How Bay Area art galleries are coping with their role in the climate crisis


Like Jessica Silverman, Friends Indeed, which Meng co-founded with Eric Li and Nazlı Ercan, is committed to reusing packaging and working to consolidate shipments when hosting exhibitions. The gallery also participates in only three art fairs, one local, one in Miami and one international, thus reducing travel. For the latter two, they try to work with local artists, who won’t have to fly to be there and can deliver their own work. Another easily transportable means of presentation like video also reduces, if not completely removes, the burden of shipping.

Meng notes that shipping rather than air is another effective way to reduce carbon emissions. In fact, according to ARTA, a fine art shipping company dedicated to leading the industry in reducing its carbon footprint, “A passage from air to sea during a transatlantic shipment of a crate at a medium scale can reduce carbon emissions by a factor of up to 40.” This does, however, require significant advance planning, as the trip can take up to four times longer (airfreight typically takes 5-10 days and ocean shipping 20-40).Meredith Blechman, Head of Marketing and Partnerships for ARTA, also points out that ocean freight transit times have been “further exacerbated by the global supply chain crisis”.

In addition to strategic approaches to shipping and traveling artwork, a number of galleries and arts organizations are helping to offset their carbon footprint. For example, Galleries Commit, ARTA, Friends Indeed, and many other arts organizations contribute to the California-based artist-founded nonprofit, Art in the Acres. Art into Acres helps artists and art institutions invest in large-scale land conservation efforts, focusing on ancient forests and other ecologically vital lands.

David Wilson, Claremont Canyon2018, watercolor on found cardboard, 19 ⅜ x 25 ¼ in. (frame built by the artist).
Nkiruka Oparah, Poetics of reverie2014, digital collage on archival paper, 24 ⅛ x 18 ¼ in. framed, edition of 5. (Courtesy of Round Weather Gallery.)

For small, hyper-local galleries like round weather in Oakland, carbon emissions from shipping and art travel aren’t an issue. Director Chris Kerr founded Round Weather in December 2020 to specifically help alleviate the climate crisis. The non-profit gallery caters primarily to local artists and collectors and does not participate in art fairs. Additionally, Kerr dedicates 40% of sales proceeds to environmental causes chosen by Round Weather’s advisory board, which includes environmental experts such as author and activist Bill McKibben.

However, for galleries whose business model is integrated into the global art market, it can be difficult to set up new systems. When asked what makes reducing emissions so difficult, Blechman points out, “Some galleries have hired employees who are solely focused on sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint.” In other words, this job is a full-time job. Most galleries work with small teams and tight budgets. As a result, says Blechman, “the main reason why more and more galleries and companies are not changing their business models in more environmentally friendly ways is that they don’t have the internal resources to devote to it. and often they don’t. I don’t even know where to start.


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