Sunday 2 January 2011

Can music save the world?: Julie's Bicycle

Imagine the scene: the great and the good of the rock world strutting their stuff on a mammoth stage in Hyde Park, campaigning for action against climate change; rock star of the moment, on the steps of his private jet gives the thumbs up sign with the sound bite Go green, be cool; rock star slightly over the hill but available for any cause you wish to mention grins from behind the wheel of his Hummer to say Let’s all be responsible consumers….
Alison Tickell only imagines scenes like this in her worst nightmares. The director of Julie’s Bicycle has much more responsible and practical ways for artists to make a real change in the way we care for our world. The need for this is impelling, she argues, because humans have a heavy responsibility from a practical point of view given the need to guarantee provision over time for our own species, but, more deeply, there is a moral and ethical obligation to:
  • Care for limited resources
  • Develop ideas for sustainability
  • Adapt our life styles in the light of new information
This moral and ethical obligation has to be seen against the background the questionable equity of a society of consumption continuing at the expense of exploited developing countries.
Grand ideas, big concepts, but Alison Tickell has some simple suggestions for practical action.
What could be more simple than for a singer to look ahead at the venues for an upcoming tour and ask the manager for a copy of their waste recycling policy.  Don’t have one? Please write one.
Or a band booked for a festival asking a simple question: What are your plans for sustainable generation of energy for the festival? Don’t have one? Please write one.
Or maybe a megaband booked for a megatour asking the simple question: What alternative forms of transport are being explored to reduce the tour band’s carbon footprint? No alternatives? Start searching.
These three examples were offered by Alison Tickell on 26th November during her appearances on Radio 3, the thinking musician’s channel on the state radio network Radio Nacional de España, and in a discussion at the Fundación BBVA ‘s magnificent complex in central Madrid, housed in a beautifully renovated palace, in an intriguing event organized by the Fundación BBVA and the British Council which included a concert of music/video art work.
Alison Tickell talked about the power of the green brand, and the  temptation for artists, with other commercial interests, to go for the easy and the superficial, the green wash rather than to take meaningful measures to promote sustainable use of resources.   She proposes that the arts culture should not be led by corporate culture and reminded us of how the arts have something unique to say. Here is a brief summary of her argument: The arts…
  • Shift perception
  • Transcend the here and now
  • Express complexity
  • Have an incredible reach to audiences
  • Do not rely on voracious consumption but do rely on an industrial infrastructure
  • Do make a carbon footprint.
Julie’s Bicycle, let’s get this over with, the name of the organisation comes from an occasion when Alison Tickell turned up at a fancy London restaurant, Julie’s,  on her bike and was drenched and looking ever so uncool. So, Julie’s Bicycle was set up under the auspices of the UK music industry as their response to Al Gore’s 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth. Initially the brief was to work with musicians, but the company nowalso works with artists in theatre, dance, visual arts and fashion.
From the beginning the strategy was to avoid using big stars to spread the word. Instead, there was a four point approach:
  • Focus on big issues
  • Initiate research projects so that subsequent actions were underpinned with accurate data
  • Focus on a small number of issues
  • Engage in partnerships where possible
Alison Tickell talked about buying cd’s, I didn’t know anyone still did that anymore, but her suggestion is to insist on producers using paper and card for packaging instead of plastic, which is much more difficult to recycle. Is digital the answer? Unfortunately not, because the energy required to maintain IT servers of huge organisations is a massive blot on the environment and a producer of damaging emissions. So all those iTunes downloads are in fact generating more, not less pollution.
It was a pleasure listening to Alson Tickell because she does not rant and her arguments are well founded in data and because she proposes direct action in measurable terms. But most of all, I loved her closing remarks on the morning radio programme. When asked, in essence, can music save the world? she replied that the essential characteristic of  creative artists is to be original and creative, their art is what comes first. Their attitude to, and actions in support of responsible care of our world is, in the end, a part of the practical organization of their working lives, not the first priority, and no more should be expected of workers in the arts than in other industries.

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