Arriving at the Museums Australia annual conference in Canberra a couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to be greeted by the news that CAMD (the Council of Australian Museum Directors) had the day before agreed to put sustainability as a priority action item for their next period of operation. As Andrew Sayers, the soon to depart Director of the National Museum of Australia, summed it up in an article in the Canberra Times;
The costs of maintaining collections are rising dramatically and museums worldwide are sharing ideas about how to make operations more cost effective. When I began working in art museums 30 years ago, it was a matter of pride for museum managers to maintain temperature and humidity settings within very narrow bands of variation all day, all year. Nowadays we recognise such conditions come at considerable environmental cost. The profession is looking, with some urgency, at ways of achieving acceptable conditions without the giant carbon footprints.
Read more here.
We, who have been talking this talk for the last few years, have always known that the key to moving forward was to get the museum and gallery directors on board with the issue. Some have been there for a while, witness Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate, at the IIC Climate Dialogue in London in 2008 saying he had no problem asking visitors to wear overcoats in winter rather than turn the heating up. Or these acerbic comments (and backhand slap to conservators) from Maxwell Anderson, formerly director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and now director of the Dallas Museum of Art, when he said this:
Throughout their history, art museums have spawned and fostered a subculture indifferent to developments in the world at large. Our ocean liner-like art galleries are slow to change course even in the face of evidence demanding it. A critical illustration of this habit is the rigid formula arrived at long ago that prescribes the set points of relative humidity and temperature in our museums.
It remains an unshakable conviction for most conservators and administrators that unless a museum can guarantee lenders that its interior climate is 20 degrees celsius and 50 per cent relative humidity (with an allowance for minor fluctuations), it has no business asking for loans, and cannot be trusted with its own collection. That conviction informs many facets of a museum’s operations beyond the cost, including how art is borrowed, lent, shipped, installed and stored.
I was then quoted in The Australian the week following the Conference on the issue, which you can read about here.
There is at last traction in this space, but as I wrote about in my previous blog on this issue, there are going to be no easy answers.