Full Transcript for the June 2023 Conversation with Chris Dunbrack, Bethann Heinbaugh, and Brock Manville.

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Conversations with Changemakers, July 2023

Chris Dunbrack (Associate Buildings Manager, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Cloisters)

Bethann Heinbaugh (Head of Preventive Conservation, the National Gallery of Art)

Brock Manville (Energy Manager, the National Gallery of Art)


Chris Dunbrack (Met Cloisters), Bethann Heinbaugh (National Gallery of Art), and Brock Manville (National Gallery of Art) discuss shifting energy protocols in larger museums. Chris discusses the Met Cloisters goal to facility-wide geothermal heating and cooling. This is followed by Bethann and Brock talking about how building managers and conservators must work together in order to ensure energy saving methods are effective whilst still keeping collections in stable environments. This includes widening environmental set points beyond 70F/50%RH. The three also discuss the importance of curatorial acceptance and gaining support from leadership.

Keywords: environmental setpoints, geothermal energy, agency, collaboration, interdepartmental work, widening setpoints, seasonal drift, institutional support, building managers, climate control

00:25 Opening Remarks

02:26 Introduction of Speakers

03:56 Chris Dunbrack talks about geothermal energy at Met Cloisters

09:02 Chris talks about the Importance of Agency

11:56 Comparisons between Building Managers and Conservators

13:51 National Gallery of Art’s Pilot Project to Adjust Set Points

18:38 The Goal of Widening Set Points

24:22 Curatorial Change

27:19 Loans

31:41 Seasonal Drift

36:28 Partnerships between Facilities and Collections Care

44:43 Gaining Institutional Support

54:57 Data used to determine the success of the National Gallery Art set point changes

59:24 Closing Remarks

*Please note that transcript has been edited for legibility *

(00:25 Opening Remarks)

Kate: Okay and in the interest of time I'm gonna get us started today. Hello and welcome, I'm Kate Fugett. I'm an objects conservator and the co-chair of the AIC sustainability committee. Thank you for joining us for the fifth conversation in this series.

If you're joining from anywhere in the US, you've likely experienced unhealthy air quality recently due to an unusually strong fire season in Canada. I think it's clear to everyone that the climate crisis is here, and I was just told that this is depressing but I'm going to share it anyway. I read an article the other day that pointed out that the weather will never be normal again.

This series, Conversations with Change Makers, is an ongoing series of webinars organized by the AIC Sustainability Committee and the ICON Sustainability Network in response to the urgent need to reduce the energy usage of our field so that we can do our part to ensure that this new normal doesn't become more extreme.

We hope in speaking with colleagues who've already made important changes to reduce the energy of their work environments and collaborate across departments to embed sustainability institutionally, you will feel inspired and empowered to do the same.

So first a bit of housekeeping, please enter questions in the chat at the end of this conversation we will be reading through them then and hopefully have a chance to share your question with the speakers during the conversation please feel free to use the chat to share links, resources, and comments. Please save questions for the end, I just don't want to lose them in the conversation that I hope will happen there.

Captioning is enabled and this event will be recorded and shared on YouTube afterward.

(02:26 Introduction of Speakers)

Kate: So today I am joined by Christopher Dunbrack, Bethann Heinbaugh, and Brock Manville.

Chris is an associate buildings manager at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with specific oversight of the Met Cloisters. Chris has worked to improve the Met Cloisters’ overall infrastructure including, recommending energy efficient practices, sourcing new equipment that harnesses renewable energy, and developing the museum's resiliency to climate change in the Anthropocene. Sustainability and resiliency is a core focus for Chris, who has been one of the spearheads for the Mets development and implementation of energy conservation efforts. His most ambitious goal is the transition of the Met Cloisters to facility-wide geothermal heating and cooling.

Bethann is the head of preventive conservation at the National Gallery of Art where she has been employed for 24 years. She is tasked with managing conservation's responsibility to temporary exhibitions and coordinating the programs for pest management, emergency response, and environmental monitoring for the collection and exhibitions. Most recently, she joined the National Gallery's sustainability working group with particular interest in addressing temporary exhibition issues and practices.

Brock Manville is the energy manager at the National Gallery of Art working with the Operations Department. He has led reductions in energy usage and carbon emissions of over 40% since 2010, while maintaining stringent NGA environmental standards. His responsibilities also include development of National Gallery sustainability programs, working with several DEAI initiatives, and project management.

