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Holistic Sustainability with Australia Council

Recently Australia Council organised a meeting in Sydney of all the Four Year Funded Theatre Organisations. As it was the start of the Four Year Funding cycle in 2017 it was an opportune moment to come together and exchange big ideas, pie in the sky dreaming, resilience and opportunities for small to medium organisations to support each other.  26 of the 27 theatre organisations met in Carriageworks for a day to discuss what could be accomplished working together.

In this meeting I had the opportunity along with Narda Shanley from St Martin’s Youth Arts Centre to lead a discussion on how we could embed sustainability across our organisations. How do we start the conversation with partner organisations, venues that we tour to and artists we employ?

Whilst we started talking about environmental sustainability, we quickly developed the conversation to talk about all the ways that financial and social sustainability intersect to create holistic sustainability.

As with all cultural change, we recognised that it could take time, and there are a thousand ways to say no: ‘it’d be nice, but I don’t have the budget’, ‘we are under-resourced as it is, how do we find time, money and energy’ or ‘I just want to focus on the art’. But there are also some really great reasons to say yes to sustainability. Here are some examples:

– The solar panels on our roof are reducing our utility bills by about $7,000 a year (or a third of our power bill) for years into the future. It appealed to donors to fund the solar panels precisely because of this long-term impact for their donation.

– Co3, the new contemporary dance company in Perth, got all of their dancers to keep wellness diaries last year – recording their nutrition, sleep, mood and exercise; and last year there was not a single worker’s compensation claim. This is extremely rare for a contemporary dance company. It didn’t cost them anything to implement, and the benefits are clear.

– Our Sustainability expert on the board, Vanessa Rauland, was instrumental in setting up South Fremantle Senior High School’s Carbon Neutral Project where the savings from reducing their carbon footprint pay for a Project Officer at the school. The Carbon Neutral Project has been embedded across the curriculum and as a result the school is winning awards and national recognition in Maths and Science with a particular focus on renewable energy.

So with that in mind, we were asking the leaders of Australia’s theatre organisations to come up with a few different ways they could further the conversation and lead sustainability in their organisations. Here is a snapshot of some of the things we discussed:

– Child friendly workplaces and how we can try and help alleviate some of the financial pressures of childcare for arts workers.

– Starting conversations with venues about expectations of what might be waiting for a tour party at the venue when they arrive (sometimes even just a greeting and a heads up of where to get fresh fruit and veg when you arrive can help).

– If we supply healthy artists, providing a performance experience that is the same at the start of the tour to the end of the tour, how can venues help us sustain the health and well-being of performers?

– We need to be thinking about the financial sustainability of independent artists into the future and talking to them about superannuation contributions. We should be paying super on every job that an independent artist works if they are an independent contract, regardless of threshold, and we should be talking to them about personal contributions to super into the future.

– We need to help emerging independent artists with the business of being a business when they first start out: guiding them to information and resources on how to invoice and what information they will need to provide to get paid fairly and on time (TFN, Super info, ABN etc). The free ATO app myDeductions tool is useful for sole traders, it’s a record-keeping tool they can use to keep track of their income and expenses.

– If independent artists are working together on a profit share production, be respectful of the time they need to take working their day job and have that conversation early so that there is no differentiation on your expectations of time commitment.

– Venues can stop selling plastic bottled water. Provide free filtered water to fill up reusable water bottles and provide glasses. Bottled water has a large carbon footprint when you consider the amount that it is consumed and there is no evidence to suggest that it is cleaner than tap water. Check out this article from The Guardian.

So these are just a few places to start. Maybe each of us could reflect on our own workplace and work practices and think about how we could implement healthier choices for our own financial, social and environmental sustainability and also look at how we could positively effect change in the world around us.

Kerry O’Sullivan
Executive Director
The Blue Room Theatre

Image by Danica Zuks