November 5, 2021

Art and the climate crisis: How can the art world go greener? 

As fires and flooding continue to make headlines around the world, the problem of climate change demands a solution, now more than ever. Historically, manufacturing industries and corporate conglomerates have faced the brunt of climate change activism, but as the climate emergency continues to grow, the spotlight has expanded. Though the art world may not be a direct offender in the pollution of our globe, as a major player in the international markets and as an influential force on contemporary trends and culture, this industry has an important responsibility to advocate for a greener future.


In keeping with the global restrictions implemented by the pandemic, the art world has been forced to adapt. Although travel restrictions led to the cancellation of art fairs and galleries contributed to the reduction of global emissions, this short-lived reality cannot warrant a commitment towards the wider issues at hand. As the art market strives to return to full capacity, now seems to be the perfect time to bridge the gap between the art world and the climate emergency. In the return to normality, 2021 has provided the closest thing to a blank slate for the industry to implement an evolved and consolidated environmental consciousness. Over this last year alone, many industry giants are already taking large and longstanding strides towards a sustainable future.


On the 28th of July, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation announced the recipients of 79 stipends that will be donated from a $5.1m fund to promote environmental sustainability projects and climate disaster protection in public galleries. In addition to these 79 grants, an additional $4.9m grant has since been pledged by the foundation and will be distributed over the next two years. The Frankenthaler Climate Initiative was inspired by the foundation’s goal of achieving net-zero status in public institutions. Grants of $100,000 have been donated to the Yale University Art Gallery and the Studio Museum in Harlem where audits with engineers will be carried out to define and meet the sustainability goals of these institutions. 


In response to international climate policy, seven environmentally conscious cultural organizations have formed PACT (Partners for Arts Climate Targets), a coalition that functions in line with the Paris Agreement. Art to Zero, Galleries Commit, Ki Culture, Gallery Climate Coalition, Art + Climate Action, Art to Acres, and Art / Switch have put their forces together to implement new and unified standards that aim to reduce emissions and achieve zero waste across the industry. This dynamic union brings together experts from different sectors of the art world and includes artists, gallerists, curators, public institutions, and conservationists. 


Whilst these strategies are essential for pioneering the ecological success of public and commercial institutions, it is essential to acknowledge the importance of art itself as a wider vessel for championing climate change awareness. The inherent diversity of commercial art can reach a wide and varied demographic of individuals. This autumn, Superblue, the immersive art experience group, will display a series of works across the globe’s art capitals that grapple with the ongoing climate crisis. New York’s The Shed has announced that it will be launching the first of these exhibitions with Fragile Futures, a series of five sound, film, sculpture, and kinetic works featuring the Dutch art collective, Drift. Studio Swine’s collaborative duo, Alexander Groves and Azusa Murakami will launch the London experience with an immersive artificial forest that explores the processes of creation and extinction. After installing itself in New York City in 2019, Arcadia Earth dubbed itself as ‘the first immersive augmented reality journey through planet earth’ and will remain on display until 2022. This experience tackles the realities of climate change, overfishing, and other essential issues surrounding the ecological crisis head-on, inspiring a call to action. 


Although these institutions are taking an increasingly active role in the ongoing war against climate change, there is still much to be done. It remains to be seen if these ambitious quotas will be met, and how these institutions will continue to rise to the necessary reforms and demanding needs of the ecological crisis. 


Written by
Miles Knapp
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