(03:56 Chris Dunbrack talks about geothermal energy at Met Cloisters)

Kate: So, we’re going to start by speaking with Chris today, and then we will speak with colleagues from the National Gallery of Art. So, Chris, can you talk about what geothermal is and why this is a good choice for the Met Cloisters

Chris: Sure, I want to start by saying I'm no expert exclusively on geothermal and what it is, but in the sense in which we're going to uh approach it here at The Cloisters is we're going to do a closed loop system, where we drill holes down into the ground and we harness that ambient temperature of the Earth, anywhere from say 10 feet to 1500 feet. If you're in the right location, which we are, the Earth is, relatively speaking, around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and you can harness it to both cool and heat the building. You Can Shed your heat into the Earth, as well as pick up the heat from the Earth and when you're picking up the heat from the Earth, it's a much smaller spectrum that you need to then reheat, so you’re saving a lot of energy. It still requires the use of electricity, so the Met Cloisters would be Net Zero ready. In other words, as the grid starts to connect to more renewables, so too then does The Cloisters.

Other forms of Geothermal energy are easy to understand, based on the use of geothermal steam, like they do in Iceland, for district Steam for Reykjavik and most of all of Iceland. And I think that's how most people initially started to think of geothermal energy. So, the two different types are drilling holes into the ground and running a closed loop, or even some in some cases open loop. Which is less common. Think of it like a car radiator, and we're just sinking a radiator into the ground and circulating glycol-water mix, glycol is similar to antifreeze, and we're circulating it through the Earth, picking up the Earth's heat or shedding heat into the Earth as needed. That's basically it. So you have two forms.

I know there's some exploration in using the steam from the Earth also in turbines to generate electricity, which is a very popular thing so there's three categories. But I don't want to go much deeper than that, I'm no expert entirely on geothermal energy.

Kate: Can you tell us what stage the project is currently at? Just in regards to implementation, as well as institutional support.

Chris: Yeah, here at The Cloisters, it depends on how you look at it, I look at any sustainability initiative that you pursue as a campaign, especially the more ambitious ones. I like to always recommend that you chase the ambitious ones because the smaller ones become self-evident as you're chasing the bigger ones. Different things you can do happen in parallel, especially as people start to attach to the ambitious project. It creates kinda, as Brockton taught me once, it creates a culture change.

Where we are here, based on a campaign, is we’ve got a tremendous amount of support internally. The project itself is looked on favorably. We've done some testing; we did a test well and determined that we do have geothermal conductivity under us. So, we can harness it. We have a lot of bedrock under us which is ideal. One would think it makes it harder to drill, but in today's technology it's not that difficult and bedrock is actually good. A lot of Bedrock under your location is very very good. We also determined that the campus we’re on—we’re in a park—the campus that we hold on to, which is about three and a half acres, will likely be enough space.

We're now exploring the challenges that come with how many wells as part of our preliminary design. So, we're up over 150 wells, but in New York state, you can only drill to 500 feet and then you have to apply for a fracking or oil drilling permit. Now there's pressure on the state to kind of loosen that restriction for geothermal wells and the hope is that we'll have to make less holes in the ground. So those are some of the things we're exploring right now.

So, again, we’re at a preliminary design. Lots of internal support, we’re changing culture as a result of chasing this object of our project. So, I would say one quarter of the way there. Probably another 5 to 8 years before the project is operable.

Kate: I think that that’s a good statistic to share as folks are thinking about, you know, whether it’s possible to do that kind of implementation at their institutions.

(09:02 Chris talks about the Importance of Agency)

Kate: Chris also gave a really wonderful Green Museums presentation, and in it you talked a lot about agency and the importance of agency. Can you share a little bit of your thoughts on that and why it's incredibly important and helps people to take action which is so so important right now.

Chris: Yeah, I can speak on it, from the example of a building manager. And as a building manager, traditionally, we've been responsible for HVAC in some cases, you know the infrastructure and envelope of the building and both in the case of the equipment that you use to heat and cool the climate of the building and for the collection, and in the envelope of the building the walls the windows the doors the roofs, the environment is becoming a consideration-- well it's always been a consideration. But how we make our decisions on the equipment we purchase and how resilient we build our walls is really important and it's a new idea, I believe, for a building manager as they kind of understand their agency to look at it as from the point perspective of a conservator. Because the planet Earth is the ultimate – I’ve said this before—is the ultimate reliquary. And the objects that we keep in our museums are, ultimately, on the Earth. As well as the fact that if we don't choose the equipment in how we make our buildings resilient with mindfulness to the environment of the natural world, we're working against ourselves. As the planet heats, we're using more and more energy, we're burning more and more coal or oil to try and offset that inside the museum.

