Australian seminar: ‘Galleries, museums and climate change’

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Australian seminar: ‘Galleries, museums and climate change’

The title ‘Galleries, Museums & Climate Change’ pretty well indicates the agenda for what the participants of a one-day seminar held at the University of Queensland Art Museum in Australia discussed and shared knowledge about on 13 November 2013: a cocktail of energy efficiency, sustainability, climate change – and culture.


“The seminar looks at new approaches to environmental collection management protocols, lighting and sustainability. It also looks at ways in which our sector can educate and engage our audiences in issues of environmental sustainability and energy efficiency,” explained Executive Director of Museum & Gallery Services Queensland, Rebekah Butler.

Museum & Gallery Services Queensland – the peak professional body for the public museum and gallery sector in the Australian state Queensland – has organised the seminar in partnership with the University of Queensland Art Museum and the UQ Museum Studies.

Judith Nesbitt from Tate in United Kingdom led the discussion, speaking on the innovative work of this international cultural institution to reduce its carbon emissions and embed environmental sustainability across all areas of the organisation’s policy and practice. This includes building and exhibition design, through to the Tate’s catering and retail outlets.

Environmental sustainability at Tate

Judith Nesbitt is Head of National and International Partnerships at Tate in United Kingdom, and she leads Tate’s Sustainability Task Force with the aim of reducing the organisation’s carbon emissions and embedding environmental sustainability in policy and practice.

At the seminar, Judith Nesbitt gave a keynote speech on Environmental Sustainability at the Tate, and in the publicity material for the seminar, she gave a description of Tate’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact. She writes:

“For over five years, Tate has made a concerted effort to reduce its environmental impact and worked with colleagues in the museum sector to address the challenges specific to the sector.”

“This initiative has brought changes to how it cares for, presents and transports its collection, the operations across its varied estate, the design and engineering of its new buildings. Some of these changes are incremental; other changes require a greater shift, whether in practice or attitude. Staff, audiences, and artists all have a part to play in how we develop imaginative solutions to the environmental challenges of the 21st century.

Like many galleries, Tate has achieved reductions in the energy demand of heating and cooling its buildings, and taken the opportunity presented by capital projects, such as expansion of Tate Modern, to achieve energy efficient design through passive measures, maximising natural lighting and developing the use of LEDs.

All aspects of gallery practice are systematically examined, from re-usable wall systems for exhibitions, waste to heat contracts, to sustainable catering and trading. Aiming to embed sustainable practices across the organisation, Tate’s environmental strategy is championed by Green Reps, overseen by the Sustainability Task Force, regularly assessed by Trustees and detailed in its annual report.

The effort is not just an organisational one, since many of the most far-reaching changes require sector-wide agreement between lending institutions. Many international colleagues have indicated their readiness to adopt a smarter approach to running galleries and museums in the long-term public interest. Sharing experience and data is the first step towards well-founded changes of practice, which is why this seminar is a welcome opportunity.”


No international agreement on parameters

How to reduce energy consumption without compromising the preservation of collections is an important and unresolved question with no consensus among museums which aim to manage the environmental parameters in the face of climate change.

“Relaxed environmental conditions for museums to reduce energy consumption, whilst not compromising the preservation of collections, have been on the table for consideration by the conservation community for at least the last five years. It is acknowledged that existing parameters are based on a blanket approach, and are unnecessarily tight for all but the most vulnerable of artworks.

Major museums and galleries worldwide are recognising this and implementing relaxed parameters, such as the Tate, the Smithsonian and the V&A.

Two years ago it looked as though international agreement was close. However a significant proportion of the conservation profession are not convinced that the risks in relaxing these parameters can be safely managed. Accordingly consensus amongst conservators internationally is not going to be achieved and therefore there will be no new blanket environmental standards.”

Curating Cities

Public art and sustainability in urban environments
Dr Laura Fisher from the National Institute for Experimental Arts spoke on the Linkage project Curating Cities. Led by researchers at the National Institute for Experimental Arts (COFA) in partnership with the City of Sydney, Carbon Arts, Object, and the University of Cincinnati, Curating Cities examines how the arts can generate environmentally beneficial behavior change and influence the development of green infrastructure in urban environments.

Over the last year Laura Fisher has been involved in building the Curating Cities database of eco-sustainable public art, which is a resource for researchers, artists, commissioning agencies, government bodies and members of the public who are interested in how public art can generate beneficial social change with respect to environmental sustainability.

“Curating Cities rests on the conviction that public art can very effectively serve the sustainability agenda if it is integrated into the processes of reshaping urban infrastructure and managing the efficient use of resources in cities. This presentation will explain the aspirations that underpin Curating Cities, and discuss several exemplary public art projects that have been documented on the Curating Cities database of eco-sustainable art.

It will also discuss the database’s purpose as an informative and evaluative resource that documents the mix of aesthetic, civic and environmental concerns that each work seeks to address, and provides useful insights into the funding arrangements, multi-party negotiations and problem-solving processes that bring public art projects to fruition.”

Contemporary art meets the environment: Artists Janet Laurence and Caroline Rothwell discussed their work on display in the UQ Art Museum. The artists talked about how they make visible the interconnections between nature and culture, and elaborate the devastating impact of human action on the environment.

Emrah Baki Ulas, lighting designer, educator and researcher, Associate at Steensen-Varming and co-author of ‘The Technical Industry Report on Museum and Gallery Lighting and Air Conditioning’ spoke on future options for economically and environmentally sustainable methods of display environments, preservation and storage of art and cultural material.

Showcase: As an environmental sustainable showcase the seminar took the participants on a tour of University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute building.

» Media release about the seminar: MRGalleriesMuseums Climate.pdf

Our Carbon Footprint

In August 2011, M&GSQ held a state conference which had a plenary entitled ‘Our Carbon Footprint’.

Slideshows and videos of presentations from this plenary session, such as Guy Abrahams’ CLIMARTE presentation ‘Climate Change, Sustainability and the Arts’ (video | powerpoint-document) are available online.
» Learn more on

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