OSCaR - a project for Opera Sceneries Circularity and Resource efficiency

From December 2019 to December 2021, OSCaR has gathered leading European actors who shared a common concern for Sustainability and Circular Economy, and decided to collaborate together to explore new ways of designing, producing and managing opera sets after the paradigm of circular economy, in order to make them sustainable.

OSCaR was co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Commission.

The project consortium included:

  • Lyon Opera (France),
  • Gothenburg Opera (Sweden),
  • Tunis Opera (Tunisia),
  • UNESCO Chair for Life Cycle and Climate Change (Barcelona, Spain),
  • Cité du design (Saint Etienne, France),
  • CIRIDD, International Resources and Innovation Center for Sustainable Development (Saint Etienne, France),
  • AdMaS (Advanced Materials, Structures and Technologies), science centre and comprehensive civil engineering research institution, part of the Faculty of Civil Engineering at Brno University of Technology (Czech Republic).


Environmental challenges

Human society is confronted with an unprecedented situation, which it has largely contributed to creating, and for which practical, effective solutions must be rapidly found. The scarcity of resources, one of the corollaries of which is the increase in extraction costs, means that it must completely revise the way material flows are managed, and devise and implement resource-efficient lifestyles. The environmental impact of transport, including very high concentrations of fine particulate matter in large urban areas as well as on certain roads, is making it increasingly necessary to create a form of economic relocation, which in turn generates employment. In the face of global warming, States have finally made a collective commitment to implement action aiming to mitigate and adapt to this. Resources, pollution and climate are all environmental challenges making up a major global trend, which is the source of great economic, social, political and geopolitical tension.

Financial pressure

States in particular and the authorities in general must solve their debt and even over-indebtedness problems. As a result, they are increasingly backing out of financing activities they have long supported, at least in some European countries, especially in the cultural field. This is also a major trend, which is already creating financial pressure on cultural institutions, strengthening competition between them and weakening them.

Societal expectations

The digital revolution, a tool for disseminating and sharing, for creating and innovating, is reshuffling the cards in all economic sectors. It is destroying jobs and creating others, which will require training, not only for future workers but also for those whose jobs are already disappearing. It is radically transforming social relations, at work and in all human activities. The expectations and practices of what has become an active "civil society", are changing. Young people are refusing the role of consumers that their elders played; their ideals are moving gradually from having, to being and making. In the years to come they will probably be less ready to be cultural consumers, and probably less likely to submit to an agenda decided by programmers. This too is a major trend which is already forcing cultural operators to review their offers and their economic models. How will the arts and/or the performing arts change? Are they on the verge of extinction? Will they also have to reflect on the conditions of social acceptability?

A path towards circular creative industries

Cultural operators are responsible for finding or proposing answers to these questions. In a world in which transformation is speeding up and sometimes gives a glimpse of only the worst, even to optimistic minds, it is up to them, as stakeholders of culture and economic players, to mobilize what forces are needed in order to think up and implement other possible ones.

The principles of circular economy can help them in part. How and for what purpose?

The very idea that nothing is waste but everything is resource is particularly fruitful for creation. Put more prosaically, optimizing the flow of matter and energy, and rethinking the uses and life cycles of objects will provide effective responses to environmental challenges, and will ultimately relieve financial pressure through the savings made. In addition, the circular economy invites or even "obliges" the development of different kinds of collaboration in local areas. Far from signifying withdrawal into itself, this territorial dimension of the circular economy is on the contrary (re)founding of new forms of solidarity and opening the way to new circulations. Today, however, the circular economy remains something on the horizon, sometimes even unsuspected, for many economic players, especially in the creative sectors.

And yet there is one subject, a difficulty common to all European operas, for which the contributions of the circular economy are easy to understand. That subject is scenery, or sets. It could be said of the design and production of sets that they are an "economy of prototypes": no standardization and no mass production is possible. They are the result of artistic creation; they are the translation of a concept that could be said to be unique, linked to dramaturgy and a staging project. And they are protected by copyright. In addition, opera theatres have the objective of programming a single work on several occasions, over an indefinite period of time, which is often counted in years. This results in the need to store the sets; this storage induces a financial cost for theatres through rentals, energy and maintenance, and an environmental and financial cost for the regions (land use). Rethinking how sets are used, reviewing their design, construction principles and the choice of materials according to the principles of circular economy are perhaps the keys to the problem. Solving it will help cultural operators to meet the challenges they face, and in so doing will contribute to respond to the issues of local areas and communities, and more broadly, of Europe. This is in any case the assumption that we are making.