So, there's a really direct alignment between conservation and building managers and how we partner to move things forward more and more so. I know later in this conversation; we’re going to talk very deeply about how that partnership plays out. And I think that looking at your role, whether you're a conservator or a building manager or you're in the gift shop or you're a curator, trying to find your agency and how it connects to preserving the natural world is really mission critical. And it's one of the first things you have to think of when you think of it, whether it's a special exhibition planning or whether you're purchasing things for the gift shops: how far abroad you're purchasing those things, can you source it locally? All of these things are ways you can kind of explore your agency with respect to the environment.

(11:56 Comparisons between Building Managers and Conservators)

Kate: Yeah, that is so true. You know you and I have had many conversations in which we've talked

about how buildings and facilities managers, you know, their work is so similar to conservators, now. Can you just elaborate a little bit more for those who have not been privy to those conservations?

Chris: Yeah, I mean building managers are on the front lines of maintaining the climate for the collection, whether it's the storage spaces, the gallery spaces, even the climate for the staff, and creating a comfortable and well-ventilated space. A great example that's right in hand is air quality, the equipment you have in most museums can handle, to some degree, poor air quality particulates in the air. But, as we replace it, or as the equipment is running, we have to consider that, right? So, the particulates in the air with the recent fires from Canada, it was a conversation between myself and our conservator here on site about closing the gallery doors at The Cloisters. We have many gardens, our doors are open and I'm running my equipment to offset that air harder than I want to, so we've had made a decision to close those doors and there was a very very direct conversation at the outset of this. It's now more the conservator's decision about it but those first few days it was a collaboration with security and many many people. But there I think is a great example of how the building manager or the engineer of the building and a conservator, in today's Anthropocene, have to work together to make decisions.

Kate: Oh, that’s so great. It really is a partnership going forward with a really similar goal.

(13:51 National Gallery of Art’s Pilot Project to Adjust Set Points)

Kate: So, I’m going to transition now to talk about what is happening at the National Gallery of Art with Bethann and Brock. So, the National Gallery of Arty has started a pilot project to adjust the climate set points. Can you just talk a little bit about what adjustments are being made there and why? I will give this question to whoever wants to take it.  

Brock: I'll go ahead and step up for this one and just to respond to the last topic, we also see ourselves as pop lights of object conversation at the National Gallery of Art and the operations group, we're in competition with the Great Wall on the pyramids at Giza in terms of playing a long game.

You probably are mostly familiar with the you know the shorthand we use 70/50, 70 degrees Fahrenheit, 50% relative humidity has been our gallery condition standard forever it seems. Like it hasn't really been forever but that's the standard we begin with, and a quick review of that from the operational perspective-- that's a goal but machines don't really work like that, the control systems have dead bands, so the reality is that you if you look at the programming of your HVAC equipment, you'll see that there are there's a little bit of a gap that that has to be there for the systems to function. Otherwise, they would be banging back and forth between heating and cooling and on and off states and they wouldn’t work.

So, there's always been a little bit of a of a gap a range, and the reality of maintaining that that 70F/50% standard-- and with that 70F/50% standard-- this is also common—there is a plus or minus five for both the degrees Fahrenheit and points of relative humidity that is allowable. The reality is, we see ourselves operating an air factory, it's not quite the same as air conditioning an office building. We work hard to keep that 70F/50% standard as real as possible and if we’re plus or minus two, historically we would be concerned. We want to know why where the drift in excess of that two-degree variance is coming from. So, what we’re going to do is allow that 70F/50% to drift a bit, from 68F/48% in the wintertime to 72F/52% in the summertime. This is actually well within the existing allowable standard, and not very far away from the actual necessary dead band in the control of these machines. The plus or minus five in control systems has alarms so that when we cross those thresholds, red lights go on. We’re not going to change that; we’ll keep the alarms as they are and double down on our focus. The real priority is controlling the variants so that there aren’t jumps in the short term, in the measurable hours, from the current standard. And that’s what we’re going to do.

