to develop climate strategies and carbon management projects.

We are researching the environmental impacts of Festival visitors to Edinburgh, and exploring the capacity of the cultural sector to encourage people to change their behaviour.

BLOG POSTS

In a blog a few weeks ago I asked how you know whether an arts organisation is socially successful. I touched upon the role of the Board, and particularly whether the Limited Company is the best structure for an arts organisation. Here are a few more thoughts.

Many if not most arts organisations are companies limited by guarantee (rather than with shareholders) registered with Companies House and they also register with the Office of the Charity Regulator in Scotland (OSCR) or the Charity Commission (in England). The rules about charitable status have been strengthened recently, but there remains a tension between the two registrations. Companies House is focused on commercial companies and their shareholders. The annual reporting is all about the financial records (an audit or independent inspection of the accounts) and the financial governance by the Directors. The Directors are liable if it can be shown they have been financially negligent and allowed the company to trade while knowing it to be unable to meet its commitments. Meanwhile the Charity regulators do set down limitations on how Directors can act – they can’t be paid for being Directors of a charity, they have to avoid conflicts of interest – and the charity’s annual report has to report on the activities undertaken to further its charitable aims. But the focus is still on financial reporting. As long as I have been reporting to or on Boards of arts organisations, the financial reporting has always been paramount.

The Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) is a new structure for charities which doesn’t have to be registered with Companies House – a SCIO exists only as a charity and has only to report to OSCR. That reporting still focuses on the finances, but the charitable purposes of the organisation are no longer trumped by the financial purposes of the Limited Company. Moreover all the members – not just the Directors – are required to ‘seek, in good faith, to ensure the SCIO acts in a manner which is consistent with its charitable purposes’ (OSCR Guidance p22). Does this provide a reason why the Directors should report annually to the members as well as the outside world on achievement of the charitable purposes as well as the financial status of the charity? In an arts organisation this would clearly involve reporting on their artistic activities, but also could encourage reporting on social and environmental aims, in line with the ‘quadruple bottom line’.

The interesting report Common Cause from WWF argues cogently that we will fail if we use structures that are antithetical to our aims in order to achieve those aims. For example charities wanting to reduce the focus on the individual and materialism and emphasise instead more communitarian values should avoid campaigns that treat the public as consumers. By being Limited Companies, are arts organisations using a structure that encourages them to focus only on their financial rather than their wider purposes?

I seem to have been doing nothing but attending conferences recently, and two in particular joined up with my thoughts a few weeks ago about arts organisations being socially useful.

At the Theatres Trust conference on Delivering Sustainable Theatres Erica Whyman, Artistic Director of Northern Stage, gave a terrific talk in which she argued strongly that theatres need to ‘tell stories that matter’, which I thought more or less sums it up. Of course we will all differ about how to tell them and why they matter, but if you don’t tell stories that matter, there seems little point in all the effort. And audiences know that, somehow: they turn up to the stories that do matter. A few years ago I had the privilege – and I mean that – of directing A Woman Of No Importance by Oscar Wilde at Pitlochry Festival Theatre. Pitlochry (picture above) is often regarded as frivolous and the last place you’d find stories that matter, and I had never thought much about Wilde as a playwright. When I first read it the piece seemed melodramatic and old fashioned. But this was a story that does matter – Wilde was a strong feminist, a great thinker and an exciting storyteller. The production was good and audiences of all sorts packed out the theatre to wrestle with ideas of immigration, social mobility, morality and responsibility.

Meanwhile, the Delivering on 2020 conference held by Holyrood Magazine and the 2020 group last week was a rather limp event, but there was an interesting tension between the relentless drive for economic growth as the focus of the Scottish Government’s efforts and some comments by Nicholas Gubbins of Community Energy Scotland. His organisation helps communities develop renewable energy generation projects, but his aim really seems to be community regeneration as much as electricity or heating. He offered the most inspiring messages of the conference, with people making things happen and redeveloping their villages, their lives and their communities all round the country.The project is socially successful as well as economically and environmentally so.

Incidentally, I met Mark Robinson at the Theatres Trust conference. He used to be Executive Director of Arts Council England North East and his blog Thinking Practice is terrific and well worth subscribing to.

