Thermal glass and solar power: Helen Frankenthaler Foundation gives $3m to help US art organisations reduce their emissions

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As the art world prepares for an exceptionally busy autumn of collectors, gallerists, curators and auction house specialists jetting across oceans for fairs, sales and biennials, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation is offering a gentle reminder of the need for the sector to reduce its carbon footprint. The foundation today announced $3m in grants to support the development and implementation of projects to reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption at 49 arts organisations across the US.

The grants, the second round of funding under the foundation’s $10m Frankenthaler Climate Initiative, which launched in July 2021 with $5.1m in grants for 79 institutions, bring the initiative’s total funding to $8.1m.

This second round of grants expands on the first round’s pool of eligible recipients, going to art schools and non-collecting institutions as well as museums. The monies are intended to support projects that fall broadly into two stages of development: helping institutions identify, develop and plan projects that can reduce their carbon footprints, and enabling them to execute such plans.

“The first round of FCI’s funding helped museums actualise climate neutrality commitments, prepare for and respond to climate-driven disasters, and create avenues to achieve long-term operational sustainability, among other key goals,” Frankenthaler Foundation chair Lise Motherwell says in a statement. “This second phase expands our reach and impact by advancing current projects in development and providing a new roster of visual art institutions with the support needed to meet their climate goals.”

The 49 recipient organisations are located in 19 states all across the continental US. They include helping the Museum of Modern Art in New York to develop its cold storage vault, supporting the construction of a thermal envelope of high-efficiency glass at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, installing solar systems at the Storm King Art Center in upstate New York, and assisting preservation and conservation projects at the Cleveland Museum of Art and Yale University Art Gallery, among others. Additional institutions benefitting from the Frankenthaler Climate Initiative’s second round of grants include the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Judd Foundation, Philadelphia Contemporary, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College.

“Our goal with this second grant-making cycle of the Frankenthaler Climate Initiative is to motivate individuals across the arts sector—art students to curators to museumgoers—to be change-makers, actively working to counter the most imminent and palpable threat facing our planet and existence,” Frankenthaler Foundation president Fred Iseman says in a statement. “They say ars longa – vita brevis, but vita is getting shorter.”

The application process for the third round of Frankenthaler Climate Initiative grants kicks off in February 2023. The initiative was developed in partnership with RMI, a nonprofit aimed at supporting the energy sector’s transition to clean energy, and Environment & Culture Partners, an organisation seeking to make the culture sector a leader in environmental responsibility.

The initiative comes amid a growing chorus of art world efforts seeking to overcome institutional inertia on environmental issues within the art world and beyond, including recent protests in which climate activists glued themselves to famous artworks, an effort to convert artists’ projects into weather monitoring stations and a coalition of museums tracking their exhibitions’ carbon footprints.

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