The idea is, maybe, bigger than the reality in terms of a change from the starting state.

(18:38 The Goal of Widening Set Points)

Kate: Yeah, and so just building on that then; you know, taking it a step further, widening the set points further, what are you hoping will come from this? Bethann, I’ll let you take this one.

Bethann: So the short answer is yes, we are hoping that after the pilot phase is over—and we are giving it 12 months from the initial outset—and when we have collected the data on what this modest change has meant in reality, we’re going to take another modest step farther to widen those set points, and that will really set off a lot of policy change here in how we are caring for our more vulnerable objects in the collection, how we are storing things. But the goal is, let's get the data back from this pilot run and see how much farther we can really take those settings, have our energy benefit without a substantial change in the actual environmental conditions that we’re experiencing in our art-containing spaces.

Kate: And I would imagine that there’s a lot of thinking already happening about ways that you can protect and isolate the most vulnerable art. Can you talk about some of the things you have in mind and are hoping to implement if you can widen the set points—or continue widening the set points, I should say.

Bethann: Sure thing, so we are very fortunate that in 2025, we are going to be opening off-site storage in partnership with the Smithsonian, and that facility is being built to a gold LEED standard with geothermal heating and cooling. Very exciting, we’re very happy about this new facility. So, a large amount of our collection will be stored there, where keeping customised environments is much more environmentally friendly, easier to do, will cost less, etc. etc. It’s going to be just really state of the art, wonderful.

But then back on campus, where we don’t have that kind of capability, we need to look at our vulnerable objects on the piece level, and what we can do to provide for them, the environment that will preserve them best. As it stands, most of our very vulnerable materials are already protected additionally, in display cases or microclimate packages within their frames so it’s not a very steep climb for us on that. But we do anticipate, as we nudge to wider and wider settings, that we’re going to have to look at the collection that is here on display and make decisions about how we additionally protect those things on the piece level.

Kate: And so, when you are thinking about what needs to be potentially protected, it sounds like you already know a lot of those pieces, but how else are you identifying what you might want to isolate? Are you looking at records, are you speaking with curators?

Bethann: So, at this preliminary stage, we are waiting to see how the data comes back, so that we can really look at the humidity conditions in various places in the building, and pulling out anything that might be more challenging for us to control. When we have that information, we’re going to sit down with the curators, we’re going to sit down with facilities and say, “we might need to think differently about how some of these things are displayed, based on these conditions” and we’re going to work it through. It’s going to be an ongoing conversation. I love Chris’ use of the word “campaign”, and we’re going to cross those bridges when we get there.

(24:22 Curatorial Change)

Kate: That makes a lot of sense, because, just thinking about how these really large institutions that are, in many instances, a combination of multiple buildings, that have been combined and kind of retrofitted, you often have HVAC systems that control multiple galleries that seem very far away from each other. So, I would imagine that there is the potential to make some curatorial changes, and is that something that you are thinking about now, or have these conversations kind of been happening on that level? For both Brock and Bethann, because Brock, you’re very aware of the HVAC capabilities there.

Brock: Well, let me jump in and say that, in terms of delivering conditions tailored to specific objects or sets of objects, that's a thing we already do. And one of the concepts that is important to this conversation, is the idea of loan agreements. The proof of fitness is a phrase that makes operations guys blood run cold, or it used to, until we actually saw the data from some other institutions, and we realized we weren't doing that badly. But we do regularly get loaned objects that require something a little different from our regular 70F/50% and our equipment. Our campus uses air washers as designed in 1904 by Gerald Willis Carrier to create our interior environment. There are issues with the energy use of that type of HVAC equipment, but we can make whatever [environment] an object requires. We have a great deal of power and authority over the actual conditions inside. And so, we do that when we get a loan agreement that needs a little extra humidity. That's easy for us. But it is only possible given the existing footprint of the mechanical layout. What I look forward to in the future is-- we are in the middle of a review of our Capital planning, and the whole planet is in the middle of a review of the importance of sustainability-- I'm looking forward to combining those energies and having our internal conversation, where our Capital planning and architecture teams and our facility team and our curatorial, conservation, and exhibition teams are working together to figure out the best way forward. So that we can take the correct care with our objects and at the same time cut down on the impact on the environment, the carbon footprint of the institution.

