Creativity 4 Sustainability: Trusting artists is key

The Creativity 4 Sustainability Forum’s (Ljubljana, 28 September 2022) first panel addressed policymakers by talking to cultural managers about their projects in which funders took a different approach: Matthieu Gillieron’s sustainability tools and online guide for ECoC 2022 Esch (LU), funded by Luxembourg’s Ministry of the Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development; Vânia Rodrigues’s data-gathering academic research project “Green Production – Performing Arts in Transition”, funded by the University of Coimbra (PT); and Zala Velkavrh’s work in Slovenia with Prostorož’s grassroots interdisciplinary projects addressing environmental and social challenges, funded by numerous local funders.

Moderator Yohann Floch (On the Move) began by quoting the bold and “almost visionary” European Parliament Resolution of 15 September 2020, which “Calls on the Commission and on national agencies and desks to establish criteria to enable the environmental aspects of projects to be factored into project evaluation, thus promoting greener practices”. In its 2023 Work Programme, the European Commission responded with a strong commitment to more inclusive and diverse cultural and creative sector and “the greening of Creative Europe, notably in view of contributing to the achievement of an overall target of 30% of the Union budget expenditures supporting climate objectives”. This strong will at the EU level also influences actions at national, regional and local levels. He also pointed out the issue of adapting, especially the tensions of adapting, the tensions between the reality and capacity in different parts of Europe, and the tensions between the precarity of the cultural field and the necessity for artists to embark on a journey of adapting to climate change but to also have the space to breathe and work.

Considering cultural projects that address sustainability, the cultural organisers on the panel had these messages for policymakers and funders:

  1. Understand how organisations see funders’ role – “What I’m expecting from politics is to be like my parents: give financial security, support in need, liberty to think and develop the tools, and to evaluate the results together with me” (Matthieu Gillieron).
  2. Trust – when funders trust a project’s aims and support it to establish its own criteria, measurements and tools to evolve, the results are typically better.
  3. Put an end to hyperproduction – resist the urge to demand more productions, tour more, present more. Step back from hyperproduction and policies that support it and look at the scale, budgets and methods of production in the arts.
  4. Data for decision making – Synergistic collaborations and alliances between policymakers, decision-makers, funding bodies, cultural organisations and research institutions can lead to effective data that can inform sustainable decisions.
  5. Take a positive approach – Organisations want to be challenged, trusted, funded rather than threatened and measured. When policymakers go from doing almost nothing about sustainability to measuring, restricting and enforcing, it has a negative effect.
  6. Consider the context (local, regional, national …) – external requirements should not be enforced in a context not suitable for achieving them. “There’s a paradox – despite the urgency of the issues, some measures shouldn’t be rushed” (Vânia Rodrigues).
  7. Aim for substantial, long-term results – Many organisations are interested in doing initiatives and experiments, but they also want something more substantial, that produces long-term results.
  8. Scale up – “It’s time to move beyond funding just initiatives, pilot programmes, laboratories that only test ideas and never go further to be fine-tuned, upgraded or scaled up after the test phase is over. Now is the time to evaluate them and make them policy” (Zala Velkavrh).
  9. Look beyond the environment – We shouldn’t forget two important questions that often don’t get asked: What about climate justice? and Sustainability for whom?

When asked if freedom should be hindered, if arts should be forced to align with funders’ greater agendas, and if arts policy should even adapt specific policies around climate change, more takeaways emerged:

  1. Free-thinking over content limitations – Funding bodies should leave room for free-thinking and not impose too many content limitations on the projects they fund; artists are anyway dealing with these issues.
  2. Support various formatsYes! to supporting experimentation, innovation and research …
  3. Simplify reporting No! to over-bureaucratic, micromanagement reporting procedures that produce meaningless statistics and piles of photocopied invoices.
  4. Spend more time evaluating the meaningful aspects – Despite priorities for social impact and environmental impact, panellists remarked there’s little dialogue or time spent evaluating the projects on these levels and implementing the results more thoroughly.
  5. Recalculate the numbers – Consider the potential long-term impact of funding many projects with a little money or short timeframe rather than fewer projects with more money or longer timeframes.
  6. Create flexible schemes – Organisations need time for growth inside a project and for new opportunities to arise within it, to be able to respond to developments and the current situation.
  7. Invest in projects with long-term value – Funders should not just be concerned about the immediate deliverables. “It’s better to support the things surrounding the project that can lead to a long-term impact.”
  8. Systemic problems require a systemic approach – Artists and cultural managers shouldn’t be held responsible for solving systemic issues that fall beyond their purview although they should also sit on the committees for solving them.
  9. Cross-sector and inter-ministerial cooperation is key – The discussion with the forum audience confirmed that “Policymakers shouldn’t stay in their silos”. All ministries should have on their staff someone concerned with culture AND someone concerned with sustainability.
Are policymakers and funders ready to take the lead and risk differently?

And a brief p.s. about mobility – artists and even audiences would be able to make greener choices if the infrastructure was better, if train networks covered more territory (especially to peripheral areas) and if public transport ran later so audiences could use it travel home from events. Organisations can sometimes meet half-way by scheduling events to better coincide with public transport schedules, but again, this puts the onus for adapting back on the arts.

Read FULL REPORT (.pdf) for Motovila prepared by Jana Renée Wilcoxen. The report includes:
* what we can concretely do in our cultural institutions,
* messages for policymakers and funders,
* what we can do to work more sustainably.

Creativity for Sustainability Forum recording available here.

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