Cultura Circular: How the Caribbean and Latin America’s Festivals are Becoming More Sustainable

Three side by side shots of people engaging with a light structure in a field

Headshot of GracielaThirty six festivals from across eight countries in the Caribbean and Latin America have come together to learn and exchange knowledge through the ‘Cultura Circular’ Programme, delivered by JB and supported by British Council Americas.

This project has been a great example of how JB is working at scale internationally across multiple art-forms to support the sector to take action.

JB’s Creative Green Partnerships & Consultancy Lead, Graciela Melitsko Thornton, shares the main challenges and successes from this programme that aims to create a more sustainable cultural sector in the Caribbean and Latin America.

What does a cultural exchange programme with 36 festivals look like?

The second edition of Cultura Circular is underway! We were amazed at the popularity of the programme, with the number of applications to participate exceeding 1,000. Festivals from eight Caribbean and Latin American countries (Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Argentina, Brazil), across all artistic disciplines from film and performance to literature, have come together to learn about the activities of different cultural festivals in the region, and to foster an exchange of experiences with partner festivals in the UK.

Our Creative Green team have curated an exciting programme for Cultura Circular, consisting of a series of training sessions to explore sustainability and ecology topics, and to learn what leading festivals are doing. We have invited fantastic guest speakers, held spaces for reflection and debate around environment and models of development, explored practical solutions related to decarbonisation, circular economy, nature-based solutions and communication and behavioural change, and discussed the value of place-making in rural and urban contexts.

To meet festivals where they are in this conversation we are also hosting individual mentoring sessions with participants to discuss their plans for climate action.

Night time, outdoor festival with crowd
Festival Selvamonos, Peru

What are festivals doing to become more sustainable? What we learned from the first year of the programme:

Last year’s edition of Cultura Cirular was a rich experience of mutual learning. We asked the 33 participating festivals about their perception of climate issues and their current practices.

Climate actions

The most common actions included:

  • measures to reduce, reuse and recycle waste
  • offering vegetarian and/or vegan options during events
  • promoting fair, local and sustainable trade
  • communications campaigns that include sustainability
  • environmental/sustainability issues explored through the programming/curation

The wide range of issues that need to be considered to make operations sustainable can seem challenging, including issues such as energy use, procurement, catering, use of materials recycling, biodiversity, water, and food waste to name a few. However all participants valued the opportunity to collectively think about the prioritisation process, and key ingredients such as detailed knowledge, skills, time, and enthusiastic people.

Birds eye view of outdoor festival in the city, park, greenland
La Bienal de Música Córdoba, Argentina

Key findings – solutions and challenges

The success of integrating environmental sustainability into your project is often dependent on the internal culture of organisations and teams, coordination efforts across geographies, and the resources available in their locations.

Creativity and problem-solving are also at the heart of driving change and we learned about ingenuity and local solutions, such as:

  • the use and promotion of collective transport
  • agreements with recycling cooperatives
  • driving behavioural change with large suppliers
  • maximising synergies with other festivals

Motivating everyone to play a role in your action plan is crucial to achieving climate goals. It’s also vital that the whole team is involved in the process of developing the action plan – this is an opportunity to test new ideas, build support and capitalise on the existing experience within festivals. Many times this process required confronting business as usual or some inertia, the opportunity to craft a vision, assessing the cultural landscape early and understanding sociopolitical and geographical differences, as well as preparing for the unexpected.

Another focus was on approaching the supply chain. Involving all stakeholders is considered a priority. However, taking into account the different suppliers that can provide solutions based on their size, location, sector, or maturity, it is still a challenge for many to extend sustainable practices to the entire supply chain. Although progressively more festivals are working to implement measures, this is a recent trend. This means certain suppliers with more sustainable services or products are not yet competitive with the usual ones, assuming the cost is a barrier to continuing to advance in the implementation of more sustainable management models.

Panel session with four people sitting down and discussing
Panel with Cultura Circular Festivals at Mercado das Indústrias Criativas do Brasil

What next?

Peer-to-peer learning continued after the end of the programme encouraging the formation of an informal communication network. We are delighted that we are continuing to hear from participants in different forums about initiatives influencing stakeholders.

This year we also invited previous attendees as speakers to present their sustainability commitments and practical implementation to the new cohort.

We also asked participants to share their future commitments:

‘Improve the integration of the production team and give more emphasis to actions that reduce the footprint and impact.’

‘Use the influence of artists to communicate to attendees to reduce the environmental impact. Have more controlled waste management. Use foods and drinks with low environmental impact.’

‘Organized collection of electronic equipment for management. In-depth evaluation of the use and origin of the water and electricity we use. Improvement in the recycling of paper and materials. From now on we cancel any printing and the use of plastic bottles.’

‘Promote care for the environment through cultural management. Incorporate more measures of awareness, care, reuse, reduction, recycling and conscious communication in festivals. Deepen the work already done and incorporate new practices.’

We look forward to continuing this programme into a third year. More details to follow.

FICUNAM, Mexico. Cinema Festival

Festival Participants

Argentina: Bitbang; Filbita (Festival Internacional de Literatura Infantil);Festival Internacional de Cine de Mar del Plata;Ranchear;Open Folk;Festival Anfibia

Brazil: Se Rasgum; Afropunk Bahia; No Ar Coquetel Molotov; Brasil Eco Fashion Week; Barulhinho Delas

Colombia: Festival Detonante; Festival Estereo Picnic; Festival De Cine de Cartagena; Festival Entreviñetas; Festival Disonarte; VOLTAJE (Salón de Arte y Tecnología)

Cuba: Eco Manigua: Encuentro de Infancia, Economía Circular y Arte; Festival Fiesta del Tambor

México: FICUNAM; Feria Internacional del Libro Guadalajara; AXE Ceremonia 2024; Entre Lenchas, Vestidas y Musculocas; Festival Artístico Audiovisual Afrodescendencias; Festiva Internacional Santa Lucía

Perú: Festival Selvamonos; Festival Chincha; Festival Internacional de Cine AL ESTE; Festival “Mar, Conciencia y Soundsystem”

Trinidad y Tobago: Salsa Fiesta; COCO Dance Festival

Venezuela: Festival de Cine Venezolano; England my England, los sonidos del reino.; Festival Ascenso; Apamate Fest

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Relevant resources:

Future Festival Tools

Towards Zero Waste Festivals