Back in December I blogged about the idea that arts organisations had been forced over the last few decades into focusing on artistic and financial excellence to the detriment of their role as social organisations. Over the last six months I have grown more convinced of this, but I haven’t yet had time to think about how we would know when we met a successful social organisation. So here’s a bit of thinking out loud.

You might argue that arts organisations have been asked to focus too much on social objectives: education, equalities, health – aren’t we all being asked to do work that achieves ‘instrumental’ rather than ‘intrinsic’ aims? This is to some extent true, but the instrumental/intrinsic dichotomy is unhelpful and reductive in an area that is about developing society in a whole-system way. The counting of things and people isn’t the answer. The Tricycle Theatre’s work since 1994 in verbatim theatre about current political events has had a far wider impact than the number of people who saw the shows would tell you – I’m glad it’s there even though I haven’t seen the work. Simon Rattle’s work in Birmingham changed that city, whether or not you attended the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s concerts. What does the very presence of the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness (pictured above) or the Beacon in Greenock do for those places, including for local people who may not attend? Civic pride, a voice for local communities, wider awareness and engagement in current affairs: these are all benefits that artistic institutions can bring which can only be achieved through the art they produce and the other work they do and their very existence.

Art doesn’t exist in a bubble. It is existentially social and political and I would argue that art that cuts itself off from social change and movement becomes moribund. But sometimes it may seem to be cutting itself of but is in fact ahead of the change and leading the way. This is difficult to plan and difficult to measure – who knows at the time who is leading the right way and who is straying off course? I think this brings us ineluctably to the role of artistic directors, chief executives, curators, cultural leaders – call them what you will – who are employed to make these calls and succeed or fail over the medium term through their judgement. Running arts organisations is a messy business that mixes – rather than balances – commercial, artistic, social and myriad other elements into a socially useful outfit. Arts funders generally have increasingly wanted to micro-manage this in recent years, setting targets and ring-fencing funds for particular objectives rather than setting wider aims and asking artistic directors to find their own ways to achieve them.

This brings us back to how to recognise, and maybe measure, the success of an arts organisation socially as well as artistically. I’m not convinced that the limited company is the best legal structure for an arts organisation (the new Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation may be a better model) and the pressure to include financial, business, marketing and legal brains on the Board reflects the focus on financial excellence that I mentioned above. But a good Board (and maybe particularly that of a SCIO) could provide a wider group with the role and ability to assess the social, artistic and financial success of its organisation. This would mean different membership and attention to such ideas as triple bottom line accounting. Arts funders should ask the Boards of their clients to think in this way about their members and their methodologies, and ask the right questions of Boards in their annual reporting. Boards are responsible for the long term sustainability of their organisations, and socially and artistically excellent organisations will survive the bruising financial times ahead far better than merely artistically excellent ones.

I don’t know how far this thinking aloud has got me or you, but it’s enough for one blog. To be continued… Any comments gratefully received.

I went to a Take One Action Film Festival screening of Four Horsemen (see blurry pictures above and below) the other night at Filmhouse. Take One Action is a company that wants to get people to … take one action and change the world, and does it by using films to stimulate discussion. Two words came into my mind after the screening: Agency and Collaboration.

Many people feel their power to influence events or actions on global issues is very limited – their sense of agency is low. The audience on Saturday was full of people who are engaged, concerned and, to be blunt, probably of a class and status to be better able to influence things than many. Yet one of the questions from this audience, which won some applause, was about how we could do anything worthwhile when China was so overwhelming in its influence. Even this group feels a lack of agency.

Collaboration is surely the key and one thing the arts do well is bring people together. A mass of people join forces to watch a band, see a show, even to a lesser extent look at visual art: the art wouldn’t exist in quite the same way, or certainly wouldn’t be experienced in the same way, if there weren’t others around you sharing it with you. We come away with a sense of togetherness and group-feeling: we have been through the same experience together.

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Such collaboration and shared feeling can increase people’s sense of agency – bigger-than-self problems can become more manageable; others facing the same problems and struggling with the same challenges means more brain cells are working on them; and knowing that others are interested in what you’re interested in makes you feel less alone. Creative Carbon Scotland’s Carbon Management Projects use this important collaboration: people learn from each other at group meetings and share experience, tips and knowledge.

