Greening the performing arts - Wolf Trap walks the walk and performs the talk

Captain Sparetire and the Junkyard Pirates

This Earth Day I was invited by Wolf Trap – a foundation for the performing arts here in the DC area – to attend one of their educational outreach performances for children.  The program was part of their “Start Early for the Earth” initiative that teaches kids about the environment through engaging performances.  This is just one of Wolf Trap’s many initiatives to come out of their “Go Green” campaign which began two years ago as part of a vision to reduce the foundation’s own environmental footprint while using the stage to inspire audiences of all ages to take action to protect the environment.

By incorporating institutional changes such as installing light sensors, increasing recycling, using biodegradable products at their concession stands, and providing a metro shuttle to their facility to encourage public transportation, Wolf Trap has reduced its carbon footprint by 20%, decreased its energy consumption by 23% and cut its landfill waste in half in the past two years alone.  Not only that, but their efforts have translated into savings by reducing their cost of waste hauling and bringing down their energy bills.  Their goal is to be a carbon neutral and waste-free organization.

In addition, Wolf Trap is extending their efforts to the greater performing arts industry.  In 2009, they helped commission a study of over 300 performing arts organizations to identify the industry’s desire to “Go Green” and to understand the areas where organizations need the most help to implement green initiatives.  Wolf Trap is also a founding member of the “Green Music Group” – a coalition of musicians and music industry leaders dedicated to greening music events and using the events as a platform to inspire and encourage environmental action.  Another of the group’s founding members is Sheryl Crow who was recently honored by NRDC for her environmental leadership.  

But on top of these accomplishments, Wolf Trap has also made changes to incorporate environmental themes into its performances.  In announcing the creation of Wolf Trap’s “Go Green” campaign in 2007, the foundation’s president, Terre Jones, described the inextricable link between art and nature thereby illuminating the role that the performing arts has to play in the environmental movement.  “What the arts can do is INSPIRE! I contend that as our natural environment erodes around us, along with it, so does our art and ultimately our self-awareness… all art is a product of nature.  I believe the arts have a role; have an obligation to inspire our sustainable future.”

In keeping with Wolf Trap’s dedication to inspire though the arts, the Foundation has commissioned eco-themed works to inspire audiences to do their part for the environment.  For example, The Sun Road, is a multimedia dance reflection on the melting of the glaciers in Glacier National Park, which premiered at Wolf Trap as part of the Face of America series. 

And, as I mentioned at the beginning, they also have performances aimed at kids.  One of their most popular is a puppet show called Junkyard Pirates which teaches kids the difference between trash and recycling through the use of puppets, song and of course, pirates.  My 3 year old pirate and I attended the show which tells the story of a little girl named Shelly Lots-of-stuff who is putting her trash out to be picked up when the Junkyard Pirates swoop in to pick out the treasure of recyclable items - by doing so they keep the landfill monster from getting any bigger.


Photo: Junkyard Pirates at Wolf Trap Education Center (with permission).

Here’s a shot of Captain Jack Sparetire in front of a pirate’s favorite letter – Rrrr! (Which stands for Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Repair, of course.) 

While my 3 year old knows that some things belong in the recycling, others in the compost and the rest in the trash, it’s more of a classification skill than a true understanding of what happens to these things once they leave our house.  But this morning as we put out our trash and recycling, we talked about which things the pirates would use to turn into new items and which things would unfortunately go to feed the landfill monster.  It provided a fun and age-appropriate way to discuss the less than dynamic topic of waste and reuse! 

The entire program not only taught kids an environmental message, but also introduced them to the arts both through stage and music by bringing in a jazz trio to discuss various elements of music styles.  By bringing this message to over 7000 kids in the DC metro area so far, Wolf Trap is teaching art appreciation while inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards.  And by taking the steps to green their operations and those of others in the music and art industry, Wolf Trap is well on its way to creating a culture of environmental responsibility throughout the arts community, and the community at large.