The MMIAM Journey

A blog about the Master of Management
in International Arts Management program

Walking the Eco-Talk

Cultural and Arts Management During an Era of Sustainable Development (Abridged)


Sustainability considers the long-term impact of human economic behaviour on future generations. In sum, sustainability refers to “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland 1987, 43).

Through four case studies, the authors illustrate what roles performing arts organizations that adopt ecological practices in their infrastructure, their artistic production processes and their presenting activities, play in bringing about an era of sustainable development (Duxbury et al. 2017).

Steppenwolf Theatre Infrastructure Project

When Chicago theatres’ enfant terrible Steppenwolf company decided to build an addition to its theatre – an auditorium with a circular stage, questions about environmental, social and economic sustainability were immediately raised, and they played a significant role in the selection of the architects for the project: AS+GG, a world-renowned Chicago-based firm that specializes in high-performance, energy-efficient, sustainable architecture on an international scale. According to partner Gordon Gill: “We don’t design a building, then call the sustainable guys and see what they do. From the get-go, we adopt an integrated, multidisciplinary process, with architects, of course, but also structural and mechanical engineers, interior designers and our own sustainability experts. Add to that a tremendous amount of computing. Our building projects go through an extremely rigorous scientific modelling process in order to change the design so that they meet the required performance.”

He adds: “Design can have just as much impact on a building’s sustainability as the choice of construction materials. Today, thanks to data analysis and technology, we can design a building like you design a jet or a race car. With fluid dynamics modelling, we can precisely measure the building’s resistance to the air on a specific site and take concrete out. (…)We have to balance out sustainability performance with human interaction. We play with volumes to meet both objectives. We fine-tune the volumes like an orchestra would its instruments.”

Théâtre Paradoxe Infrastructure Project

Unlike its counterpart in Chicago, Paradoxe theatre came into being through the repurposing of existing cultural infrastructure on the Island of Montreal. Groupe Paradoxe, the theatre’s parent company, is characterized by its social commitment.

Located in a poor neighbourhood of the city, the organization relentlessly seeks to re-integrate local adolescents into society while also revitalizing the local economy. Since 1997, Groupe Paradoxe has been offering professional services in event management and television production, while at the same time providing socio-professional support to teenagers through technical training and subsidized housing (Galipeau 2013). These youths learn how to earn a living through the application of their newly acquired skills within the company’s B2B services.

In 2013, seeking a space to host large events, Groupe Paradoxe took on a new challenge (Galipeau 2013): acquiring and renovating an old church. By repurposing existing infrastructure, the company eliminated the need for a new building while at the same time preserving cultural heritage through a type of sustainable development known as the Slow City Movement (Chen 2018).

However, aspiring to be considered a major cultural venue for the long term, Groupe Paradoxe faces stiff competition in the field of live events.

In response, Gérald St-Georges, the company’s General Manager, stresses that “each dollar spent with us is invested in the professional growth and social reinsertion of youth.”

Ecosceno Artistic Production Processes

Ecosceno was founded in the fall of 2018 to deliver services in the eco-conception of artistic sets. It acts as an agent for the repurposing of materials within the theatre and film industries in Montreal through a circular-economy approach. Since 2019 the company has reduced the industries’ carbon footprint by 62,000 kg CO2 and has re-utilized 37,237 kg of scenography materials – the equivalent of 1,000 trees (Champagne 2020).

According to Anne-Catherine Lebeau, Ecosceno’s Executive Director, the company’s founders “do not want our professional lives to contribute to destroying the planet; [both of us] have children, and that creates pressure on what we want to leave behind.”

The company’s greatest challenge now is insufficient warehousing. However, since August 2020 Ecosceno has had access to more storage and has launched its online boutique, thanks to a government grant (Siag 2020).

While this emerging market is challenging, competitors are often seen as collaborators by Ecosceno. Lebeau explains that similar organizations in different parts of the country, such as the Centre for Sustainable Practice in the Arts in Toronto, engage with Ecosceno in sharing information about listings of clients, available sets and electronic platform design.

