Los Angeles museums are taking a bold step toward environmental consciousness by rethinking their approach to temperature control within their exhibition spaces. As part of the Climate Impact Program launched through PST Art, the Getty’s arts initiative, institutions like the Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) are pioneering new strategies to minimize their environmental footprint while still preserving valuable artwork.

Doing What’s Best for Both Art and Environment

Traditionally, museums have maintained strict temperature and humidity controls, adhering to standards established nearly a century ago. However, new research and international art conservation guidelines suggest that wider temperature ranges can be safe for artwork and significantly reduce energy consumption.

Leading the charge is Laura Lupton’s firm, LHL Consulting, which developed the Climate Impact Program. By relaxing typical climate control standards, museums can substantially cut energy use, a critical consideration given the cavernous nature of exhibition spaces.

“Museums are the most trusted institutions, full stop,” Lupton said. “Being seen as institutions that are actually taking responsibility in making sure that museums are a climate solution inherently helps build a sense of community trust.”

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The Hammer Museum plans to pilot expanded temperature and humidity ranges in its upcoming PST exhibition, “Breath(e): Toward Climate and Social Justice.” Director of Exhibitions Michael Nock emphasizes the importance of reducing the museum’s energy footprint, saying, “The energy that we use to run the building is a really large portion of every project’s footprint… I can’t thank the artists who are in the show enough for being advocates for it and happy to sign on and endorse the effort.”

Some Museums Must Be First So That Others Can Follow

MOCA is also pushing boundaries by experimenting with temperature ranges in its new HVAC systems and site-specific installations. At MOCA, baseline emissions equate to the energy use of 20 homes, according to the museum’s 2023 sustainability report. However, with the implementation of a new energy management system for its HVAC system, the museum anticipates a 25% reduction in energy usage. Kelsey Shell, the museum’s environmental and sustainability strategist, underscores the urgency of adopting environmentally sustainable approaches in response to the climate crisis.

“It’s difficult for any institution to be the first,” Shell said. “This is an example where the Climate Impact Program and the discussions with colleagues that have come from that have allowed more institutions to feel safer in making those choices together.”

These efforts are part of a broader initiative within the PST Art program, themed “Art and Science Collide.” The Getty Foundation, which oversees the initiative, emphasizes the importance of collaboration.

“If each individual institution had to undergo this learning process all on their own, it would be really challenging,” said Joan Weinstein, Director of the Getty Foundation. “Doing it as a community sharing all those resources, sharing the knowledge that already existed in the community has so much more impact.”

A Conscientious But Natural Decision

By repurposing materials, encouraging on-site installations, and exploring sustainable practices, museums hope to integrate climate-based decision-making into their operations seamlessly. Other participating institutions include the Skirball Cultural Center, the Broad, and the California African American Museum, among others.

Ultimately, museums see themselves as key players in climate action, leveraging their status as trusted institutions to inspire community engagement. Through thought-provoking exhibitions and innovative approaches, they aim to spark meaningful conversations and encourage action for a more sustainable future.