By Amanda Rost
If it is possible for White Plaza to look normal, it has started to look considerably more so since the whimsical white tents, stages and displays were taken down after last weekend’s artistic experiment. For the later part of last week, White Plaza was graced with musical performances and student art displays that represented more than Stanford kids in spring quarter overdrive.
They were Vision eARTh, Stanford’s first annual three-day arts and sustainability festival, which lasted from Thursday, April 21, to Saturday, April 23.
Vision eARTh is novel in name, but established in concept. In past years, Vision eARTh was a series of two separate events: An Art Affair, hosted by Student Organizing Committee for the Arts (SOCA), and FutureFest, hosted by Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS).
According to Sarthak Misra ’13, Vision eARTh’s main organizer and SOCA director Ali McKeon ’11, the approximately 20-member Vision eARTh team is composed of students from all over campus who share a common aim to broaden people’s definition of sustainability.
“We wanted to combine the events because this way we’ll be able to address sustainability issues using artists as a platform,” Misra said.
The term sustainability has a nuanced definition across different campus populations. To the Vision eARTh team, sustainability formally means “anything I do that will allow other people to have access to the resources I have access to,” according to Misra.
The multifaceted nature of the event reflected the concept of sustainability as a way of thinking rather than a narrowly defined action. Over the three days of the festival, passersby in White Plaza were offered a myriad of attractions, including two tent installments of student art.
“It was fun just being in White Plaza and catching people as they walk by,” said contributing artist Katharine Matsumoto ’11. “It was a good way to engage people who weren’t planning on going.”
Vision eARTh and SOCA marketing director Jasmine Mann ’11 described the laid-back environment of this year’s event.
“We want to provide the most relaxed, most open environment,” Mann said. “It doesn’t matter how small, how awkward or however weird it is; we want your art.”
And indeed, undergraduate artist contributions ran the gamut of style, from a facial portrait composed of bottle caps to a painted mirror arrangement flirting with consumerism to an arrangement of photographs on recycled CDs.
Other main attractions included a Sustainable Fashion Show, put on by the Sustainable Fashion Collective. Another highlight was a concert organized by the Stanford Concert Network (SCN) featuring indie music group Broken Social Scene. The performance drew a surprising crowd of 300 spectators, perhaps because of the group’s growing popularity and recent appearance at Coachella.
The ASSU, Green Living Council (GLC), Stanford Farm Project and BeWell also participated in the event, as well as a number of student groups ranging from belly dancers, to a cappella groups, to Cardinal Ballet and the Stanford Improvisers (SImps).
“As a ballerina I never thought I’d be dancing for such a groovy cause,” said Audrey Solomon ’14 of Cardinal Ballet. “I loved looking out into the audience and seeing their faces full of hope for a green and sustainable future.”
The logic behind hosting so many different artistic performances goes back to the way most people view sustainability, according to Mann.
“The idea of Vision eARTh [is that] most people see sustainability as ‘Oh, it’s an engineering problem. It’s a political problem.’ But it’s also a cultural problem.”
“It’s approaching sustainability from a different angle,” she added.
The event culminated in a release party for the SOCA-produced Stanford Soundtrack. A highly anticipated appearance by venture capitalist and self-proclaimed “environmental pragmatist” Vinod Khosla was made before the release of the soundtrack.
Kholsa spoke to a tent-full of audience about the “hard part of sustainability,” poking fun at idealistic environmentalists–including Al Gore, whom he described as a close friend–for being skilled at identifying environmental problems but lacking in solutions. Khosla told his audience that he has “real beef” with environmental trends that are more founded in fashion more than practicality.
Kholsa emphasized the importance of bridging the gap between making things happen and wanting to make them happen. In line with Khosla’s warning to avoid reducing the green movement to “silly fashion statements,” Vision eARTh strove to show the power of appealing to both aesthetics and environmental consciousness to promote sustainability.