This is why I think that cultural events, where people come together to jointly experience some cultural work, can be a powerful force in bringing about change in society. Cultural organisations, that promote such events, can play their role. I’m researching this in a part-time PhD at the University of Edinburgh and working on it through Creative Carbon Scotland. Contact me if you want to know more.

The Edinburgh Art Festival, Scottish Contemporary Art Network and Creative Carbon Scotland launched a new Visual Art Carbon Management Project last week, with Directors, Buildings Managers and others attending from organisations throughout Edinburgh, Glasgow and Fife. It was a workshop event, with information and advice on the basics of measuring and reporting carbon emissions at the centre as these are the building blocks of reducing all arts organisations’ carbon footprints. (If you want to join us, drop me a line.)

As well as introducing sMeasure – a very useful web-based tool for managing energy and water use in a building – and Julie’s Bicycle’s Industry Green tools – which are tailor made carbon calculators for the cultural sector – much of the discussion focused on the money savings that can be achieved by energy, water and waste management (I highlighted the Royal Lyceum Theatre’s savings of some £200,000 over the last few years in my blog a few weeks ago). Nobody in the room knew how much their organisation spent on energy, but it will be a significant cost. A couple of (energy saving) lightbulbs lit up in people’s heads when they realised that their cafes were probably responsible for high energy use, but were not under their direct control – the answer here is to work with the cafe managers and introduce energy saving into the concession contract as soon as possible.

Julie’s Bicycle is the leading UK organisation working on sustainability in the cultural sector and Creative Carbon Scotlland always uses and recommends the use of their tools. Their website has great resources and is well worth a look. I noticed just now it has a link to Michael Pinksy’s Plunge project (pictured above) – a nice visual artist’s response to changing climates.

Ben Spencer of the newly-minted Scottish Contemporary Art Network (formerly VAGA Scotland) and I ran a Green Tour of Glasgow International Art Festival last week, visiting five exhibitions in four venues and discussing with curators questions about the art, the venues and the putting together of the shows. It brought up all sorts of interesting thoughts and a good time was had by all. And there are some great shows to see.

Procurement and disposal were key questions about Karla Black’s extraordinary and beautiful room-filling sawdust sculpture. Where did it come from (answer: Scotland, and sustainably sourced) and how and where will it be disposed of (answer: a local famer will take it away and use it for his animals)? So what might have been a problematic sculpture was handled well. Even the lighting, unusually in a gallery, is relatively low-energy fluorescent tubes.

Lighting was the key area of debate in Graham Fagen, Graham Eatough and Michael McDonough’s installation The Making of Us (pictured above) in Tramway 1. Theatre lighting is used all day in the large space, presumably consuming plenty of electricity. My point was not whether the lighting should have been used but whether in future it should be considered within either the ‘carbon budget’ for the exhibition if there is one, or at least the financial budget, just as the plywood or the furniture is today. Where does electricity come in the budgeting for a show like this: the artist’s budget, the curator’s budget or the venue manager’s budget? If the venue manager has carbon or energy reduction targets – as they do at the Tramway – sooner or later curators and artists will surely have to be asked to consider their energy use, just as they have to consider their financial spend.

The National Theatre of Scotland’s technical director Niall Black is beginning to set himself and the company carbon budgets for the year – dividing the total up according to larger and smaller shows, tours etc. Electricity in the lighting and equipment used in the show, materials for set and costumes and transport during production and on tour can all be assessed for their contribution to the overall carbon ‘cost’ of the production. As the process goes on, similar tours could be compared and staff and artists can be asked to consider how certain elements of the show could be achieved at the lowest carbon cost. Would making the set lighter not only ease the crew’s back-pain but also cost less in transportation, even if it costs a bit more to make?

A similar question arose in another space at Tramway, where Kelly Knipper’s show involves live dancers (pictured below) who need a warm space to work in. But Tramway 2 is notoriously difficult to heat, so the cost here will be high too. This year the carbon cost will simply be part of the overall budget for Michelle Opit (Tramway’s excellent Assistant Venue Manager, a Green Champion who has achieved great things over the last couple of years). I wonder whether by the next GI in 2014 she will be setting carbon budgets with the curators?

KellyNipper

I haven’t enough space to do more than mention the lovely space and exhibition at Queen’s Park Glasgow railway station and the neat (and built largely from recycled materials) Ganghut at Southside Studios, so look them up yourselves and get along there – and ask your own Green questions.

