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How Bay Area Art Galleries are Responding to the Climate Crisis

How Bay Area Art Galleries are Responding to the Climate Crisis

A vertical illustration and a horizontal image of an African American man with digital enhancements, in diptych

Like Jessica Silverman, Friends Indeed, which Meng co-founded with Eric Li and Nazlı Ercan, is committed to reusing packaging and works to consolidate shipments when organizing exhibitions. The gallery participates in three art fairs: one local, one in Miami and one international. This reduces travel costs. They try to work with local artists for the latter two. They don’t have to fly and can bring their own work. Another Presenting easily transportable media like video also reduces—or altogether removes—the burden of shipping.

Meng points out that shipping by sea is another way to reduce carbon emissions. In fact, according to ARTA, an art transport company dedicated to leading the industry in reducing its carbon footprint, “A switch from air to sea on a transatlantic shipment of an average-scale crate can lower carbon emissions by a factor of up to 40.” This, however, requires significant advance planning, since the journey can take as much as four times as long (air freight typically lasts 5-10 days and shipping by sea 20-40). Meredith Blechman, head of marketing and partnerships for ARTA, also points out that sea freight transit times have been “further exacerbated by the global supply chain crisis.”

A number of galleries and organizations are contributing to offset their carbon footprint by adopting strategic approaches to art shipping and travel. Galleries Commit is a California-based, artist-founded non-profit that includes ARTA and Friends Indeed. Art into Acres. Art into Acres supports artists and art institutions in large-scale land conservation efforts. It focuses on old growth forests as well as other ecologically valuable land.

A vertical illustration and a horizontal image of an African American man with digital enhancements, in diptych
David Wilson Claremont Canyon, 2018, watercolor on found board, 19 ⅜ x 25 ¼ in. (artist-built frame).
Nkiruka Oparah, Poetics for Reverie, 2014, digital collage on archival paper, 24 ⅛ x 18 ¼ in. Edition of 5. (Courtesy Round Weather Gallery.

For hyper-local galleries, such as All-year WeatherOakland has no problem with carbon emissions from shipping or art travel. Round Weather was founded by Chris Kerr, Director, in December 2020 to address the climate crisis. The gallery is a non-profit that focuses primarily on local collectors and artists. It does not participate in art shows. Additionally, Kerr commits 40% of proceeds from sales to environmental causes chosen by Round Weather’s board of advisors, which includes environmental experts such as author and activist Bill McKibben.

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It can be difficult to set up new systems for galleries whose business model is tied to the larger, international art market. When asked what makes reducing emissions so challenging, Blechman points out, “Some galleries have hired employees that focus solely on sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint.” In other words, this work is a full time job. Most galleries work with small budgets and have lean teams. As a result, Blechman says, “The number one reason that more galleries and businesses aren’t changing their business models in more environmentally conscious ways is because they don’t have the internal resources to dedicate to it and, often, they don’t even know where to start.”

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