Behind the Scenes: Ki Culture. Blog 2 – integrating sustainable thinking across Europe
Communications Specialist Darya Danesh talks to Heidi Wiley, Executive Director of the European Theatre Convention about shaping environmental thinking in the performing arts sector. The second of three blogs looking behind the scenes at Ki Culture, an international non-profit working to unite culture and sustainability.
In January 2022, Ki Culture launched the Ki Futures Program for cultural professionals in the museum sector. Ki Futures is the only international coaching and training program for sustainability, turning intention into action and positioning the cultural sector as future-oriented thought leaders. As the Museum program was running, we launched a Performing Arts Pilot: a 3-month test run of the Ki Futures program with a focus on the performing arts.
This pilot was run in collaboration with the European Theatre Convention and 11 of their member theatre organisations with the intention of working together to shape the future of sustainable education and self-empowerment in the performing arts sector.
Attended by over 60 theatre professionals from across all departments representing major European theatre organisations in eight countries, stretching from Portugal in Western-Europe to Cyprus in the furthest Eastern European corner, the programme proved to be an excellent international networking and capacity building opportunity.
This article is a summary of a conversation between Darya Danesh, Ki Culture’s Communications Specialist, and Heidi Wiley, Executive Director of the European Theatre Convention.
European Theatre Convention
The European Theatre Convention (ETC), based in Berlin, is the largest (membership) network of publicly funded national and local theatres in Europe representing more than 50 theatres across 30 countries. It was created 30 years ago out of a desire to work internationally, to connect and bridge cultures – through performance and staff exchange – with just three theatres. The network is artistically driven, bringing together theatres from across the continent to collaborate in contemporary theatre making. They organise activities across three main categories: artistic collaboration, theatre advocacy, and professional development.
Alongside their artistic endeavours, ETC aims to bring relevance to its members, just as theatres aim to bring relevance to society. Part of their mission includes supporting their colleagues and members in becoming more environmentally conscious, something that Heidi Wiley agrees cannot be ignored in our current society.
ETC’s journey towards the integration of environmental consciousness was sparked by their 2019 Conference. The hosting theatre company De Toneelmakerij in Amsterdam questioned all attending theatre professionals, for the first time on an international forum, how they had travelled to Amsterdam and if it was done in an environmentally conscious way. This was a catalyst in ETC’s mission to integrate sustainable thinking and action into their organisation.
During their November 2020 Conference (online) on Green Theatre, the goal was to come up with concrete actions, not just talk about it. As a result, the ETC Green Theatre Committee was created with the mission to develop a sustainable action plan for theatres.
European Theatre Convention’s Green Committee
ETC’s Green Committee was launched within the network, starting with a call for the experts who were already working within venues to ‘green’ their theatres or really drive the ecological journey towards sustainability.
Together, a group of about 8 people (including 2 external sustainability experts) worked together to create a strategic plan entitled the ETC Sustainable Action Code for Theatres, calling for ETC and the sector to create a greener, more sustainable-conscious and mindful future by 2030.
In accordance with the European Green Deal and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the Committee looked at ETC’s work from a holistic perspective. They looked both at the social and environmental aspects that are so vital for a sustainable future and the support needed to keep theatre alive within society.
“If we want to ensure a sustainable future, we simply must ensure to sustain theatre as an art form and cultural place in public space”, adds Heidi.
The strategic plan focuses on embedding sustainable practice within theatre organisations, theatre buildings, and theatre productions by way of eight goals. Ki Futures enabled ETC to work towards acknowledging that:
- there is no one size fits all approach to sustainability (goal 1),
- sharing knowledge on best practices (goal 2), and
- providing training and coaching to promote behavioural, artistic, and organisational practices (goal 3).
European Theatre Convention and the Ki Futures Pilot
Upon hearing about the Ki Futures program during the EU Voices of Culture meetings, Heidi was immediately impressed not only with what the program offers – bringing sustainability to all cultural professionals across sectors – but also in Ki Culture’s ethos of cooperation and collaboration.
We worked with Heidi to create an offer in the 3-month pilot that suited both ETC’s organisational needs as well as the needs of the sector. The ETC team and member theatre organisations were already willing to make the shift to more sustainable practices, but didn’t yet have the knowledge, resources and/or tools to put it into action. The Ki Futures program, at its core, aims to make sustainability approachable and accessible to cultural professionals across the globe.
For ETC, the aim of the pilot was to provide leadership to those who are willing to test out something new and lay the groundwork for future sustainable developments across member theatre organisations. This was the first opportunity for those theatres to receive weekly training for 3 months. The pilot was a resounding success with a high rate of commitment across participating ETC theatres.
ETC extrapolated from this experience that in the groups where management level colleagues joined as champions, it was much easier for the groups to make the time available in their agendas and follow the program with weekly consistency. The biggest challenge, and perhaps the most critical feedback, was that making the space for sustainability to fit into existing organisational structures and the capability for change, regardless of the immense willingness from participating theatres.
The more apparent and important outcome of the Ki Futures Pilot for ETC was the creation of a critical mass. To quote Heidi, “the program helps to address the people on an individual level, on a departmental level, and on the institutional level” which is clear in all aspects of the programming offered.
A catalyst towards true change
It’s one thing to reduce energy (spending) and waste, but having a holistic understanding of your organisation, location, practices, etc. is imperative. This is something Heidi believes strongly. Across Ki Futures’ various offerings – training, coaching, workshops, community, resources – we provide organisations like ETC the opportunity to learn how to create a circular economy not only in their own organisational processes and philosophy, but also in the culture that they represent as an organisation. To do so, it’s incredibly important to get everyone on board to cross-collaborate and create effective change.
Sustainability cannot just be something we’re doing to tick off an arbitrary green box. It is a complex matter that must be taken seriously.
By pairing down sustainable action “to very simple to do lists to get started so you can really see those first achievements and start noticing change in those first successes”.
For Heidi, her team, and ETC member theatre organisations, Ki Futures “has been a truly inspirational program from which new initiatives will certainly follow”.
Special thanks to Heidi Wiley, Executive Director of the European Theatre Convention, for their valuable input and quotes provided in this article in a conversation with Darya Danesh on May 12, 2022.
Darya Danesh, Communications Specialist, Ki Culture
Based on the successes and excitement of the pilot with ETC, Ki Futures is opening applications for Performing Arts professionals starting in September. Pricing is subject to the participant’s carbon footprint or, if they have not yet calculated it, an approximation based on similar organisations.
Ki Futures provides an accessible, budget-friendly program of self-empowerment to cultural professionals to get started within their organisations on the long-term process of sustainability. Participants can start the journey at their own pace and really focus on what is important and relevant to them. Ki Futures gives participants not only the tools, but also the confidence to take that new knowledge to speak with their audiences, funders, and decision makers – a crucial step towards real change.