A good crowd came together on 19 April to hear about Achieving Environmental Sustainability in the Arts through presentations about work in Newcastle/Gateshead and our own Royal Lyceum Theatre. We heard from Stephen Little, Facilities Manager of SAGE Gateshead, how collaboration between 10 cultural organisations and 21 venues in the North East has led to joint procurement, increased knowledge and skills sharing – and financial and carbon savings. And David Tildesley, Buildings Manager at the Lyceum, displayed some extraordinary graphs showing how he reduced water and energy consumption by making simple, basic changes. This one shows how much less water he saved simply by doing clever but cheap things to toilets like making sure the urinals don’t flush all night when nobody’s there. Sorry it’s blurry (my fault, not David’s) but you get the idea….

Lyceumwateruse

Three things were at the heart of both speakers’ talks: measuring energy and water consumption leads inexorably to finding ways to reduce it; communication with other staff is key; and encouragement and reminders to reduce, reuse and recycle are always necessary.

Stephen Little focused partly on how the organisations in Newcastle/Gateshead have collaborated over the last 10 or so years. Whilst this isn’t the focus of what my project is doing, it is interesting and I think important: we’re not going to succeed in achieving environmental sustainability easily if we all work in our silos. The problems are what is known as ‘bigger than self‘ problems, which need joint action. Collaboration is the way forward. So what was most encouraging about the whole event was that there are lots of people out there working on environmental sustainability in the arts – we had a full house – and that sharing experience, learning and knowledge is the way forward. The Lyceum bar was noisy with people talking and passing on tips after the talks.

A link to a video of the event should be available from Friday 10 May – allowing people from far afield to share it sustainably. In future we hope to have live streaming so you can do that in real time and more interactively, but it all takes cash! Watch this space.

 

Here after just over a year of the Culture and Climate Change Creative Futures fellowship, it is striking to look back and see just what has happened and what has been achieved. Here’s a list of some of the things that I am pleased about:

From a more or less standing start last winter, there are now three main projects on the go: the Federation of Scottish Theatre Carbon Management Project; the Edinburgh Festivals Green Venue Initiative; and much newer Visual Arts Climate Strategy group. Contact me if you want more details.

The FST project has uncovered some great examples of energy (and carbon and money) saving. These were happening anyway but the project has helped highlight the savings possible and enthuse others. Eden Court’s Marcus Hemmings reported a reduction in gas consumption of 18% between January and July 2010 and the same period in 2011. Michelle Opit at the Tramway reported a 36% reduction in electricity use between 2009 and 2011.

I’ve also worked with an Edinburgh University student on some very useful research into the attitudes of delegates to the Edinburgh International Film Festival towards greening the Festival and their willingness to change their behaviours. An executive summary of the research is available here, but the encouraging broad findings are that delegates want the EIFF to be greener in its operations, they don’t want the Festival to become a ‘green’ festival in its programming to the detriment of its quality, and that if the Festival matches its words with its actions, the delegates will do their bit too.

Around 45 Chief Executives and Artistic Directors of cultural organisations spent an afternoon in December considering ‘Putting Culture at the Heart of a Sustainable Scotland’. The discussion was lively, particularly about the tension between the desire and pressure for internationalism and the need to reduce organisations’ carbon emissions.

The Green Venue Guide that I wrote for Festivals Edinburgh. I gathered together all the carbon saving tips and knowledge for venues and audiences that I could find into one place – I don’t think there is anything similar available. It’s aimed at pop-up venues for the Edinburgh Fringe, but much of it is applicable to permanent venues too.

And some things that I have learned:

Energy use comparisons between different buildings can be very useful. Here’s an (anonymised) chart showing theatre buildings of different sizes and types (offices, production buildings, venues). Most of them fit in to a fairly narrow range; a few show much higher consumption. That has led us to discover leaks, realise that the meter-reading is at fault, and track down weird bits of machinery using electricity that nobody knew about. The more data we have, the more useful it will become.

Carbon management is a slow business: it takes a while, but sooner or later the benefits start to come through. I’m working to a vision for 2020, with shorter term plans and strategies to get us there bit by bit.

And finally, the new Zero Waste regulations are pretty stringent and will affect many cultural organisations very quickly. If your building serves food, you need to be looking into it now….

