A Public, Private, Planetary Partnership Grows in LA

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Joel Shapiro and Justin Yoffe, co-founders of Arts:Earth Partnership

About seventy people gathered on Friday, June 26th at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in Bergamot Station to celebrate the launch of a new organization that uses only one color in its visionary design: green. The kind of green that speaks to fresh foods, verdant forests, sustainable living and a healthy planet.

In the main gallery, several speakers addressed the audience, including Ken Genser Mayor of Santa Monica, Ernest Dillahay, Director of Cultural Facilities for the City of Los Angeles, Justin Yoffe, Cultural Affairs Director for the City of Santa Monica, and Joel Shapiro, Artistic Director of the Electric Lodge in Venice.

They shared their vision to reduce, recycle, reuse and rethink energy in measurable ways that are specific to the cultural community. The mood was leisurely, but the message from behind the podium was passionate: for the creative community to take a leadership role in halting the effects of global warming, we must think and act differently now.

The mechanism to do this is The Arts:Earth Partnership. Not some utopian fantasy, The Arts:Earth Partnership, or AEP, is a collective of cultural leaders, facilities, theaters, museums, dance studios, art galleries, performing arts companies and individual artists committed to achieving environmental sustainability.

AEP co-founder Joel Shapiro told the audience that 25,000 people come to the Electric Lodge each year. The energy of this performing and visual arts space is supplied by solar panels. To rent the space, independent producers are required to have a recycling plan for their sets, and all front of house and off stage lights are energy efficient.

Shapiro said that he and Justin Yoffe, who is the board president of the Lodge, got the idea for AEP when they started to wonder: what if more facilities shared the same philosophy as the Lodge? How many theaters or galleries or performing arts centers would share resources, reduce their own costs and contribute to the health of the planet? How many people would learn about the cost savings and start to make changes at home?

They started doing research seven years ago and found that bloated applications, expensive start up costs and programs that did not meet the needs of cultural organizations made ‘going green’ a black hole of despair. They decided to develop a new model, one that would make sense to most non-profit organizations whose daily work is often characterized by stretched dollars, resources and staff.

Shapiro and Yoffe started knocking on doors. The cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica answered and joined with them as AEP founding partners. The City of Los Angeles pledged to convert all of their cultural facilities (30-35) into certified sustainable operations. Santa Monica also connected AEP to their own resource for going green, Sustainable Works, the non-profit organization that, in four years, has helped convert 35 businesses into green companies.

The staff at Sustainable Works trained AEP auditors to conduct energy use assessments at cultural facilities that want to reduce their environmental impact. AEP offers a two-year certification program that includes the assessment, tools, resources and staff support for changing to green technology and practices. Organizations pay a fee for the service and then become members of the collective. Fees are based on the size of the organization’s operating budget. To attract more organizations of all sizes, both Los Angeles and Santa Monica pledged to pay the first year of the two-year AEP certification fees for the artists and organizations that signed up at the reception to join the collective.

Jan Williamson_Joel Shapiro

Jan Williamson, Executive Director of the 18th Street Arts Center and AEP advisory board member talks with Joel Shapiro.

Shapiro said that certification requires each member to use at least 25% renewable energy. The Lodge itself is the gold standard, using 100% renewable energy. In the first year, with 30 current members using at least 25% renewable energy, AEP will reduce CO2 emissions into the atmosphere by 50 tons. That’s roughly equivalent to the annual output of 7 households of 4 adults each. It may not sound like much, but the more organizations and artists join, the more CO2 emissions will drop, the more the creative community can help tip planetary scales back towards balance and inspire others to do the same. Indeed, it’s working already as 25 artists and 25 cultural organizations signed up on Friday.

AEP will track the progress of certified members, as they change from wasteful to efficient energy use and then publish its findings in an annual report. AEP plans to hold annual ‘convergences’ so that cultural leaders can learn from each other by sharing stories, news and information. On their website, AEP also offers a materials exchange board, a resource especially suited to theatres and galleries that rotate sets and exhibitions and frequently use production materials.

After the speeches, small groups hovered near the podium, eager to continue the conversation. The rest of the crowd took in the exhibition of Barkley Hendrick’s bold life-sized portraits, or wandered out into the warm evening air and over to the literature table and makeshift bar. Next to the bar was a sporty car that had been turned into a planter, with succulents and cacti bursting from its windows, trunk and hood. If you can envision a world where abandoned cars are ideal places for gardens, then AEP is an organization that needs your energy (renewable, of course) and commitment to paint the world green.

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