Kate: Yeah

(27:19 Loans)

Chris: Kate I would just like to emphasize too, the idea of loans is that we have the ability to respond to a loan requirement in a space, you know if needed, as an institution. So, you have the ability to play with the set points and also address loan requirements, it's not an either or. I think that's something that gets lost in the conversation, when loans come into the picture. How do we accept loans? How do we give our loans out based on fitness? It's not one or the other. If particular environment needs a particular climate, we can deliver that. But we're in a state where we're saying we maintain a certain climate, and we can prove it to you, we're not saying "we can control the environment you need for your object". That feels like that should be the conversation, not proving what we've done. I have to give reports three years out every 15 minutes from my climates when we do loans-- I've had to do it recently-- and I'm proving what I can maintain, I'm not proving that I can alter it for their object. I just really feel like that's a conceptual shift I wanted to make note of.

Kate: Yeah, no I think this is a great time. Now we're just gonna open up questions to everyone, and I have a few prepared, but if people do want to start entering their questions into the chat, you know after I ask a few.  We can certainly start taking audience questions now.

I think this conversation about loans is really important to have because for so long, when we think about the museum climate, it's been like "oh but what about the loans?" and so I'm very happy to hear that you know the specific needs of loaned objects can also be maintained, should that be necessary. Bethann, do you have anything that you want to add to this conversation about loans?

Bethann: sure, I mean, I think that there are a number of tools in the toolbox for addressing loan requirements. And what Brock was speaking to earlier, with customized environments for our temporary exhibitions, we have that capability here because we use the same Suite of galleries for our temporary exhibitions-- as many museums do-- so we know those spaces very well and what the capability in those spaces is and can be. However, it takes more energy for us to do that in those spaces. And that is what we are trying to get away from. So, I can look at what a lender wants, and try to come up with microclimate, microenvironment solutions, rather than changing the macroenvironment, if that makes the most sense. But then also we're looking at modifying some of the language in our loan agreements, so that we are assessing the impact of the loan from the outset.

And perhaps, if something needs a very customized environment that's not easily attained on the piece level, and it's coming in an exclusive-use truck and it has to have a one-time use crate, etc., etc., what is the environmental impact of that one loan? How do we assess that? We go back to the curator, and we ask them to weigh that into that request, so that these temporary exhibitions, which just have a very large carbon footprint, could be a bit greener.

Kate: I really love that, and I think that's what we really all need to get in the habit of doing: is factoring sustainability into everything that we're doing, and really thinking about the negative impact that our actions have had.

(31:41 Seasonal Drift)

Kate: So, just in thinking about, you know, not every institution can necessarily do geothermal. But many institutions can widen the set points and take an approach like seasonal drift. Can you all speak to why that's so important to do and how that can be a very important and accessible step for a lot of institutions? and looks like Chris wants to say something so

Chris: I was going to say, from a macro level, I go back to what I said earlier and that is lowering our energy consumption is going to lower the energy production need, as well, which ultimately means we're polluting the Earth less. If we don't change that and again, I'm talking a big, macrolevel-- I'll let Brock and Bethann talk about the on-site kind of version of this-- but on a big macro level you're heating up the planet and creating an environment where you're working against yourself. By broadening the set points, you're reducing that energy consumption and, instantaneously, that resonates out and it also allows a quick-- I shouldn't say quick-- a not extremely expensive option, unlike geothermal which is a huge Financial, multi-year thing. The set point change, yes, it's a multi-year thing, yes it's baby steps financially, by comparison it's a lot smaller so it is more accessible for smaller institutions and larger institutions alike. Everyone can practice this, or at least explore this as an idea, everyone can do it, every Institution. Just those are my thoughts on why it's advantageous, it's a very Democratic way of conserving energy.

Kate: Brock, Bethann, do you have anything to add to this one?

Brock: Sure, I'll jump in, Chris is spot on, the science isn't confusing. There are lots of "whys" to get started with learning how to do this. But the planet is on fire, as we noted at the top of our gathering, and we got to do something about it.

Conservatively we measure the impact of the small changes to the plot, sagging two points in the winter and adding two points in the summer to our existing standard. We conservatively estimate that at 500 million btu hours a year. We're stuck with English measurements at our institution. We're working on it. But that's a lot of carbon, and the other important thing that we see about the issue is that we're here together to talk about it and that I've talked to colleagues at other institutions for a long time about the importance of having these conversations within our professional society as Museum and art museum people. So that we can learn from each other, and also that we can change the expectations, that we make it okay for a specific building to change these standards. The museums are like the government, and we're both, or universities, a thousand points of no. It’s very hard for these kinds of Institutions to change, and so it's very very helpful, I think, for us to work together, and publicly, to make these changes both to start with and ultimately the expectation for our community.