I was asked to speak at Tipping Point’s (www.tippingpoint.org.uk) conference in Newcastle in February. It attracted around 200 people, including artists, producers and seemingly many from local authorities around the country (although relatively low attendance from Scotland, I thought). The brief was to give some examples of artistic work that had really had an impact on daily life. It was harder than I thought. In the end I spoke of three main events:

A production of All My Sons at the Lyceum some years ago that got me so fired up with moral outrage (in a good way) that it made me throw away the script of a speech I was due to give a few days later and write something much more interesting and powerful – but who normally has that opportunity to act upon the effect of a work of art?;

Guernica by Picasso in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid – but despite the impact of the art it is difficult to know what to do with it. There’s a danger that it is dissipated by the time you have had a coffee with your friend and moved on to the next exhibition;

Live Aid back in the 80s, which I think probably changed the world by a) making it normal for music stars and celebrities to push social/political causes b) putting African famine on the agenda and c) introducing the phrase XXXXXAid into the language.

I also touched upon what architects do. The buildings they design are meant to have an effect on the way people live. Putting certain rooms next to each other or having open plan rather than cellular offices will change the way organisations or households work and people communicate. Architects consciously think about the uses to which their artistic work will be put – and sometimes try to make sure that it can’t be circumvented or that the influence is the right one.

All of which made me think about the role of the curator or producer in this business. The context of the art is as important as the art itself. Providing an outlet for the audience’s emotions or intellectual work may sometimes be necessary to avoid that dissipating of the effect. At the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, somebody said to me after I spoke, there’s a room where children can go to use the internet, write, discuss, speak to people and act upon what they have experienced.

Behaviour change people have a word for this: agency – how much people feel they can affect things. If you don’t feel you have much agency, you feel powerless. So increasing people’s ability to act on the way they feel after experiencing a work of art not only enables them to take that specific action, it also increases their sense of wellbeing and engagement.

I have just read – rather late in the day, I’m ashamed to say – a great, short, paper from The Happy Museum called A Tale of How It Could Turn Out All Right. It seems to me that every paragraph contains a gem of good sense.

It focuses on museums, but much of what it says could equally be applied across the cultural sector. It links the financial crisis – and the recognition that everyone is going to have less money for the next few years – with the fact that we are consuming more physical resources than is sustainable, and research demonstrating that material goods play a much smaller role in our sense of well-being than we might think – and even that the constant pressure to ‘get’ more may lead to increased mental illness. It concludes that museums – and I would argue other cultural organisations – have the potential to increase well-being by re-focusing on their social role and by developing a dialogue with their publics, rather than simply treating users as ‘passive consumers’. This probably requires new success criteria – less about hard numbers of visitors, their demographics and the ‘quality’ of the product, more about how the experience has transformed the visitors’ lives. (I have seen probably thousands of shows over the years but the most transformational one is probably not one of the Peter Brooks, rather the deeply moving although artistically slightly rough Brassed Off at the Sheffield Crucible.)

Another point from the paper that fits with something I wrote in my last post is how important cultural buildings are as social institutions. I noted that the West Yorkshire Playhouse stresses its role as a thriving focal point for local communities beforeit mentions the theatre it produces. Jude Kelly, now Chief Executive of one of the country’s most successful music venues, the South Bank Centre, but also the first Artistic Director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse, describes the SBC as ‘first and foremost a place for encounters’. That’s my experience of it too: a place to meet, talk and hang out as well as to hear great music ranging from world class orchestras to the annual Meltdown Festival.

The paper sets out a manifesto for ‘Museums for a high well-being, sustainable society’. We could do with following something similar for theatre and other forms in Scotland. It’s well worth reading and won’t take long. A tale of how it could turn out all right

Has the pressure on arts organisations over the last twenty years to become highly efficient, financially sound art-factories led us to forget their crucial role as social organisations, important for building and maintaining communities as well as for being artistic centres of excellence?

I found myself wondering this a while ago at a re.think workshop convened by MissionModelsMoney (http://rethink.missionmodelsmoney.org.uk/about-us). We were asked to come up with examples of work that we thought had the potential to provoke ‘an urgent and radical rethinking of how we live and work and a fundamental redefinition of the values on which those activities are based’. (The examples I gave were The Big Noise in Raploch (http://makeabignoise.org.uk/) and the plays of Bertolt Brecht.) And this fits in with some thinking I have been doing about reporting on the ‘triple bottom line’ rather than just the financial performance of an organisation.

