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How Galleries Are Responding to the Effects of Climate Change - Artsy

How Galleries Are Responding to the Effects of Climate Change – Artsy

Art Market

Ayanna Dozier

Apr 20, 2023 8:54PM

With the effects of climate change worsening each year, galleries around the world have had to quickly respond to the ecological challenges affecting their immediate vicinities. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need for new practices, as supply and demand became strained due to global travel restrictions and the redistribution of resources to aid the pandemic. For many galleries located in regions that have been hit the hardest by climate change—like West Africa, the Bahamas, Southeast Asia, and the southeastern United States—pressing ecological challenges are compounded by limited access to essential resources needed to run a gallery, such as affordable shipping methods and packing materials.

Climate change impacts all aspects of managing the global exchange of art, especially when it comes to sharing art with a wider audience. Amanda Coulson, gallery director of the Nassau, Bahamas–based TERN Gallery, noted that Caribbean-based galleries are faced with exorbitant shipping fees that compound the costs of everyday necessities: for example, bubble wrap that costs $25 comes to $175 with shipping fees. “We live in a developing island state, negatively impacted environmentally, economically, and socially by the legacy of colonialism and the continued imperialism by a number of large nations,” she said. These exorbitant price differences become more pronounced when buying materials to prepare for hurricanes.


Some galleries have made strategic changes in order to implement more sustainable operations. The Lagos, Nigeria–based Omenka Gallery chose to increase its online presence and reduce its art fair participation. “Efforts to lower our carbon footprint have led to Omenka rethinking attending several international art fairs,” explained gallery director Oliver Enwonwu and head of operations Ladun Ogidan. “[We] believe we can set standards for environmental responsibility and still retain the potential to reach huge audiences through more digital platforms just like most galleries and fairs operated during the COVID lockdown.”

Ahead of Earth Day, we caught up with these two galleries to learn more about the changes they’re making in response to the immediate and long term effects of climate change.

Shipping and travel

Enwonwu and Ogidan from Omenka Gallery emphasize the importance of using sea shipping over the air freight for transporting art to collectors, exhibitions, and fairs. According to the Gallery Climate Coalition, “Transporting an artwork by air has, on average, 60 times more climate impact than moving it the same distance by sea.”

Omenka also cites their use of online platforms to connect with collectors. Rather than travel to fairs, the gallery team employs online viewing rooms, which allow them to connect with galleries faster and with less interference.

Coulson from TERN Gallery cited that the island structure of the Bahamas makes air travel disproportionately more expensive for shipping goods, which has made the gallery more sustainable and resourceful as a result. “We also really try to think through shipping issues with fairs,” she said. “Crates are unsustainable—unless using, which is an awesome website designed to reuse old crates—and very costly.” When members of the gallery are traveling, they make arrangements to do so with the art. “We joke a lot about being ‘art mules,’” Coulson added.

Advanced planning

Advanced planning for ecological catastrophes is becoming necessary for many galleries. For Coulson, living on an island that is prone to hurricanes led TERN Gallery to invest in climate-proof storage, including using above-sea-level facilities to avoid flooding. Coulson believes that Caribbean galleries’ practice should be a model for other regions to follow as they are likely to be on the receiving end of these changes as well in time. For example, many galleries from the Caribbean monitored Hurricane Sandy and predicted flooding would occur in Chelsea; they were surprised that many galleries did not take further precaution to remove works from basement storage.

“We have always considered these things as not ‘if’ a hurricane comes, but ‘when,’” Coulson noted. “So, the gallery first of all sits on high ground, which is essential; our storage—which is inland—is built up a couple extra inches, and our shelving system also has a few inches. The storage is also climate controlled, which is simply necessary because of the heat and humidity, so that’s also a given (and an added business cost).”

Living in a region where the effects of climate change are a part of day-to-day life also makes Coulson an expert at storm preparation for the gallery. “We, of course, have a generator—as many homeowners do—because, again, that’s just our standard operating procedure,” she explained. “I also know how to charge my phone with a five-volt battery, a spring from a ballpoint pen, and a car phone charger. I’ve been known to make coffee on my gas BBQ.…Caribbean folks are all pretty resourceful when it comes down to it because we’ve been faced with these weather concerns [many times].”

Promoting art that makes an impact

For both galleries, amplifying local artists who speak to ecological issues is key and integrated into their mission statement. “We challenge our artists to address climate change through their work while using materials and methods that promote environmental sustainability,” Enwonwu and Ogidan said. “In addition, our community-based programming of mainly talks and lectures is in part aimed at raising awareness of the negative impact of climate change amongst the general public.

“In the past, we have staged several exhibitions of works made from repurposed objects,” they continued. “Today, a number of our artists have adopted environmentally sustainable practices in conceptualizing work from recycled waste…as well as raised awareness and engaged local communities on climate change.”

Coulson has shown the work of several artists addressing climate issues at both TERN Gallery and the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas (NAGB), including Kendra Frorup, a printmaker and sculptor working with salvaged objects; Anina Major, a ceramist and installation artist who creates plaited stoneware to preserve cultural memory; Tamika Galanis, a documentarian and filmmaker who makes images on the loss of communal heritage in the Caribbean; Lynn Parotti, a photographer and painter whose work navigates global warming’s effect in the oceans; and Antonius Roberts, who makes sculptures from fallen trees and debris from hurricanes.

“I think a lot of our artists address it both directly and indirectly: We are losing our flora and fauna to development and our native traditional crafts—especially straw plaiting—due to deforestation,” Coulson said. “Development is creating losses in traditional ways of living and land; it affects the environment very negatively when a mangrove is ripped up to make a golf course.”

Ayanna Dozier

Ayanna Dozier is Artsy’s Staff Writer.


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