How to be more sustainable: best practices for artists and galleries

· Gallery Resources

You might’ve heard about a man smearing cream pastry on the Mona Lisa in 2022. As he was led away by security he proclaimed “Think about the Earth”. Although the art-industry is not the most polluting global industry, its jet-setting practices contribute negatively to the overall environmental impact. And, as general public awareness grows, climate consciousness has become increasingly prevalent in the art world. To help you become more sustainable, Artsper has compiled our top tips on best practices you can adopt as an independent artist or gallery.

1. Explore sustainable alternatives to art fairs

An example of an online art fair ©​ Art Review

Art fairs have long been part of the artistic tradition - the first recorded fair took place in 1460 - and their prominence only continues to rise. However, as the number of international art fairs increases, the environmental impact of the numerous artists, journalists and art enthusiasts, who travel to partake in fairs augments also.

Virtual exhibitions and fairs offer a sustainable alternative to physical events, eliminating the need for extensive travel and the associated carbon emissions. Offering a sustainable alternative to physical exhibitions, these can take various forms, ranging from interactive 3D environments to immersive VR experiences, incorporating cutting-edge technology to create virtual viewing rooms and engage viewers in a new way. Virtual exhibitions and fairs have become increasingly popular in the art world with institutions and galleries embracing this digital frontier. From the Centre Pompidou’s Joan Miro exhibition and the Smithsonian’s exhibition on epidemics to independent artists showing their works, virtual platforms have revolutionized the way art is experienced and shared.

If the traditional art fair format still appeals to you, attending local art fairs is a more sustainable option, minimizing the need for long-distance travel and transportation whilst supporting local economies. Checking the sustainability credentials of a fair, ensures that you, as an artist or gallery, are only supporting fairs which are committed to reducing their environmental impact. Across established and emerging art fairs alike, most players in the art world are enacting tangible changes to become more sustainable. Art Paris, for example, adopted an eco-conception approach for their past editions, and as such were able to reduce waste by 45.8% and electricity consumption by 37.2%, between 2021 and 2022.

2. Fully utilize online resources

Example of the Artsper homepage ©​ Artsper

In the era of technology, it would be almost impossible to be successful as a gallery or artist without a digital presence. However, have you ensured that you are capitalizing on the wealth of online resources available? This is not only beneficial for your brand, but also for the environment. For sales, an online sales platform like Artsper can have a huge impact on providing global visibility whilst mitigating ecological impacts. Artsper provides access to a global market without requiring you to travel and show works in various countries. It also allows you, as an independent artist or gallery, to manage your inventory and track sales in a streamlined manner - improving operational efficiency and minimizing unnecessary resource usage.

For marketing and publicity purposes, leveraging digital marketing strategies can contribute to environmental sustainability. Eliminating the need for physical advertising methods like billboard or signage, it requires less energy to produce and operate. Digital marketing also allows you to target specific, demographic based audiences and deliver personalized content to potential customers. This in turn reduces waste associated with mass advertising campaigns.

Although digital carbon footprints mean that investing in online spaces is not an entirely carbon neutral option, by harnessing the power of digital platforms and optimizing your digital strategy, you can significantly reduce your environmental footprint whilst expanding your reach and impact.

3. Ship works sustainably

Joanna Glazer, Boat, 2012 © Artsper

In an industry which relies on shipping works to collectors worldwide and partaking in international art fairs, it is not surprising that the carbon footprint of the art market is approximately 70 million tonnes of carbon per annum. And, although cutting out international travel entirely is not possible, there are alternative approaches to reduce the subsequent environmental impact.

Utilizing eco-friendly materials is a small change that can have a large impact. The volume of material required to frame, package and ship artworks is extremely high; opting for recyclable, biodegradable or reusable packaging materials reduces waste and minimizes the environmental impact. It is important to note however, that biodegradable and compostable packaging still produce greenhouse gas emissions so your biggest priority should be to reduce packaging as much as possible!

Zhora Gasparyan,The Waste Land, 2021 © Artsper

Additionally, as a gallery or artist, you can explore carbon-neutral shipping services or partnering with companies that prioritize sustainability and actively contribute to reducing emissions. Shipping pieces by sea freight as opposed to air freight can lead to a reduction of almost 95% in emissions! And, although alternative transportation may take longer, it can prove to be a cheaper method of delivery.

Updating your practice to become more sustainable might appear a daunting task but there are a wealth of resources to help. The Gallery Climate Coalition, a collaborative initiative of galleries, not-for-profit organizations and individuals in the art market committed to addressing climate change, launched its Sustainable Shipping Campaign in May 2022. This campaign provides guidance and tools, alongside outlining actions for galleries and artists to take in order to facilitate a rapid and efficient transition to sustainable freight options. Converting to sustainable transportation is the most obvious and impactful change to implement in order to create a more sustainable and ecological art industry.

A future for all

Embracing sustainability is not only crucial for preserving our environment but also presents an opportunity for artists and galleries to lead the way towards a more socially responsible and eco-conscious future. By implementing these best practices and embracing sustainable principles, your art can be enjoyed globally whilst minimizing the environmental impact. Which of these ideas do you think you’ll apply first ?


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