(36:28 Partnerships between Facilities and Collections Care)

Kate: Yeah, I really like that. This next question we have but, I'm also gonna mention that it's very similar to Megan Smith's question here: how can conservators and collection Care Professionals partner with facilities and building managers to push forward these ideas? and what suggestions do you have in particular? Megan asks specifically about facilities teams, but you know, I include all of us; we're often overstretched, we're busy. Institutions are also often understaffed. How can we kind of overcome these hurdles to achieve these goals and these Partnerships? And I'm going to start with Bethann because I think you and Brock are a great example of a partnership that has developed at the National Gallery of Art. So, do you want to talk to us a little bit about how that came to be?

Bethann: it's hard for me to actually tell how it came to be, because it is how it's always been here. We have such a mutual respect for what each other brings to the table, I Rely so heavily on our Engineers to maintain the environment here, to help me to understand the systems, what the capabilities are. I let them know when we experience any issues, they let me know when there have been issues, and it is just an ongoing, very easy conversation and partnership. What I would say to facilities where there hasn't been that long-standing conversation is learn from each other, what the capabilities are, and what you're after. The engineers often call the conservators "their customers" and we have this relationship where they're like "you are our customer, we want to make you very happy”, and I need to know what they can do to make me happy. So, they know their jobs very well, I do not, I am not an HVAC expert by any stretch. They also don't know what I always need from them, given an upcoming exhibition, or an object that we have to do something very particular with. so, keep that channel open. and the first thing that any conservator or collection manager should do in any institution is sit down with their building engineers and learn what the actual system is in their building and what those capabilities are. That would be my first step recommendation.

Kate: I really love that! Brock or Chris do you have anything to add to that, working on the other side?

Chris: I have thoughts, but I'll let Brock go first.

Brock: The only thing I'd add to what Beth’s answer is-- yes, we absolutely have the model of customer service for all of our relationships in my group, in the operations group, but I think there's another model that is even more fundamental that Bethann and her team, and me and my team share.

And that is: we're in the same game. There is the institutional mission to share art, creativity, and our shared Humanity with the broadest possible audience. And we are aligned together to make that happen-- that corny business stuff really does play an important role in helping figure out how to get better at what we're doing, and I'll give some credit to our relatively new leadership at our Institution for making that plain, and for backing the specifics of this sustainability stuff.

We have new tablets that have come down from the Mountaintop: one has “bezo” etched on it, not much more than that. We're charged with figuring out how to make it happen. But we do have the right big message coming from the institutional leadership to give us the confidence and the opportunity to try new things and make these changes.

Kate: That's great. That's so important.

Chris: And I just want to add that I agree with Bethann, what she said earlier that, you know, the conservators and the building managers having a partnership and a dialogue and, you know, customer is a great kind of way of looking at it. But I think even before that happens and it's really important to-- I want to get this out there-- if you don't know where to start, form a committee of people, and it does not have to come from leadership, it can just be a committee of people at lunch discussing “hey today we're going to talk about sustainability at lunch” and then, therein find, through that discourse over you know a couple of lunches, find an initiative you want to chase and then, what happens is people who can contribute to that initiative will start to surface.

I think traditionally, in this context, it's the conservators and the building managers talking about energy, right? The conservatives have their goals for preservation, building managers need to maintain that. But we now see “hey but to maintain that I'm destroying the larger Museum of the Earth”. But I think you know it could be somebody, it could be a security officer, in that same meeting that may suggest something that gives us pause and we look at. So, I think that the very first thing you can do, as you're searching, is form a group of people and prioritize the discussion to be about sustainability.

It can come from leadership, or it can come from the bottom up. It can very much be a Grassroots thing and I think everybody has bought into this; we know it's happening. So, you will pick up support and supporters, who will pick up ideas. So, I just want to stress that it include a large group of people. When you don't know where to start and you'll find your way.

Brock: Which, by the way Chris, is how we met. Isn't it? In a cross-institutional sort of way.

