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I don’t want to confuse the end of an ecologically unsustainable, untenable way of civilization working in this moment with a complete guarantee of extinction. There is a future. It may look very different and sometimes I think the inability to see exactly what that future is – and our plan for it – can be confused for there not being one. I’m sort of okay with that uncertainty, and in the meantime, all one can really do is the work to try and make whatever it ends up being more positive. There’s a sense of biophilia about it.ian garrett, conscient podcast, may 25, 2021, toronto
Ian Garrett is an artist, designer, producer, educator, and researcher in the field of sustainability in arts and culture. Ian is Associate Professor of Ecological Design for Performance at York University in Toronto, is the co-founder and director of the Centre for Sustainable Practice in the Arts (CSPA), and Producer at ToasterLab. Ian maintains a practice focused on the integration of sustainability, design, and technology in performance and performing environments. He has spoken and consulted on the arts and the environment around the world. Originally from Los Angeles, Ian has also called Houston and now Toronto home, where he lives with wife Justine and their two dual citizens, Miles and Henrietta.
I’ve known Ian for many years as a leading thinker and activist in arts and sustainability. He is a hard worker, a visionary and generous person. Our conscient conversation covered many topics including one that I had not touched upon yet this season, including arts and sustainability in the digital world.
We also talked about measurement of impact, such as the Creative Green project, which is at the heart of our ability to move forward as an arts sector in the climate emergency.
Some notable quotes from our conversation include:
The extreme thought experiment that I like to use in a performance context is: if you had a play in which the audience left with their minds changed about all of their activities, you could say that that is positive. But, if the set that it took place on was a pile of burning tires – which is an objectively bad thing to do for the environment – there is a conversation by framing it as an arts practice as to is there value in having that impact, because of the greater impact. And those sorts of complexities have sort of defined the fusion and different approaches in which to take; it’s not just around metrics.
The intent of it [the Julie’s Bicycle Creative Green Tools] is not like LEED in which you are getting certified because you have come up with a precise carbon footprint. It’s a tool for, essentially, decision-making in that artistic context, that if you know this information, then you have a better way to consider critically the way that you are making and what you’re making and how you are representing your values and those aspects, regardless of whether or not it is explicitly part of the work. And so there’s lots of tools in which I’ve had the opportunity to have a relationship with which that are really about empowering artists, arts makers, arts collectives to be able to make those decisions so that their individual values towards sustainability – regardless of what they’re actually making – can also be represented and that they can make choices that best represent those regardless of whether or not they’re explicitly creating something for ‘earth day’.
The separation of the artist from the person and articulating as a profession is a unique thing, whereas an alternative to that could just be that we are expressive and artistic beings that seeks to create and have different talents but turning that into a profession is something that we’ve done to ourselves and so while we do that, we exist within systems, our cultural organizations exist within systems, that have impacts much farther outside of it so that a systems analysis approach is really important.
As I have done in all episodes in season 2 so far, I have integrated excerpts from soundscape compositions and quotations drawn from e19 reality, as well as moments of silence, in this episode.
I would like to thank Ian for taking the time to speak with me and for sharing his deep knowledge of arts and sustainability, his passion for education, his leadership on tool development and his keen sense of ‘what’s next’ on the horizon.
For more information on Ian’s work, see https://www.ianpgarrett.com