By: Anna Smith
Image: from We are part of nature, not outside of it. What we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves, Andrea Bowers, (quote by Petra Kelly, original illustration by Henry Justice Ford, from the pink fairy book, 1897), 2022.
Sustainability in art is one of the top ten concerns for high net-worth art collectors, with up to 70% considering more sustainable options when building and managing collections (Art Basel & UBS Art Market report, 2022). This has been reflected by a focus on supporting artists and exhibitions that highlight environmental issues and a widespread drive to espouse more sustainable practices across the art world.
Museums were among the first in the art world to take on the issue of climate change, with a proliferation of exhibitions raising awareness. The Royal Academy’s eARTH: Art of a Changing World (Dec 3, 2009 – Jan 31, 2010) was one of the first, bringing together 30 international artists to examine the impact of climate change on humanity.
In 2023, in London alone, the Tate, Barbican Centre and Hayward Gallery all focused on bringing attention to climate change. The Hayward’s Dear Earth: Art and Hope in a Time of Crisis (Jun 21 – Sep 3, 2023), was the flagship event in an entire season dedicated to the climate emergency. Internationally, countless other museum shows grappled with the same topic everywhere from Buenos Aires, to Manila and Brisbane.
As well as using their platforms to raise awareness and prompt discussion around sustainability, they have made efforts to reduce their own carbon emissions and make more sustainable choices in terms of design - including materials and practices employed – the distance and manner in which art is freighted.
Spain’s Prado Museum switched to a new LED lighting system which has allowed them to reduce energy consumption by 75% over the previous year. Meanwhile, The Louvre has instated a dedicated Environmental Officer, responsible for guiding the museum towards more sustainable practices. Many are taking a more localised approach to exhibiting, pulling art from the local community. Sweden’s Moderna Museet focused its 2022 programming on exhibitions created solely by artists onsite which reduced the need for carbon intensive shipments.
Although there is more the art world can do to play its part in promoting sustainable practices, the effort made by museums and institutions should not be underestimated. Art has always served to reflect and amplify the important issues of the day, and there is no doubt that museums recognize their own important role in raising awareness. This goes hand in hand with setting an example by living the principles too. To date, their initiatives in this regard, though significant, can be regarded as a work in progress.
But what is the commercial side of the art world doing to support sustainable practices? In the next piece in this series, we look at what fairs, shippers and galleries and auction houses are doing in response to climate change.
Anna Smith is a Senior Collection Manager within the Art Management division. She manages the art collections of a number of ultra-high net worth, international families.
Prior to joining the Stonehage Fleming Group, Anna spent three years at Christie's as a Senior Client Manager before joining the American wealth management and investment firm, Iconiq Capital. Anna received her Master of Fine and Decorative Art degree from the University of Manchester and Sotheby's Institute of Art London.