Chris: yeah! And we have a sustainability committee and subcommittees here at the Met and yeah, you were the guest person at one of our subcommittees and it definitely brought up more people to the table, created more support and also, it expanded the different things we could do.

So, I think that that's where you start; you start by getting a coalition together of anyone who's interested with sustainability and resiliency as the priority.

(44:43 Gaining Institutional Support)

Kate: I really love that I think that's a really nice segue to this next question, which is: what has been effective at each of your institutions for gaining support for these projects? And who has been essential in seeing, in helping to facilitate moving them forward?

Bethann: Brock, I’m gonna toss this over to you, because you've been at this a little bit longer than I have.

Brock: One thing that this work requires in institutions well like mine and, my notes and Chris's notes about what life is like inside the walls of our institutions suggested some pretty deep similarities: Change is hard for museums and so the antidote for that is irrational and energetic optimism. Finding, creating networks of people who think it's important, want to work on it and are willing to. You want to walk the line between cheerleading and being a nudge carefully. But you have to take the risk of occasionally getting on folks “wrong side” by being enthusiastic about both telling the truth and seeing a good idea as a way forward. We are lucky, at the National Gallery, we do have support for sustainability at the top. But if you're in a private business, with a profit motive, it is hard to get people. You can't tell folks what to do, everybody has their both own opinion and enough security to say no if they want to. So, you gotta, I describe it as inside sales. You need to be confident, relentless, and patient.

Chris: I would add to what Brock says. First off, here at the Met, we also have been very fortunate and there's been tremendous support as different goals and ambitions have been identified. I think that the challenge for big institutions, as well as little, as you start to identify different goals and initiatives to try and help, is the dollars, right? And we all know that.

So, I think you know that that's what we're casting around for now. But there's definitely, as the idea materializes, I think, you will find that there is internal support at all levels of your institutions with regard to sustainability. The challenges may seem like there’s a lack of support, but you need to almost gift wrap ideas and options to address the challenges as they come up. So, if it's financial, and you're the passionate person on that project, and you think about it as you're falling asleep at night, you strategize ways that you can present solutions or different options to those people that can make the decisions. Or if you're one of those people making the decisions, you probably already do it by nature. So, I think, you know, you want to support the people that are passionate and let it run with them. But also, the guidance to kind of like, as the challenge comes up, understanding how to package it in a way where you know here's option A here's option B. Here's where we could get dollars from this source or you know we need to partner with this particular city agency-- you know, if you happen to be a municipal institution. You start to kind of imagine ways to gift wrap things to kind of make the decisions happen. Because I think so often, at least in my position, I've seen in the past you know, where you come up with a great initiative and you drop it on leadership's desk and then you wait for them to kind of act on it. And I think that in the case of sustainability and resiliency in the environment, you almost have to drop the idea on the desk and then kind of give pathways and options. And then when somebody kind of gives you a roadblock, it's because they care, then you have to address that roadblock and give answers and solutions to that.

And that helps keeping it going. But I think it's also important that those people that are giving those solutions have to be the passionate about it, because in what we do in cultural institutions, sustainability doesn't really-- except for you Brock-- doesn't typically have a department to work on it. So, you kind of have to rely on the passionate people to direct it. I mean, there are institutions that have energy managers and that's becoming more common. But if you're a smaller institution or institution that you don't have it, you need to find the passion people and they need to be aware that they have to gift wrap the ideas, gift wrap the solutions to the challenges as they come up.

Bethann: And we're finding that if what we are trying to attain can be done incrementally, then that has been easier to roll out than swinging for the fences. So, the set points, the temperature and humidity set points are a perfect example of a goal that can be attained in increments and saying that there are review times and pivot moments has really helped us to get over the start line on this initiative. And I think that that's true for many of the other things that Brock and the larger sustainability group here at the National Gallery are working on. How do we get to each of these goals in increments? And that has been a lot more palatable.

Kate: So, there are two really great--

Chris: Gift wrapping, right?

Kate: There are two really great questions in the chat that I'm going to address, or I'm going to ask before this ends.

I'm going to start with the most recent one, just because I think it is building on this conversation that we're already having. So, Griffith Mann has asked: “what should be the role of institutional leaders in embracing these efforts? Many of these initiatives seem more broadly embrace the lower you go in the institution.” and that has definitely been my experience at places that I've worked too, and you have all noted that you do have that institutional support. But you know, like what should we be asking of the leadership in these large institutions when it comes to sustainability?

