ARTISTS COMMIT AND GALLERIES COMMIT: ART WORKERS UNITED AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE
Laura Lupton and Andrew Kachel
Artists Commit and Galleries Commit are artist- and worker-led collectives committed to a climate-conscious, resilient and equitable future.
Both groups seek to identify obstacles to taking climate action and then build pathways around those obstacles so that workers and artists have tools to advocate for more climate-conscious spaces in the art sector. We draw on collaboration, community building and responding to the direct needs of our artist and worker networks to create effective actionable avenues for impact.
This past year Artists Commit piloted “Climate Impact Reports”. These exhibition-based reports provide a framework for artists to start a conversation with museums, galleries, curators and other project partners with whom they collaborate in order to better understand the climate impact of exhibitions. Twelve reports were launched in the past year, with projects including Anicka Yi’s Turbine Hall Commission at Tate Modern in London, Hauser & Wirth’s Gustav Metzger exhibition in Somerset, Pipilotti Rist’s solo retrospective at MOCA Los Angeles, Deville Cohen’s residency at PS122 in New York and Allison Janae Hamilton’s solo show at Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York. In 2023 we will be providing Climate Advisors to mentor projects that are interested in completing their own Climate Impact Report.
Galleries Commit provides a database of climate action resources, hosts monthly community meetings and supports gallery climate action for over 150 gallery workers coming from more than 60 New York City galleries. Galleries Commit partnered with Art to Acres to permanently conserve close to 200,000 acres of ecologically vital and vulnerable land in Peru through collective donations from over 50 galleries, institutions and artists. We are continuing that partnership this autumn with a new conservation site to be announced soon.
When and why were these collectives founded?
Galleries Commit was initiated in the months before the Covid-19 pandemic by a small group of gallery workers that came together over a shared concern about the climate crisis. We gained a certain momentum during the early months of lockdown as we viewed that moment as an opportunity to ask galleries to stop and reflect on how their adaptability and resilience could translate into climate action. Artists Commit, our sibling organization, grew out of an organic alliance with artists in our initial outreach and a desire for artists to catalyze action within the galleries and other institutions they collaborate with to show their work. The organisation’s two different channels allow us to share resources and strategies and to amplify the actions and organizing capacities of both workers and artists.
How has your membership grown over time?
Both Galleries Commit and Artists Commit are grassroots, worker/artist-led initiatives.
The growth of our memberships has been primarily through word of
mouth and through our teams’ efforts to directly engage communities of gallery workers and artists.
Do you focus only on exhibition production or do you extend your activities also to other areas of art production?
Both/and! We are interested in seeking out opportunities to shift practices in all areas of artistic production, exhibitions and the ongoing circulation of art.
As a worker-led initiative, one of the key aspects of climate action we highlight is supporting workers and acting collectively to build movements within the community. If a gallery is over-extending their team’s resources, that has a direct and harmful impact on the climate crisis as it cultivates cultures of extraction rather than cultures of caretaking; it leaves our workers without the capacity to contribute creative climate solutions in their day-to-day work; and if workers are
burnt-out at the end of their work day, it leaves our community without active participants in local mutual aid, climate justice or community support projects.
Community building and acting collectively have been core to our initiatives as well: the climate crisis is an existential threat facing all of us and responding to it requires building and strengthening personal ties within and between our spaces and broader communities so that when moments of crisis hit, we can work together to respond.
What are the aspects of exhibition production that have the biggest environmental impact?
This depends on the exhibition. The Climate Impact Reports hosted on the Artists Commit website were produced by artists and institutions in response to specific exhibitions; these reports detail a wide range of different impacts and different actions that can be taken to address them. In general travel, shipping and building energy use are the highest carbon emission impact areas, especially 34 if you consider audiences travelling to visit an exhibition. Bulk waste often comes
from shipping waste and from building out exhibition spaces with single-use walls, carpet, ceiling or display elements like plinths. Slowing down exhibition turnover and providing teams with adequate time for planning and breakdown are some of the most effective ways of improving the overall climate impact of a project, while also creating better working conditions.
Can you offer some examples of how the environmental impact of the exhibitions mentioned above was reduced?
The focus of the Climate Impact Report initiative is transparency of climate impact, not necessarily reducing or eliminating climate impact. However, the process of making a report often leads to more climate-responsible decision-making: Deville Cohen sourced material for his residency at PS122 second-hand through platforms like Barder.art for example. Anicka Yi opted for exhibition elements
that were designed to be broken down easily and stored in efficiently packed modules after her commission at Tate Modern. Marianne Boesky Gallery made a strategic climate fund contribution to permanent land conservation in response to the carbon impact of Allison Janae Hamilton’s exhibition. Jenny Kendler made sure to pay artist assistants a transparent wage for her exhibition at Goldfinch
in Chicago. Part of the approach of the reports is to foster the individuality and creativity of climate action that emerges from the process of self-reflection through which the report framework guides a team.
How many artists are there in the two collectives?
There are over 300 artists who have signed up to the commitments listed on our website. There are about 10 core organizing artists.
And how many galleries or museums?
There are over 150 gallery worker signatures that come from over 60 different NYC galleries.
Is there resistance from galleries or institutions to applying your guidelines?
We provide tools and strategies to support workers and artists in moving past 35 blocks or obstacles that come up when they want to engage in climate action.
Everything we do with Galleries Commit and Artists Commit has been made in response to a direct obstacle workers or artists are experiencing and then coming up with a pathway around that obstacle to support them. We don’t impose guidelines, we simply offer tools to help empower those that want to take climate action to do so with support, community and effective tools.
Do you collaborate with other organizations such as the Gallery Climate Coalition?
Galleries Commit and Artists Commit are members of Partners for Arts Climate Targets (PACT), an international coalition of organizations within the visual arts engaged in collaborative efforts to accelerate the sector’s broad adoption of collective climate action. PACT defines new and ambitious standards for a more climate sustainable visual arts sector, framed by each partner initiative aligning on the following four pillars:
- Continuous greenhouse gas emission reduction;
- Transitioning to a zero waste sector;
- Unifying visions and shared knowledge for climate action;
- Centring intersectional environmentalism.
The current member organizations are Art/Switch, Art to Zero, Art into Acres, Art + Climate Action, Artists Commit, Galleries Commit, the Gallery Climate Coalition and Ki Culture.
Laura Lupton is a gallery worker and art and climate consultant based in New York City. Over the past decade, she has worked directly with some of contemporary art’s leading artist studios, galleries, nonprofit institutions, and museums to produce ambitious creative projects. With a focus on collaborative and worker-centered climate action, she is the co-founder of several initiatives at the intersection of art and climate: Galleries Commit, Artists Commit, Barder.art, and the Visual Arts PACT.
Andrew Kachel is a New York-based art worker and Director & Felix Gonzalez-Torres Liaison at Andrea Rosen Gallery. As a core organizer of Galleries Commit (2020-), he is part of a group of New York gallery workers organizing laterally toward more resilient and climate-conscious gallery models. He holds an MA from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College. Recent collaborative curatorial projects include Constantina Zavitsanos’s L&D MOTEL (2019) and A new job to unwork at (2018), both presented at PARTICIPANT INC.