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How museums are fighting the energy crisis

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In Strasbourg, France, visitors to museums are now more frequently confronted with closed doors. The city’s nine museums are now closed two days a week. Like many French cultural institutions, they follow President Emmanuel Macron’s call to save resources.

Meanwhile, Paula Orell, director of the Contemporary Visual Arts Network for England (CVAN), warns of a “new state of emergency” for UK museums already weakened by the pandemic. The London-based network lists the aftermath of the energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a database.

In Germany, too, a crisis scenario is looming – and the country’s museum stakeholders, as well as politicians and the general public, are worried. The biggest concern is skyrocketing energy costs. Gas prices could triple and electricity prices could double, according to a recent DW interview with the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which is responsible for some of Berlin’s major museums. In addition, inflation causes the costs of materials, transportation and labor to skyrocket.

In view of these figures, Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media Claudia Roth warns of a “cultural recession”, a decline in cultural activities. “Museums, theatres, cinemas and concert halls are energizing places of education, encounter, social warmth and community,” the Green Party politician said. For this reason, she believes that such institutions must remain open during the winter and supported as “anchor points of democracy”.

Ina Brandes, President of the Conference of Culture Ministers, expressed a similar view. However, the arts and culture industry must also make a “significant contribution to energy savings”, she added.

Are cultural assets like this painting in danger if the air humidity is no longer optimally regulated?

Political aid on the way?

What the German arts and culture industry can expect from politicians becomes clear after the latest talks between German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the heads of government of the federal states. The agreement drawn up following their talks mentions aid to the cultural sector in two places.

First, funds will be set aside in 2023 to provide targeted support to cultural institutions.

Second, the federal and state governments will discuss additional measures for the cultural industry should they become necessary.

While the German Cultural Council welcomes the resolutions, it nonetheless continues to sound the alarm.

The museum’s exhibits are at risk in the event of a power shortage, warns the director general of the German Cultural Council, Olaf Zimmermann. There are not enough air-conditioned storage spaces to protect all the works. In an emergency, he says, people will have to think about which works of art they really want to protect. “What’s missing is prioritization,” Zimmermann said in an interview with the German newspaper. Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

Meanwhile, as an emergency energy-saving measure, the German Museum Association advises museums to use “extended climate corridors”. In other words, instead of setting specific temperatures, there should be a temperature range that is considered acceptable, said Sina Hermann, project manager for climate protection and sustainability at the German Museum Association, at DW. However, she adds, an optimal climatic range depends on the collection in question and should be decided by museum curators.

Amid the crisis and rising gas and electricity prices, museums must also save energy

Amid the crisis and rising gas and electricity prices, museums must also save energy

A pioneer in energy saving in Stuttgart

From light-sensitive graphics to heat-sensitive paintings, each exhibit requires its own unique temperature conditions.

Museums must therefore regulate the humidity and temperature of their rooms, which of course requires energy.

For many years, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) established guidelines that museums were required to follow. A room, for example, should have a humidity level of 50% and a temperature of 20° Celsius (68°F). “Many museums have not questioned the standard values ​​so far”, explains Sina Hermann.

By March 2023, the German Museum Association aims to provide museums with energy guidelines.

The Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart is a pioneer in energy and environmental management. Since 2016, the museum with its collection of 400,000 pieces has reduced its energy consumption. The old museum building has been renovated with energy efficiency in mind; the exterior night lighting has been switched off; the lamps have been fitted with energy-saving light-emitting diodes; and hot water for staff was cut off. “So far, we have achieved all of our energy-saving goals,” says museum spokesman Georg Rotha.

Other exhibition venues have also developed ideas for sustainable museum management. The Städel Museum in Frankfurt, for example, heats and cools parts of its exhibition halls with a geothermal system instead of using gas. Likewise, the Museum Fridericianum in Kassel and the Kunsthalle Bremen also use geothermal energy instead of gas.

Stefan Simon, director of the Rathgen laboratory at the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Berlin, is an expert in energy saving in museums. He is particularly critical of the museum’s new buildings: “The more recent the date of construction, the more modern the museum, the higher the energy consumption, the more advanced the technology.

It can’t go on, Simon said in an interview with Bayerischer Rundfunk. He notes: “Cultural goods are not lost because the relative humidity is badly regulated in museums, but because there is a fire, because of a natural disaster or because of a war, as the one we are experiencing in Ukraine right now.”

This article was translated from German by Sarah Hucal