Triple bottom line reporting means reporting on the financial, social and environmental sustainability of an organisation. All funded arts organisations have to report on their financial performance. There is also growing pressure to measure and report their environmental impacts, which for most means new processes and new work. But although most arts organisations do lots of social engagement, they perhaps aren’t asked to report on it in a meaningful way. The numbers get reported: how many attended, how many were new audiences or under 16. But how do we measure what role that art gallery has in making a town a better place to live, or how much the Citizens Theatre contributes to well-being in Glasgow?

It struck me at the workshop that I wasn’t sure whether arts organisations think of themselves as social organisations as well, and surely this would be necessary to start doing that measuring and reporting accurately. But what would the social objectives be? Are there social objectives that arts organisations can achieve without relying on other parts of society doing their bit? I have long admired the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, which seemed, when I knew it in the 90s, to have contacts with every part of Leeds society. Its very building seemed designed as a social space as much as an artistic one. I have just looked at its website which reads:

Since opening in 1990, West Yorkshire Playhouse has established a national and international reputation, providing both a thriving focal point for the communities of West Yorkshire and theatre of the highest standard for audiences throughout the region and beyond.

The WYP puts being a ‘focal point for the communities’ before it mentions ‘theatre of the highest standard’ – and it seems to me to be one of the most successful theatres in the country.

At a talk recently by Nick Crosson of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance (organised by Culture Sparks and The Audience Business) he noted that areas in Philly that were home to cultural organisations had ‘regenerated’ more successfully than those that lacked them, suggesting that these organisations play a more than artistic role. I wasn’t sure whether the presence of the cultural organisations had caused the regeneration success or whether the regeneration success had allowed the cultural organisations to thrive, but either way it reinforces the point that the two things may be – should be? – connected.

During August I was lucky enough to be asked to help judge the Total Theatre Awards (http://www.totaltheatre.org.uk/awards/). Whilst I saw some nice work both I and some of my fellow judges were struck by the lack of material that took on the range of fascinating, big, current issues that artists could be discussing: catastrophic climate change, massive joblessness throughout the world, the potential breakdown of the dominant approach to western capitalism, the shift in global power from the West to the ‘developing’ world…. Instead a lot of the work was self-referential or focused on the individual. And to my mind, less ambitious and less interesting.

For me this was compounded by hearing Rupert Goold on Radio 4’s Today programme talking about his show Decade, which marked the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The first thing he said was that he didn’t want to make a political point with the show. Yet this is a show inspired by one of the most overtly political acts of the last 50 years – an act which has provoked enormous political change, has changed the course of world events, has caused effects which affected, ruined or ended ordinary people’s lives in dozens of countries. Moreover, this was on the BBC’s most political programme, so Goold doesn’t even have the defence that he was doing a piece of PR and didn’t want to scare away audiences: if Today listeners aren’t interested in politics, who is?

This led me to wonder why art that engages with politics is so unfashionable now. There are counter-examples: some novelists touch on political issues; there are visual artists dealing with climate change; Cape Farewell needs to be given credit; the Tricycle Theatre has developed a powerful strand of verbatim theatre that has been emulated elsewhere. But we are largely scared of being described as agit-prop, or propagandists more openly. Artists are meant to be above that and the best art exists for itself, not to make a point. The old ‘intrinsic vs instrumentalist’ argument rears its head and art that aims to do something is largely considered outdated. And it is true that the ‘climate change plays’ that I have seen in London have been bad plays. Yet throughout history probably most great art has been aimed at doing something more than simply being beautiful. Much of the most beautiful music, painting and sculpture has been aimed at revealing or celebrating the glory of God; great playwrights from Shakespeare to Miller to Brecht asked their audiences to think about how their countries should be run; if you list the great novels (George Eliot, Tolstoy, Achebe, Steinbeck…) most tangle with political and social changes and by doing so analyse and explore them with at least a hint of wanting to influence them. Art that seeks to make a point doesn’t have to be bad.

