The insidious carbon footprint of trips to artistic and cultural festivals

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Catherine Gallant performer Isadora Duncan, a one-woman show choreographed by Jérôme Bel entirely on Skype abroad (all photos by Elena Olivo, courtesy of the Institut Français Alliance Française)

This article is part of a series of pieces based on or inspired by the Alliance Française of the French Institute Crossing the line festival, carried out in collaboration with the Master of Arts and Culture at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.


In Isadora Duncan, a solo performance that took place at the Crossing the Line festival of the Alliance Française of the Institut français in September, Catherine Gallant expertly performed the most influential works of famous dancer Duncan, arranged by iconoclastic choreographer Jérôme Bel . It was a particularly impressive performance given that the pair have never rehearsed together in person. Bel and his Paris-based company no longer travel by air for environmental reasons, so he and Gallant worked on Skype.

Catherine Gallant in Isadora Duncan

Bel is one of a tiny list of artists who are boycotting air travel in response to the ever-growing threat of climate change. While he hasn’t launched a crusade to urge his colleagues to do the same, the artistic landscape would change dramatically if a critical mass of artists followed suit. From the roster of international virtuosos who perform at Carnegie Hall each year, to the thousands of bands (not to mention fans) that converge in Austin, Texas each March for SXSW, overseas tours of American experimental theater companies With the careful shipment of blockbuster exhibits from museum to museum, the ecology of arts and culture rests on planes in countless numbers.

A successful artistic career almost always requires long-distance travel, as tours and performances are the most vital sources of income for many artists working today. Festivals, on the other hand, play a crucial role for artists in terms of exposure. And in addition to the money and publicity that the trip brings to artists, it also offers unique and rewarding experiences. Live performances must, after all, be live. Of the 12 shows shown at Crossing the Line, all but two – Isadora Duncan and the film by Pierre Huyghe The host and the cloud – featured at least one artist based outside of the US

Intensive travel, of course, is not unique to artistic events. Heads of state and diplomats may spend more time in the air than anyone – and usually regardless of the carbon footprint they leave. Vice President Mike Pence infamously flew over Ireland in September to stay at a Trump complex 180 miles from his meetings in Dublin. Sports teams play half of their season away from home.

Catherine Gallant in Isadora Duncan

Dr Andrea Collins, professor at Cardiff University in Wales, who has studied the environmental impact of several mass cultural events, including the Cardiff Half Marathon and the Tour de France, found that the final of the 2004 FA Cup in England produced a footprint of 3,500 hectares (hag) – that is, 3,500 football pitches were needed to produce the natural resources used by the tournament. Fifty-five percent of that came from travel.

But the notoriously liberal global arts community may be more sensitive to such consequences, and Collins’ research shows that these consequences can be just as significant. In 2016, she and Dr Crispin Cooper published a study that calculated the ecological footprint of the Hay Literary Festival 2012, an annual Welsh event that attracts around 100,000 visitors over eleven days.

With a team of five on-site investigators, Dr Collins collected data on more than 700 festival attendees, using a questionnaire covering travel arrangements, food and drink consumption, and duration of the festival. visit. She concluded that the Hay Festival left an ecological footprint of 3,300 ha, with travel accounting for 61% of that amount. “What I won’t say is ‘Don’t have the festival’,” she said. “It’s just organizing it in a slightly different way.”

Their research suggests that festivals and other cultural events can reduce their environmental impact in ways that don’t involve travel. “Whatever happens on the spot, [festival organizers] can control, ”Collins said. “You can manage the type of food and drink served, the way they are served, and even the recycling levels. In New York, the Broadway Green Alliance runs an exchange program for three-ring binders that are typically used for scripts – a musical may need dozens of them for its actors, directors, designers, choreographer, music director. , members of the choir, managers. , and others – and it collects a wide variety of items used for redistribution. Its Green Captain program, where a cast or designated team member helps their production implement green practices, has had a 100% stake on Broadway since 2011. The group is specifically a resource for the theater community, said BGA President Molly Braverman, “But a lot of the resources we provide are applicable to many different art forms. Additionally, festivals and art institutions might stop printing multi-colored, glossy brochures – Booklet 5 × 7 inches of Crossing the Line was 36 pages, not counting the thick cover – and ban plastic cups and straws from their opening and closing parties.

Catherine Gallant in Isadora Duncan

But these are ridiculous gestures compared to the ramifications of the trip. Even though the Hay Festival has a ‘sustainability director’ and employs many green initiatives on site, the field’s rural location and lack of public transport mean the majority of visitors have to travel long distances. Hosting festivals in urban areas allows organizers to take advantage of public transportation and local venues, but non-locals should still attend.

Collins suggests that the key to festivals in controlling the movement of audiences is to know them in depth by collecting data similar to surveys in his studies. Organizers of the Cardiff Half Marathon, for example, reduced the event’s CO2 levels by 49% in 2018 by creating transport initiatives such as carpools for runners and increased shuttle service. “The reason this happened is that the organizers put in place the incentives. They made it easier, ”she explains. “They used some of our research to develop a green travel-focused action plan and developed their first environmental strategy.”

In the United States, the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals have established sustainable travel initiatives and incentives tailored to their audiences. According to Newport Festivals Foundation associate producer Brittany Ryan, organizers have capitalized on prominent local cycling culture and partnered with Bike Newport and HiRoad Auto Insurance to provide route maps, bike parking, free water filling stations and tune-ups. In general, Ryan notes that Newport’s long history of advocating for social justice has made implementing green initiatives a relatively easy task. “We are a non-profit organization focused on music education and we are working to nurture this next generation of musicians,” she explained. “We want them all to grow up in a sustainable world, climate and environment.”

Europe is ahead of the United States in the fight against climate change, and the arts sector is no exception. The 10-year-old London activist organization Julie’s Bicycle, for example, has partnered with, among others, the Arts Council England (roughly the UK equivalent of the National Endowment for the Arts in the United States) to build considerations in their awarding of grants. When arts organizations apply for funding from ACE, they must submit their environmental impact data as well as an environmental policy and action plan. Julie’s Bicycle has developed tools for such calculations, which include travel (as well as energy and water consumption, among other impacts). The NEA requires grant applicants to be in compliance with NEPA and NHPA, but questions regarding environmental impact are open-ended and do not require the same hard data as ACE.

And at least some aspects of performing arts, like Bel Isadora Duncan shown, can be prepared without anyone boarding a jet. But it’s not easy: Gallant and Bel had to contend with the six-hour time difference between Paris and New York and a wobbly wifi connection. Gallant even hired an assistant to move the laptop around so that she remained in view of the camera – and therefore Bel – while dancing.

She lamented that rehearsing via Skype is “not about the same” as face-to-face collaboration, which allows the choreographer to see the dancer from all angles, to demonstrate movements that the dancer can follow, to position it physically, etc. Still, she said, “If it’s the only choice for creating something, then you work with it and find ways to make it as effective as possible.”

Isadora Duncan had its US premiere at FIAF Florence Gould Hall in Manhattan, New York on September 25, 2019.

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