Last week I attended two presentations given to Arts Council England Relationship Managers by Catherine Langabeer, Operations Director at Julie's Bicycle. Her talk focused on the background to why Sustainability matters, what the arts council is asking of organisations and how Julie’s Bicycle helps to deliver this.
We started with the London Combined Arts team, whose portfolio ranges from the Royal Opera House with an Annual Grant of £25 million down to the Bureau of Silly Ideas (BoSI) that create 'surprising interventions in the public realm' and receive just £40,000 pa. Clearly we would not expect the same level of engagement from these; or so you might think. Well, says Catherine, yes, the Royal Opera House has a huge operation and has been working with us for years to reduce its environmental impact - but BoSI has also been thinking how it can make a difference with some really innovative thinking that you might expect from a small, nimble organisation.
Mike Brooks, Combined Arts Relationship Manager agrees. He, however, wonders how we can encourage those organisations who have not yet engaged with this agenda. We talk about the ethical, financial, legal and stakeholder benefits. Mike is impressed with some of the hard figures - £10,000 saved by Theatre Royal Plymouth by water-saving measures alone; the National Theatre saving £30,000 by changing Carbon Monoxide detectors. For him, the financial savings will be the clincher for those he will talk to. Afterwards I send him some more information and he emails me back to say 'this was really useful. The feedback from the team about the presentation has been really positive too.'
Next is London Literature. The issues are understandably different to Combined Arts; however, there is enthusiasm within the team. We discuss how engaging with sustainability can help with public engagement and how it can also sometimes impact on artistic output. Gemma Seltzer, Literature Relationship Manager, emails me and Catherine afterwards.
She says: 'There are some great examples of individual authors and poets tackling the big issues of our time and I’m now welcoming the opportunity to talk to National portfolio organisations about how they might approach the environmental sustainability agenda, in both practical and creative ways.'
This was the 12th presentation that Catherine has given. By the middle of March she will have spoken to just about every Relationship Manager in the country. I’ve attended most of them and I’ve been impressed with the level of positive response from staff - all of whom have many other demands to manage. A lot of the enthusiasm is down to the simplicity and power of the message; but a lot is down to the charisma, passion and depth of knowledge that Catherine and the staff at Julie's Bicycle bring.
Not for the first time I think we are fortunate to be working with her and her team.
Ian Rimington is London Relationship Manager, Theatre, at Arts Council England and leads on Environmental sustainability for the organisation.