Christina Barton is a writer, curator, editor, and art historian. She has held positions at Auckland Art Gallery (1987–1992) and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (1992–1994) and as Senior Lecturer in Art History at Victoria University of Wellington (1995–2007). Director of the Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University of Wellington since 2007, she is highly respected for her work on the history of post-object art in New Zealand.
Fiona Connor is an artist who works in sculptural terms to rethink environments anew. She expands on the discussion of contemporary art by working directly, often very literally, with its contexts to bring art into conversation with pressing matters of ecological, social, and economic concern. Connor completed her MFA at California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California. She was a 2010 finalist for the Walters Priaze, New Zealand. She lives in Los Angeles.
Micah Sherman is an electrical engineer, who specialises in the installation of Solar PV systems. When I approached him five years ago he was working for Right House, an alternative energy provider that was based in Wellington. Still based in Wellington Sherman now works for Infratec renewables on the installation of Solar PV systems in the more remote places of the Pacific and the Torres Strait Islands. It had always been his goal to work in these regions, as solar panels make a lot more sense than the diesel generators that are commonly used.
Andrew Wilks was born in Levin and came to Wellington to study Architecture and Design at Victoria University, where he graduated specialising in building sciences. After graduating he was hired by his former lecturer Rob Bishop at Energy Solutions and worked there between 2002–2006. At Energy Solutions, Wilks was part of the team that completed the energy audit of the Adam Art Gallery, which was used to formulate my letter for ‘The Future is Unwritten’. In 2006 he became the Environmental Manager at Victoria University, and as a Campus Services Employee manages the environmental footprint of the university. In 2010 Wilks spent a year in Vancouver doing independent study and working part–time in the sustainability office at the University of British Colombia.
Ralph Chapman is Associate Professor and Director of Environmental Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, and codirector of the New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities. He has worked on climate change issues for thirty years and since working on climate change economics at the HM Treasury in Whitehall, London, in 1988. His work now focuses on the actions that cities can take in transport, urban development, housing, and energy to reduce carbon emissions. He has degrees in engineering, public policy, and economics. Chapman has worked at the Beehive (NZ Parliament Buildings), NZ Ministry for the Environment, NZ Treasury, and with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). He has also negotiated for New Zealand on climate change policy at the United Nations.
Sophie Thorn is the Collections Officer, Te Pātaka Toi Adam Art Gallery. She holds a Master of Arts in Art History and Theory from the University of Canterbury and a Diploma in Law and Collections Management through the London Institute of Art Law. She studied Heritage Materials Science through the Physical Sciences department at Te Herenga Waka-–Victoria University of Wellington and at the Chemical Institute of Technology in Prague, Czech Republic. She has held positions at the Canterbury Museum, Experience Wellington, and Te Manawa Museums Trust. She has been with Te Pātaka Toi Adam Art Gallery since 2014.
Andy Cummins is the Exhibition Officer at the Adam Art Gallery. In this role he is a technician, installation coordinator, and is in charge of exhibition maintenance. He also assists in the ongoing management of the Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection.
Senior Project Manager, 2020 - Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington
Wellbeing and Sustainability Officer , 2020 Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association
Dear Adam Art Gallery,
As a component of my work for the exhibition ‘The Future is Unwritten’, I hope to instigate permanent changes to make the gallery as energy efficient as possible and move it towards an environmentally conscious operation. The realisation of these ideas depends entirely on the gallery’s commitment to change and collaboration with Facilities Management, Victoria University of Wellington. It would be great to get your support. Below I have summarised the gallery’s energy consumption and have made clear recommendations as to how you may reduce these levels. 1 2 3 4 5
Currently the Adam Art Gallery is extremely energy consumptive. 86% of its energy balance is consumed by the air conditioning plant (HVAC) that controls temperature and humidity. The plant is monitored by Facilities Management offsite and in a different building. This system was set up to stabilise conditions for the preservation of sensitive artworks, but as this is not always a requirement it is running inefficiently. It has been suggested that the system could be switched off for short periods at night or in the summer without endangering conservation standards, however this needs further experimentation. 6 7 8 9 10 11
In the exhibition spaces there are two types of halogen fittings mounted on Conchord Tracks: wall washers and spotlights. This system is versatile, dimmable and has good properties for display, but halogen lights are energy intensive. The bathrooms and new entry have compact fluorescents which are more energy efficient. 12 13 14 15
Installing a Solar PV system on the roof would help offset the gallery’s energy consumption and demonstrate the gallery’s commitment to endorsing renewable energy. With a standard 25–year warranty, it would easily pay itself off and provide a reliable source of energy. 16 17 18 19 20 21
The gallery consumes around 500 litres of paint a year. Currently it employs Resene’s Decorator Flat interior/exterior. Recent attention has focused on the effect of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions on our environment. It is estimated by the Paint Quality Institute that 10% of ozone depleting substances are a direct result of VOC emissions from surface coatings, including mainly standard household paints. Resene makes a VOC free product, but it is only available in low sheen.
