museums are also forced to maintain sobriety

Please keep your coats on! At the Lille Museum of Fine Arts, the temperature will drop to 18°C ​​in the permanent collections. This is the instruction given to all municipal exhibition sites by Mayor Martine Aubry since mid-September. The socialist city council launched, on 1er October with some twenty European cities, a “call to action for a shared sustainable culture”, listing about fifteen proposals such as, for example, carrying out a carbon footprint for each major cultural event.

It’s urgent. Faced with the energy crisis combined with the climate crisis, all the major national cultural establishments had to submit at the end of September to the Minister of Culture, Rima Abdul Malak, the report of their actions and proposals to reduce their energy consumption. The ministry should draw a summary from it in mid-October with a series of recommendations.

Then a more global action plan on the ecological transition of the cultural sector will be published in January 2023, following thematic workshops involving professionals. Beyond the announced reduction in the lighting of major monuments, the drop in temperatures in museums is on the agenda.

The Palace of Versailles at 19°C

Currently, the international standard is 20°C with a humidity level of 50%. “Numerous studies of Anglo-Saxon museums show that these criteria can be relaxed, while maintaining optimal conservation conditions for the majority of works”, underlines Bruno Girveau, the director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Lille, very committed to the subject. The Palace of Versailles has dropped to 19°C since the start of the school year, with finer settings for certain spaces with sensitive decor.

“Lowering the temperature naturally increases the hygrometry. As our winters are rather dry, it is a double win”, says Louis-Samuel Berger, deputy administrator of the castle. More cautious, the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay await the ministry’s recommendation before lowering the thermostat in their collections. As for temporary exhibitions, it is impossible to act without a consensus of often international lenders…

LED lighting expands in collections

But museums have other levers to switch to energy sobriety. In Orsay, the gradual replacement of lighting with low-consumption bulbs (LED) has reduced electricity consumption by a third in three years. The new president, Christophe Leribault, has also reviewed the work schedule. He postponed the creation of an educational center to renovate, as a priority, the large glass roof at the entrance, cooler in winter and oven in summer, at a cost of 7 million euros.

The Minister of Culture also indicated, when presenting her increased budget for 2023, that “the new investment credits will be primarily earmarked for work contributing to thermal insulation and improving the energy performance of buildings”.

At the Palace of Versailles, which is also converting to LEDs, there will soon be no more fossil fuel boilers, all replaced by heat pumps. With its vast park, the establishment is even studying the possibility of using geothermal energy. At the Lille Museum of Fine Arts, Bruno Girveau dreams of installing solar panels on the roofs, “but we have to obtain the authorization of historical monuments”he tempers. “Tomorrow, photovoltaic slates may allow us to get there”wants to believe the deputy administrator of Versailles.

Just modernizing the control of heating and air conditioning installations is already an effective tool. Tested at the Petit Palais in Paris, it reduced consumption by 22% between January and August 2022, compared to the same period in 2019, “so much so that we are going to extend this measure to the 14 museums of the city”says Anne-Sophie de Gasquet, director of Paris Musées.

Towards eco-responsible exhibitions?

Same effort at the Louvre, which has set up an “energy management”, labeled ISO 50001, and thus reduces its consumption by 17% in 2021 compared to 2018. For twelve years, the great national museum has been carrying out carbon assessments and tries to limit its impact by sorting and compacting its waste, ensuring responsible purchases, donating or reselling the panels or display cases used for these scenographies…

“We are not reusing them for our own exhibitions, because that would pose storage problems”, recognizes Maxime Caussanel, in charge of sustainable development at the Louvre. Paris Musées does better, which now reuses “between 60 and 95% of the material in its exhibitions”according to Anne-Sophie de Gasquet.

“It is from the design of exhibitions that we must act”, insists Bruno Girveau who has even limited their number in his Lille museum. A year ago, for “Experience Goya”, he also reduced the source of loans: “Only 40 works out of 80 came from abroad and only from European countries. » The reuse of crates for transporting works, the replacement of conveyors of works by simple video reports have been negotiated with lenders.

The association Les Augures, through its Lab Scénogrrrraphie program which also accompanies the Musée d’Orsay and the Réunion des musées nationaux, has also advised the use of digital projections, rather than too polluting screens.. “The carbon footprint of the “Goya Experience” was limited to 44 tonnes of CO2, i.e. the annual emissions of 4 French people. This is little ! », rejoices the director of the museum.

The end of major retrospectives?

Could this be the end of the dream and of the major retrospectives that drew large crowds? “We will always need large exhibitions”, observes Sébastien Allard, director of the Louvre’s paintings department. ” However, we can set up stimulating projects without falling into one-upmanship consisting, even between partner museums, in wanting to line up more and more works. » Another virtuous choice: bet more on local resources, as at the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon, which compared the still lifes of its collections with those of the Museum of Contemporary Art (Mac) last year.

Co-production also makes it possible to share between partners the carbon impact of exhibitions, such as orders for contemporary works. Since 2021, Paris Musées has networked with regional establishments. The exhibition “The art of appearing in the 18e century” has just circulated between the Palais Galliera, the Nantes Museum of Arts and that of Dijon.

One problem remains: the pollution emitted by the visitors themselves. At the Louvre, which receives 75% of foreigners, most of whom arrived by plane, the public accounts for 99% of the carbon footprint! At the Cité des sciences de l’industrie de la Villette and at the Palais de la Découverte, where the public is mainly French, its impact still amounts to 88% of emissions. Universcience, which manages these two sites, has set up a CO calculator on its online ticket office2 to encourage soft mobility. The establishment is also studying a green pricing project for 2023.


A Mooc and debates at the Center Pompidou

On October 10, an Art and Ecology Mooc will be launched at the Center Pompidou during an evening of debate and guided tours (free access). Director Cyril Dion, photographer Sebastião Salgado, sculptor Giuseppe Penone and designers Teresa Van Dongen, Humberto and Fernando Campana contributed to this free online course open to all, punctuated in 5 sequences, from the “feeling of nature” to “the art of living”.

From December 2 to 4, a series of events on “Climate: what culture for what future?” » will also be held in Beaubourg, in partnership with Ademe. On December 2, there will be a workshop on “the cultural sector in transition”.

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