Sustainability has been something of a watchword in the museum and gallery sector for some time now and yet there has not been a great deal of take up among the leading institutions of measures that help to bring it about. Although nearly every museum around will have recycling bins for attendees to use, there is less action when it comes to the energy consumption of some of the larger institutions. Galleries, in particular, tend to have a high demand for electrical energy in order for their works of art to be lit properly. Furthermore, many museums – especially those which occupy older buildings – have huge heating bills. Both of these factors mean that their carbon footprints can be high. This has an environmental impact, of course, but it also tarnishes the image of many public-facing institutions.
In an effort to turn the tide of high energy consumption, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, better known locally as ICA LA, has turned to a public funding platform to help it out. The powers that be at ICA LA realised that their museum’s architecture made it a suitable building to install a solar array of photovoltaic panels. After all, it has a 12,000 square feet rooftop that is almost entirely flat. This would mean that it would be able to generate its own electricity on its roof and use it within the museum. At times when the museum was closed – such as public holidays, for example – excess energy production could be sold back to the grid, helping to create an income stream as well as off-setting the times the museum needed to draw on traditional sources of power.
The problem was that the aim of turning to solar power for all of the museum’s daily requirements meant investing in a large array of panels. Of course, the issue here was purely financial. Although the photovoltaic panels would pay for themselves in the long run by reducing expenditure on utility bills, there was a significant upfront cost to budget for. This is where the Kickstarter platform for raising funds came in.
What Is Kickstarter?
Based in Brooklyn, New York, Kickstarter is an online global fundraising platform. It uses the so-called crowd-funding model in order to raise a target set by individuals or groups for any sort of project – commercial, artistic, journalistic or food-related – from small donations. Kickstarter works when people pledge money against a project they support. Nothing is paid until the project reaches its target. Only when and if they do are the funds transferred so the project can begin.
In the case of ICA LA, in the region of $150,000 for the planned solar array had already been arranged via a solar incentive rebate scheme that is run by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Nevertheless, this still meant that the project could not get off the ground unless ICA LA was able to raise the rest of the money either from its own coffers, from borrowing or from another means. Given that the green nature of the project was likely to be of public interest, the finance team at the museum opted to for a Kickstarter campaign (interested in using Kickstarter to fundraise, check out this film).
ICA LA’s Crowd-Funding Campaign
In common with most crowd-funding campaigns that use the Kickstarter platform, the idea is that pledges are met with some kind of reward. In other words, people do not donate simply because of their sense of philanthropy but because they will get something out of the deal. ICA LA decided that it would set its Kickstarter target at $25,000 which would contribute towards the installation of over 200 photovoltaic panels and six inverters – the devices which convert the direct current they generate to usable alternating current. Benefactors would know that they had contributed to global carbon reduction but also be awarded with naming rights for their chosen solar panel if they donated $100. For patrons who pledged $225, an inverter would forever bear their name.
“As part of the campaign, ICA LA will be providing updates [to our backers],” said the Deputy Director of Advancement at ICA LA, Samuel Vasquez. “As we progress with the installation, we will be talking about what’s happening on the roof.” Vasquez went on to say that he thought it was important to run a public education programme about the project because the museum wanted to encourage others in the sector to understand how going solar with public funding is truly feasible.
In fact, the US museum is not the only art museum to take a more determined attitude to global climate change this year. In the summer, Tate Museums Group – an organisation that includes the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool and Tate St. Ives in Cornwall – announced it would diminish its carbon footprint by ten per cent by 2023, following what it called ‘a climate emergency’.
While other museums are working to tackle other environmental issues such as single use plastic.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.