We are moving into a period of upheaval and change when art is going to be particularly useful to question our direction and challenge our values. Audiences will be thirsty for ideas and debate and I believe that art that takes on the big issues will draw them in. Money for the arts will be tight and we will need to argue strongly for our existence. Is a view that art is solely for art’s sake still viable? Will artists lose credibility if they simply fiddle while – almost literally in the case of climate change – the world burns?

It has been a busy summer, working hard on two carbon management projects: one including mostly venues but also the five national companies with the Federation of Scottish Theatre; and one working with venues taking part in the Edinburgh Festivals, with a focus this year on pop-up venues in the Fringe. The two projects bring different challenges which require different approaches.

First, it’s great how much work on energy and carbon efficiency is going on anyway in the FST group – my role is to co-ordinate it and help it along. We hold quarterly meetings so that Green Champions from the companies can compare progress and learn from each other. In August Eden Court inspired everyone with an 18% reduction in gas usage and 8% reduction in electricity usage between January and July compared with last year. Tramway reported a 36% reduction in electricity consumption between 2009 and 2011. Pitlochry has similar stories to tell. These are big savings of money, let alone carbon emissions.

I produced this chart (below) from the data we have so far showing energy use per m2 of floor space for the FST group buildings and it is remarkable how consistent it is for buildings ranging from 11,500 m2 multi-use venues, through mid-sized producing houses down to 500m2 production facilities. The ones with very high gas usage relate to mis-readings but most useful perhaps are the three venues 5th, 6th and 7th from left. These are similar venues all run by the same organisation and have similar floor areas but quite different energy usage. The manager investigated and has detected some problems with the building management systems, and improvements should follow. It’s amazing what a graph can do.

Here’s the chart: Energy consumption per m2 FST carbon management.pdf

Regarding the Festivals project what is clear is the sheer speed at which things need to, and can, happen. With the pop-up venues the challenge is working with managers who are only there for a short time, working under great pressure to very tight timescales. They may not pay for their energy directly, so lack the incentive to save energy and money, and their main focus is not on running a building but getting shows on. However we (Festivals Edinburgh and Creative Carbon Scotland) think that around half the performances in the summer Festivals will have taken place in venues participating in the Green Venue Initiative – from the Usher Hall (ok, not exactly pop-up) to the Book Festival to Fringe venues large and small. For them we produced a Green Venue Guide (www.efgreen.co.uk) offering lots of tips ranging from easy wins to longer term projects. The resource is free to use and relevant to all venues, so take a look. A special mention must go to the Pleasance, which is working hard on making their venues greener.

But perhaps the biggest challenge is demonstrated by my new Profile Picture – taken towards the end of a Re-use and Recycle day we held at the end of the Fringe. I am sitting in a skip FULL of unused brochures and fliers – mostly in unopened boxes and bundles. Some – most – venues advise Fringe companies to bring more print than they can possibly distribute. Someone has to pay for the recycling of it. We estimate we collected around 4 tonnes of print and this is just a small proportion of the total discarded. How do we stop this? It will require co-ordination between the Fringe Society, venues, companies, venue owners (such as Edinburgh University) and recycling companies. And a complete change of mindset. We are already devising a plan for next year….

In the Observer every Sunday there’s an item in which somebody tells us which forthcoming cultural events coming up are their highlights. Seldom is theatre mentioned, which tells me something. Theatre has always been the place where society meets to practice thought-experiments. On stage you can play out different futures in 3D without the risk of actually having to follow it through in reality: see what happens, make some changes, try a different approach. Theatre is often the precursor to action in the real world. Put some ideas together, add real people and an audience and stir. If theatre doesn’t seem important to cultural commentators, maybe we’re not doing our job. Can we honestly say that theatre in Scotland is driving change in society?

The current furore over phone hacking makes me think that the time is ripe for a focus on values rather than just money. Society is crying out for it. It’s not good enough just to be a profitable newspaper or a successful person – the way you do it is important too. That hasn’t been considered important for the last 20 years or so, but for whatever reason it now is. That’s why so many people have been caught out recently: bankers, politicians and now some journalists and particularly the police. And that provides an opportunity for artists and the arts to remind the rest of the world why we exist: to discuss and debate ideas; to express and explore society’s values; to imagine different – and better – futures.

Putting these two thoughts together, maybe now’s the time for theatre to grasp this opportunity. How can we take advantage of this moment? If we got it right, it would cement the importance of theatre and the arts to a society that is searching for a set of values it can believe in.