Brock: That a clear, strategic commitment to progress, a vision. We may not, I certainly don't always think that every decision that gets made by senior leadership is impeccable, but I am deeply grateful that the clear statement of strategic commitment to sustainability was made early and is continuing to be made. At that point it really has to be the work of people who are standing next to the actual problems to figure out how to act. You wouldn't want the leadership to prescribe solutions to things. Those solutions won't be as good as solutions developed by people who have the problem directly in front of them.

Chris: I think leadership understands it, in many cases in larger institutions. [They] understand sustainability and resiliency as a need. Especially with what's happening in the world around us.

I think that almost having internally and even externally like a symposium where leadership kind of gets together on this topic and not one topic amongst many might be advantageous. But it's tough for me to comment on that. I appreciate Mr Mann's question because I'm not leadership, right? You know, we're kind of the paladins of leadership in some ways and trying to get things done. So, I don't know. But I would say that yeah, you know, a specific meeting focused-- Symposium-- internally/externally on the subject of sustainability and resiliency initiatives could move the ball forward because it kind of earmarks it as an important thing as much as the objects, as much as the financial stability of a building, or the museum, right? It kind of elevates the conversation a little bit so, but again, I don't know they are talking about it. But from my perspective that might be a first step.

(54:57 Data used to Determine the Success of the National Gallery Art Set Point Changes)

Kate: Then this I think will be the final question. This is from Al Carver Kubik, and I apologize if I mispronounced your last name, and this is for the National Gallery of Art folks: “what data will you collect to determine success or safety temperature and RH dimensional change? Also, are you looking at seasonal settings for all spaces? So, gallery, collection spaces, public spaces, and office spaces.”

Bethann: So, when our pilot phase is up, we will be looking at all of the temperature and relative humidity data for a large number of our art-containing spaces. [That] is my role.

And then I'll let Brock speak to the settings for all of the art-containing and non-art containing spaces, and how we will make that assessment.

Brock: We touched on this earlier, but the fact is that the way the buildings were laid out in the late 30s and the early 70s for our two big buildings, there wasn't really a lot of functional space assignment that survived to the present day. So almost all of the systems operate as if they are providing art storage conditions. We may be able to change some spaces, because while that's true, it is much less true in some corners of the building. And with working closely with Bethann and her team, we may be able to make some changes for office spaces. But right now, we run it's 70F/50% everywhere, all the time.

On the data side we are lucky, we have a very extensive building automation system that collects, and has collected for many years, detailed condition data for almost every room, in the million and a half square feet. So, we will have a lot of data to review. And going forward, how we assign spaces and how we lay out future mechanical systems, as we as we replace them, this is a great place for us to look at ways to cut our carbon impact.

Kate: That's a great point. So, we have two more minutes, is there anything that any of you just want to add unprompted that you think it's important to communicate today? and it's okay if it's done.

Brock: I do have one. So, we are just about to publish our sustainability implementation plan, years in the making, and we're excited about it. But one of the things that's very specifically a goal in that plan, and I'm delighted to report a conversation yesterday with the member of senior leadership, where that vision was shared, is that it's really important to us to build a network of practice for sustainability. We want to make friends with-- there's about 60 people on this call-- and we are all probably in similar places on our journey. Shoot us an email, give us a call, stop by. We want to build the network and we think we can work together to make progress more quickly and with better results if we do it together.

(59:24 Closing Remarks)

Kate: So, thank you, that's a perfect place to end. And you can take a picture if you would like, of this slide, and we've also put the content in for everyone in the chat, because I think as this conversation has proven, it's just really important to share information connect with colleagues and to collaborate both within your own institution and then, you know, reaching out to folks who are interested in the same thing in other institutions.

I want to thank these three speakers so so much. It was such a pleasure doing this with you, and I've learned so much. I was very lucky to have multiple conversations with everyone before this started and I just feel like I will take so much with me as I continue this work. So, thank you all so so much this will be recorded and shared on YouTube, and I will be sure to email the link to the forums and also to our speakers so you can share it with friends and colleagues so thank you again.

Have more questions?

Contact the Speakers

  • Chris Dunbrack, Christopher.Dunbrack@metmuseum.org
  • Bethann Heinbaugh, B-Heinbaugh@nga.gov
  • Brock Manville, H-Manville@nga.gov