How Do Art Institutions Embrace Sustainability? 1

How Do Art Institutions Embrace Sustainability?

Art is as much a form of political ideals and movements as aesthetics, and one ideal in particular – sustainability – has proven to be a vital influence in contemporary art. Artists fight for what they believe in through their art, whether that be advocating for peace, social justice, or environmentalism. Many artists over the years have made issues like climate change a central theme in their work. Contemporaries like Nils-Udo, a German artist who relies on found materials to build his work, or Seattle-based Chris Jordan, who uses his photography to expose the failings of unchecked consumerism. The list of eco-friendly artists grows daily as artists seek to resolve the seemingly inescapable problem of waste and pollution.

But the fine art industry also encompasses gallery owners, museums, and private collectors. It falls on the entire art market and fine arts industry as a whole to live up to the expectations and the ideals that environmentally friendly artists uphold. Many galleries and art institutions have taken it upon themselves to either partner with environmental institutions or work towards new initiatives to better conserve energy and benefit the environment. Some brands and creative organizations have even gotten in on the action, promoting sustainability by utilizing straightforward and lasting approaches. Here, we hone in on arts organizations and spaces to survey the ways in which institutions have been tackling sustainability as a central tenet to their mission. 

Art Institutions As Advocates for Sustainability

Sustainability Can Occur at Established Museums ( Toledo Museum of Art )

Based in Venice, California, The G2 Gallery was a nature and wildlife photography Gallery using the power and impact of photography to spread the message of change. Originally founded in 2008, their mission evolved further away from fine art, until recently the founders closed the gallery and re-opened as the Gottlieb Native Garden focused on native plants and the natural environment. While their gallery content was centered around being environmentally conscious, it was also run accordingly: G2 was situated in a building with natural light, resulting in lower energy needed for lighting photographs. G2 Gallery supported a long list of eco-friendly non-profits over its tenure, such as the Eastern Sierra Land Trust, International League of Conservation Photographers, White Lake Preservation Project, and Bat Conservation International before their transition to the Garden. 

Up and running fine arts company Earthworks Gallery places an emphasis on artists and makers who work in environmental and sustainable artistic practices. Open since 1992, the gallery is located in Waynesville, NC. The work on view is multi-disciplinary, featuring artists whose work spans jewelry, photography, pottery and painting. Earthworks serves as a great example of the scale that you can work at to make a business sustainable. A modest gallery with a simple website, the gallery gets right to the point online by pointing out that they sell exclusively sustainable art. While small-scale, they have managed to stay open for nearly 30 years: a testament to their dedication and drive toward long-lasting sustainability. 

Built-in Environmental Conservation

LEED-Certified: the Whitney Museum of American Art

The Whitney currently stands as one of the most environmentally friendly museums in the United States. Their list of sustainable design choices are lengthy, but just some of these design choices are their use of LED lighting in the galleries, or their gallery floors made from salvaged wood, or their cogeneration plant, which uses natural gas to create heat and power. One of the most amazing elements of The Whitney’s design is its glass panes, which are coated with a lining that filters out harmful ultraviolet light. In 2017, the Whitney earned a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council as a testament to their incredible design (at the time, it was only the second art gallery in New York City to receive this certification.) The Whitney doesn’t invest significant efforts in highlighting these sustainable intentions; rather, leadership decided to take the tactic of using these elements to support their artists, rather than making it the focus of their artistic identity. This indicates the dedication that the Whitney Museum places in featuring the artists on display within its walls, while still showcasing the commitment to eco-friendly architectural and design features that are important to the institution. 

The Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio is a yet another example of an establishment firmly focused on coming together and working towards sustainability goals. Founded in 1901, their goals involve art education, teaching visitors how to engage with art, and providing a framework for guests to understand the formal elements of art. In their efforts to become more sustainable, they’ve made aggressive reforms to become more energy efficient. These updates include the use of solar panels, which they have been able to use exclusively for extended periods of time.

These are just a few examples of different art galleries and museums that are working towards making themselves more sustainable and eco-friendly. There are innumerable galleries, organizations and institutions across the art world who are working towards the same goals across the world, making efforts across to board to do what they can to change the landscape of fine art for the better. While it falls on these spaces to do what they can to make these changes and set better examples, it also falls on the visitor to show these spaces that these changes are appreciated. If it matters to you that art galleries are eco-friendly, show them your support! Tweet about these important sustainability initiatives, or if you’re in the fine art market, buy art from them and note that you were interested in engaging with them as a result of these sustained eco-friendly efforts. Donate, with a note that environmental awareness played a role in your gift! In addition to these appreciative gestures, do what you can to put pressure on art spaces that have a long way to go in order to encourage them to change and do what they can to support the environment. The only way these changes can be made substantial and universal is if they are supported on every level of the art world. Hopefully, other institutions will follow the examples set before them by these sustainability-focused organizations!

Know of other organizations doing their part to keep the world green and sustainable? Highlight these movements toward sustainability and give these companies a shout-out in the comments below!

About the author

Audra Lambert

Audra Lambert is a curator, arts marketing consultant, and editor based in Sunnyside, Queens, where her Chi-Spaniel puppy graciously allows her to cohabit.

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