Can Arts Nonprofits Save The Planet?

During the past month, around the globe residents have seen the immediate effect of humans using less energy: once smog–covered skylines reveal beautiful blue skies and in some regions, distant mountain ranges. As we consider reopening our towns and cities following emergency shut-downs from COVID-19, what are the opportunities to continue this change instead of returning to doing business as usual? Dee Boyle-Clapp, Director of Arts Extension Service, asks this in her Greening Your Nonprofit Arts Organization course offered this fall.

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“Arts organizations are leaders in their communities, care about their constituents, and have a myriad of opportunities to shape their role in addressing the climate crisis,” says Dee. Truly passionate about the issues of climate change, Dee notes that finding sustainable solutions to combat this insurmountable issue is something we can no longer ignore. She pairs this with her commitment to the arts — a field that is no novice to collaborating across sectors.

“For each positive choice made, one or more benefits become possible. Less energy used reduces operating costs, which means less to fundraise for, or provides an opportunity to allocate those dollars to increase staff pay or support important programs. For example, instituting a nightly Power-Down Plan saves energy that no one will miss. After our return to “normal”, such thinking provides other possibilities. Building a carpool program reduces the number of vehicles and greenhouse gas emissions required to bring people to programs. Such a program directly addresses two barriers to participation: no one to attend events with, and no way to get there. If an organization wants to save money, increase their fundability, better serve their staff and constituents — these elements can work together and reduce greenhouse gases,” Dee Boyle-Clapp says.

In the Greening Your Nonprofit Arts Organization class, students learn how small environmental changes can lead to cost-saving opportunities for an organization. They work directly with an actual arts organization to determine their carbon footprint then recommend attainable and effective solutions. The class locates the common thread with those sustainable implementations and the organization’s audiences and potential funders.

“To ensure that this is a liveable planet we need to reduce our carbon emissions by 80%. While daunting, in just one semester of effort, students find ways to reduce an organization’s energy use by 50 to 75%, usually without even touching the HVAC system,” says Dee.

It’s not news that arts have the power to transform. We have seen the arts lift communities through economic advancement, address issues of social inequities through creative conversations, and be a positive partner in the cross-pollination of sectors. While science plays the lead in defining the seriousness and consequences of the climate crisis, the arts bring these realities to life and turn theory into awareness, and there is a time like the present for arts organizations to move awareness into action, and boldly put sustainability at the forefront of their agendas. Through Greening Your Nonprofit Arts Organization , AES students help organizations build a plan and begin steps to saving the planet.

“The effort made by one facility and with the right leadership creates the opportunity for an ever-widening circle of informed people who learn how to make a difference, and take these steps as well,” says Dee.

Learn more about Greening Your Nonprofit Arts Organization. There is still time to enroll for the fall semester.