FestiVoix Presenting Activities

In contrast to erecting or recycling a building, as in the cases of Steppenwolf Theatre and Groupe Paradoxe, or changing the production process, as in the case of Ecosceno, festivals are dedicated to providing unique moments, which often result in high energy consumption and use of non-renewable materials.

In addition to its artistic mission, FestiVoix has “consistently developed its awareness-raising operations so that festival-goers adopt sustainable habits in a context of community solidarity,” according to its General Manager, Thomas Grégoire (Joubert 2004).

FestiVoix uses many performance indicators to measure its environmental impact (He et al. 2019). In 2019, 13,476 commutes were provided via shuttle buses, bicycles and electric carts; 2.5 tons of products, from stage materials to restaurant tableware, were recycled; 80% of purchases and rentals were from local enterprises; and more than 1,100 trees were planted to compensate for the event’s greenhouse gas emissions.

However, there are some challenges that have yet to be met, one of them being the recycling of disposable products on the site. FestiVoix has developed a Green Squad, an assembly of volunteers and employees who inform the public about eco-responsible behaviour with humour and lightheartedness instead of communicating restriction and guilt.


Having demonstrated how eco practices have been adopted by four performing arts organizations, the authors turn to a concept developed by Duxbury et al. (2017) to explain how culture can play different roles in sustainable development: culture in sustainability, culture for sustainability and culture as sustainability.

Groupe Paradoxe appears to view culture as a contributor to sustainable development (Duxbury et al. 2017). This first role of culture in sustainability is characterized as culture being one of many sustainability pillars: providing youths with technical skills for television and event production refers to the social pillar, while preserving the building and producing artistic events relate to the cultural pillar. With the goal of rendering the infrastructure eco-responsible (environmental pillar), Groupe Paradoxe also impacts local businesses by attracting large audiences to its cultural events (economic pillar).

Culture for sustainability is reflected in business approaches by organizations such as FestiVoix and Ecosceno. By considering culture as a tool for truly attaining sustainable development rather than as an additional pillar (Duxbury et al. 2017), FestiVoix leverages its large and attractive cultural offer by transmitting positive reinforcing messages about responsible consumer behaviour. FestiVoix carefully manages the connection between the hedonic aspect of the offer and the eco-discipline that is required of event-goers. By encouraging producers to use eco-friendly materials, responsibly dispose of artistic sets, and use these actions to enhance their reputation, Ecosceno is also promoting environmental responsibility among the public.

The role of culture as sustainability is visible in the DNA of organizations such as Steppenwolf Theatre. Rather than playing the role of promotor or educator, Steppenwolf is a catalyst for sustainable development. By prioritizing holistic planning with regard to the new addition to its venue, the company seems to believe that culture is the motor of progressive, forward thinking. By viewing culture as the foundation that encircles all other sustainability pillars (Duxbury et al. 2017), Steppenwolf Theatre regards culture as a catalyzer to draw “a multi-generational audience [to] navigate, together, our complex world.” Culture becomes so deeply interwoven with the other sustainability pillars that it grows into “an overarching concern or paradigm of sustainability” for these organizations (Duxbury et al. 2017).

Ernst et al. (2016) propose that, for artistic companies to be successful in adopting any of these roles to achieve sustainable development, three types of competency are required: (1) skill sets, (2) mind sets, and (3) heart sets.

Table 1 illustrates the main drivers of cultural management for sustainability and how each arts organization adopts different roles for itself and uses different visions of culture in sustainability, as well as which competencies it has developed in order to achieve its goals.

Table showing the four main drivers of cultural management for sustainability for the four performing arts companies studied

Bouranta et al. (2019) explain that five total quality management factors need to be considered by the service sector: (1) quality practices of top management, (2) process management, (3) employee quality management, (4) customer focus, and (5) employee knowledge and education.

Those are the key factors that may be needed for cultural organizations to be successful in terms of sustainable development. The authors find them in the four companies studied.


Walking the challenging eco-talk requires an integrated vision of culture within the sustainability paradigm, serious commitment to sustainable planning on the part of top management, coordinated investment efforts, and quality measurement. Organizations that are prepared to embark on this transformation will achieve a major step towards arts management success: retention of their customer base and acquisition of untapped audiences for the long term.

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