For most of 2016, I had R.E.M.’s song “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” from their 1987 album Document, stuck in my head. Anyone who grew up in the 1980s, as I did, with R.E.M. as part of their high school and college soundtrack will know that the song’s lyrics are meant to be ironic. Nevertheless, I don’t feel fine and I know from having spoken with many of you last fall, and especially since the U.S. election, that you don’t feel fine either.
Politics is a tricky subject even in the best of times. So why broach it now? Because if the recent election has taught me anything, it is that we cannot be silent and wait for others to speak out. There is no place for language that promotes and encourages racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, this kind of behavior is unacceptable and its outcomes hurt us all. It’s unfathomable, and disheartening, that we should still be speaking out against such prejudices in 2017.
Over the past several months, the editorial teams at architectural lighting and our sister publication Architect have had a number of discussions about what role, if any, a business-to-business (B2B) publication should play when it comes to reporting and commenting on the political events of the day. Our approach has been to focus on matters that relate specifically to our audiences, subjects of concern such as energy and trade policies, and to never waver from our editorial integrity. In a time when fake news and “alternative facts” are rampant, responsible reporting takes on even greater import, no matter the journalistic outlet. And as President Donald Trump lashes out against the media, who’s to say that B2B publications won’t be in his firing line at some point?
There are a number of challenges ahead, such as how the global economy will respond. I can’t think of an industry that has not embraced the postwar-era globalization. And with the shift to LEDs, the entire lighting industry is now reliant on electronic component manufacturers in Asia. Changes in trade policy could have a negative impact on this fragile international supply chain.
And what about science, technology, and research? By restricting certain populations from entering the United States, we cut ourselves off from subject matter experts and hinder the research and development process.
Professional associations also face challenges as they represent their constituencies. After the presidential election, I reached out to both Marsha Turner, CEO of the International Association of Lighting Designers, and Timothy Licitra, executive vice president of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, to see if they were issuing a statement. Both Turner and Licitra offered essentially the same response—that neither organization comments on election outcomes. This is not surprising, but it is disappointing that at a time when lighting designers look to their professional organizations for leadership, their leadership remains silent.
Architects, on the other hand, have not been so quiet. The American Institute of Architects issued a post-election statement that said it would work with the new president, causing a huge uproar among its constituency and resulting in apologies and resignations.
One successful example of advocacy has been the formation of Architects Advocate. More than 500 architecture firms have signed an open letter petitioning President Trump to “enact meaningful legislation to mitigate climate change.” Only two lighting design firms, as of now, have signed. Here is an opportunity for lighting designers to either form their own collective or to join with their architectural colleagues and as design professionals speak out about issues of concern.
We recently released our 30th Anniversary Issue, featuring “30 Moments in Lighting,” which provides architectural lighting a foundation heading into 2017. And I wonder: Will #31 be the moment when the lighting community finally stands up and leads the conversation?