Friday, 11 July 2008

Shift Happen - part 2

Okay time for the second part in this series. The lowdown on the recent Shift Happens event I attended.

The second speaker at the event was Ben Todd, correction, Dr Ben Todd - the Dr bit is important. He is the Executive Director of the Arcola Theatre in that London village and an engineer. An engineer at the head of an arts organisation! Have you ever heard of such a thing?Well, it seems that this move has been an inspired one for the future of the theatre (for all theatres for that matter).

Due to his PhD in Sustainability type things (can't remember the exact title), Ben has made it his mission to make the Arcola a sustainable and environmentally conscious organisation, and therefore has made sustainability a core value of the Arcola. Now with all this talk of the environment, the world ending and all that that it might just sound like another gimmick but Ben gave a great talk about why this issue was so important to the arts and why he had chosen an arts organisation as a vehicle for driving these changes.

As he highlighted, engineers are marvellous at coming up with brilliant ideas but not always the best at communicating them (apologies to those engineers out there that might disagree with this - Ben wasn't too shabby at the old presenting himself as a case in point). However, in the arts communicating is what they do and what they do very well and the Arcola particularly. Not only are they getting recognition for what goes on on stage (Critics Choice and other theatrical accolades) but also awards for their commitment to the environment.

The Arcola Community
As part of his presentation, Ben showed plans for the future of the Arcola Theatre which was fascinating. You can see the pictures in his presentation available here. Not only would the building have a Biomass Boiler, (for burning scripts, sets and all the stuff theatre tend to just chuck away etc), low energy lighting, solar power, and rainwater collection but also to encourage development of future technologies by including what they call the 'Incubator'. A space where entrepreneurs, scientist and engineering types can meet, nurture and hatch new ideas. A similar idea to Tom's about providing a space for people to connect, collaborate and create good stuff.

He also talked about how he hopes to not only build a new type of community within the theatre by allowing practitioners of different disciplines to share a space to become a melting point of new ideas and creative endeavours, the Arcola sees the community being involved. And I mean really involved. Not just by buying tickets and drinking the organic beer from the bar but by helping with the building of the structure itself. A huge community project with, rather than locals buying a brick or sponsoring a seat, they can literally help build the place. A really nice idea and great way of getting the community involved and supporting the Arcola. He also talked about the possibility of having a growing space on the roof where the fine people of Hackney can grow vegetables and the like. A bit like the things that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and other folk are doing with inner city agriculture or that the Guerrilla Gardener has been doing for a while.

Not only is he doing things to change how the Arcola operates but is also asking their suppliers to change along with them by writing to them about the shift and asking how they can change their products and services to be in keeping with this ethos (rather than just switching suppliers). He is currently working with London Calling on how they can minimise the amount of print waste that is produced by arts organisations. I have great sympathy with this as although we try and reduce our print as much as we can so we don't end up just throwing it all in the recycling bin (we do recycle!) we could be better and I will be interested to see what recommendations they put forward.

And to all those sceptics out there that think this is liberal nonsense, focusing on sustainability has allowed the Arcola to tap funding sources that previously would not have been accessible to them or even interested in funding the arts so at the same time as helping the environment and the community, he is ensuring the Arcola is sustainable as a business. Really, really good and interesting stuff and a great speaker. Thanks Ben!

I can't really do what he said justice here and if you get the chance to hear him speak, do so. If not, you can keep up with the goings on of the project, from how they did in their internal waste audit and what they decided to do about it, how to light a show with only 5KW (go for a production that requires naturalistic lighting apparently!!) and who is the best supplier of green energy, on their blog over at Arcola Energy.

UPDATE: Further to all this green talk I also forgot to mention that I heard on the radio that the world's first 'green' nightclub opened last week. You can read more about it here. Apparently, power is generated through the floor when it is danced upon! Gives a whole new meaning to 'Breakdance too, electric booggaloo' doesn't it?!


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