By Katherine Naylor, Marlboro Graduate MBA in Managing for Sustainability student and Vermont small business owner

The Role of Arts in Sustainable Living: Led by a panel of speakers including Kate Anderson, Molly Burke, Jess Calahan, and Doug Cox, facilitated by Alex Aldridge.

Click here to download Doug Cox’s handout at this session (PDF): SLS 2011 Cox handout

The dynamic panel of speakers started by telling their stories and past/present experience with the arts. All of the speakers are involved in the arts, through non-profit art programs, theater, local politics, and other professional and community arenas. The session then evolved into a participative conversation from the panel and audience members to try and explore the ways in which art and artistry connect with slow living.

Gross National Happiness: 5 primary steps toward happiness (as created through the arts): 1. Connect: potlucks, talk with each other, reach out from our artistic place to the community; 2. Be Active: teaching art, make art (don’t consume art); produce culture; 3. Take Notice: be connected with the world around you (pay attention); 4. Keep Learning: how do we keep growing as artists?; 5. Give: those who give are happier than those who don’t give (give what your passion is)

We then explored the following question: What are our shared values that connect slow living and the arts?

Our answers: Intention (intention slows down time, promotes awareness and connection with your life, problem solving through theatrical rehearsal); Randomness (edge of chaos); Interaction (yogurt: contains active cultures; slower pasturization process preserves the healthy bacteria); Inspiration; Desire to learn how to use one’s hands; Physical presence of arts to create value (arts, mainstreet rebirth, historic preservation connections); Survival of the fittest (cooperation and collaboration; Community Development; Relationships, valuing aesthetic and emotional aspects of life, rather than material and financial; Anything you love, slows you down in some way (making a cake for your grandchild, making love, etc.); Art is ageless and can help people of all ages find creative, community based activities; Engagement with the heart; Self actualization (I didn’t know I had it in me, root of resilience); Show a spiritual path for healing (photography)

Challenges to upholding these values through art: Socioecomonic barriers (could it be bridged by the schools?); Art as media (distract us, don’t build on our understandings in a positive way); Personal exposure (vulnerability, fear; artists either have a large ego or a small one); Economic barriers (not as a psychological barrier, but a financial one; our culture expects artists to do art for free)

This interactive group sparked a lot of ideas and connections to our sustainability learning in the Marlboro Graduate MBA program. First, the notion of “being” rather than “having” emerged for me and how some of the joint efforts to connect artists to town improvement planning can enhance the beauty of infrastructure in a town or city. Furthermore, it can bring people together to explore commonalities, talents, emergence of relationships, and social depth. Secondly, expanding my thinking to the business context, I found myself relating our discussion to the movement from a product-based economy that promotes unbridled consumption to a service-based economy that focuses to truly improve the quality of life through providing the service of comfort, heat, light, beauty, harmony, spiritual connection, social interaction, sustenance, and other basic human needs. Through providing these things under a service, there is incentive to supply efficient levels of input/output to a consumer while still making a profit, rather than to sell as much of a product as possible, whether it is needed, wanted, or healthy. This approach along with integrated arts and artistry I see as a path for successful slow living and the future of human happiness.