With the end of Bow Arts' 2018-20 Accelerator Programme in sight and our official partnership with Artsadmin coming to an end, we took part in a final public workshop exploring the concept of a circular economy and what that means for us as a society, as well as the artistic community.
If this is the first time you’re tuning in, the Accelerator Programme seeks to inspire environmental action across the arts and cultural sector, led by Julie’s Bicycle and supported by Arts Council England. Ten arts organisations or consortia are selected to each develop a project that promotes an aspect of environmental sustainability within their organisations.
Bow Arts and Artsadmin were selected to participate in the 2018-20 Accelerator Programme with a collaborative project which revolved around environmental sustainability within artist studios, arts materials and artistic practices. The long-term aim of our project is: “Sustainability will become an integral part of artistic creation and decision making”.
One of the models we have been looking at in order to achieve this is a Circular Economy. The Circular Economy is a new way of looking at the resources we use in order to minimise, detoxify and transform waste into valuable and restorative resources.
Our current linear system is based on extraction, manufacture and disposal of resources i.e. ‘take, make, use and dispose’, which is having a huge detrimental impact on the environment by creating waste and pollution at each stage. A circular economy model, however, is a closed loop system, designed to keep all resources in play for as long as possible. That way we get the most value out of them while in use, and eventually ensure sustainable ways of disposal.
So how does it work?
- We need to design out waste and pollution – design products for longevity and efficiency of all resources, including energy
- Keep products and materials in use for as long as possible – conserving the utility of products and resources, extracting their maximum value and recovering and repurposing materials
- Regenerate natural systems – only take and use what is necessary, allowing our natural environment to rebuild and replenish
To get closer to this model, we must consider artists’ relationship with materials and how we manage resources in our current social system. Creativity sits right at the heart of this challenge, offering the cultural sector an opportunity to contribute to material and social design innovation. Choices made at a product’s design stage profoundly influence the capacity to minimise or eliminate the waste and pollution created throughout its lifecycle i.e. how it might be reused, repaired, taken apart or recycled.
Some great examples of creative organisations who are already making headway include:
- In 2017, Netherlands-based consultancy Metabolic undertook a full materials flow analysis at DGTL Festival in the Netherlands. Using the festival as a pilot ‘closed system’, it was hoped that this could underpin a zero waste ‘circular festival’ strategy for DGTL (amongst other festivals) and provide important insights into improving material flows in the city of Amsterdam.
- They created a circular food court providing sustainable resources, innovative composting facilities, a closed loop food system and even audience visits and workshops at urban farms.
- They had a ‘Resource street’ offering reusable cups through a deposit scheme, an on-site recycling hub and other innovative recycling techniques, including turning urine into drinking water and fertilizer, and bottle caps to oil for cooking.
- In July 2018 Leeds City Museum opened an exhibition exploring and celebrating the beautiful things made by animals. ‘Beavers to Weavers: the wonderful world of animal makers’ aimed to showcase the way in which animals often use what they find around them, only using the resources they actually need.
- They only used recycled or recyclable materials for their exhibition displays, such as old bobbins and cotton reels as plinths, homemade paper from waste materials as a community activity, and cushions from recycled coffee sacks and foam offcuts.
- Since 2005 Elvis & Kresse have been rescuing raw materials and transforming them into luxury lifestyle accessories, donating 50% of profits back to charities. The three pillars to their work are rescue, transform and donate.
- They currently reuse decommissioned firehoses, parachute silk, printing blankets from the off-set printing industry, leather waste from the European luxury industry, coffee sacks and even old auction banners
One of the ideas we floated in the Circular Economy workshop was that culture has its own ecosystem which, with the correct support, has the potential to evolve to be innovatively sustainable. Through shared learning, skills and facilitation, advocacy for culture as a driver for climate action, and enough incentives for individuals and businesses to take part, the arts could create a new more sustainable culture, in turn creating a new cultural ecology.
So, as a cultural business or artist, what can you do?
- Build environmental and social sustainability clauses into your procurement policy
- Consider hiring, borrowing, or sharing resources before you buy something new
- Choose products that are long lasting and that can be reused, repaired, recycled or biodegraded i.e. rechargeable batteries
- Minimise waste through informed procurement choices i.e. understanding the volumes of materials coming into – and existing within – your workplace, optimising stock management
- Design and build production and exhibition items for disassembly and re-use, recycling scenery into new productions where possible
- Buy ‘green tariff’ electricity from your current provider or switch to a 100% renewable energy provider e.g. Good Energy
- Consider rainwater harvesting for maintaining gardens and indoor plants, as well as cleaning artist tools etc.
Julie’s Bicycle has some great resources available to help you action each and every one of the points above – they’ve already done the hard work for us! You’ll find amazing databases of organisations that can help you with any sustainable project, so whether you’re working with a small budget, or you’re ready to go the full hog, then check out Julie’s Bicycle’s Resource Page. To start you off, we’ve attached an amazing spreadsheet here which lists a whole host of organisations and initiatives who will reuse, recycle or sustainably dispose of any unwanted materials. Let’s take it one step at a time.
As you’ll see above, we had some beautiful ‘Visual Minutes’ taken by Ada Jusic as part of the Circular Economy workshop. Ada is a visual communicator who specialises in image-making and storytelling for projects with a social or political relevance. Ada has excellently captured some of the key topics we explored throughout the half-day workshop, demonstrating one unique approach to promoting sustainability through arts practices.
A big thank you to Ada Jusic, Julie’s Bicyle, Alex Brown on behalf of Artsadmin, and everyone else who contributed to and attended the Circular Economy workshop at Toynbee Hall.