The Adam Art Gallery supports artists from all over the world and benefits hugely from travel. Unfortunately air travel is now the fastest growing contributor to global warming. The contribution to carbon emissions flying round trip from Auckland to Wellington can be reduced by 80% if travelled by train. The initial draw backs are time and money, but when you take into account travel to and from the airport and processing times, it only takes twice as long and is comparable in price.
In 2004, Energy Solutions Limited delivered a report summarising the Adam Art Gallery’s energy consumption and things it could do to be more efficient. Many of these things were never implemented.
This letter makes suggestions for policy change developed through conversations with Andrew Wilks, Anton Berndt, Nigel Saywell, Micah Sherman, Bill Pinkham, Glyn Benson, and Rob Bishop from Energy Solutions. Please let me know what I can do to help you make these moves toward a forward-thinking operation and thank you so much for the invitation to be part of the show. 32 33 34 35 36
Five years after writing this letter, I returned to the Adam Art Gallery to see whether any of the recommendations made in it had been implemented. I met with the experts who had originally advised me, and the gallery staff with whom the letter had been left.
Both the Gallery and Facilities Management are keen to replace the Gallery’s HVAC system, Sophie Thorn reported. A system has been proposed that Andrew Wilks, Director of Sustainability at VU, referred to as elegant. The HVAC has been marked red as needing replacement or upgrade in Facilities Management reports. It is up to Tina Barton as Director, to mount sustainability and museological arguments for a new, more efficient system; and, in a post-Covid frame, to add air-quality as an argument for HVAC replacement. She reported that Andy Cummins has been talking to other museum professionals about their air conditioning systems and plans in this respect.
Tina said that the University is motivated to get a good LEED rating for energy efficiency, but gave no indication of when an approach would be made to University management or finance. The Gallery is still to develop a working relationship with Andrew Wilks, although discussion had taken place with him about replacing the HVAC system.
Andrew Wilks explained that since the original letter was written, there has been a change in focus and strategy from reducing power usage to reducing carbon footprints, “especially if you’re in a country where your electricity supply is so dirty. … But, in New Zealand, electricity, our grid is like 80% renewable … so the shift of having it carbon focused is much more around your choice of fuel use as well as just trying to get your overall energy use down. … If we were rewriting this letter again today, I think the focus would be much more around climate action than it would be [on] energy efficiency.” He points out that the Adam “is in a fortunate position now where right from day one when it was designed it was entirely electricity. So, there’s no fossil fuel use in the heating system, which is unusual for the university. So, from that perspective, regardless of what the gallery does, they could be in an essentially zero-carbon operation … space from the energy aspect.”
Getting action on upgrading the HVAC system depends, says Andrew Wilks, on relationships within the wider University system, which has been subject to a wage freeze due to declining international student enrolments. There has also been a relatively high staff turnover generally, including the loss of a key sustainability worker, Jenny, who had been gathering energy-use data in a hands-on manner. In general, much of the progress made, he says, “is based on how good your relationship is one-on-one with a particular decision-maker or key influential person; and so we’ve … got to raise our game a bit so that regardless of what people come and go … we still have this underlying … momentum and … strategic direction of the whole university that people have bought into – that this is the way we do things regardless of who it is. And so, to make that transition – I feel like it’s starting to happen at the university. … [The] senior leadership team is on board, and it’s kind of woven through strategic planning, but … for folk like Andy, there’s probably no connection between … what we want to do strategically to what that means to his day job.” He explained also that work he had been doing in this area was put on hold for Covid, and the work that registered in the system is only there at “high level – you know, two or three one-liners in the strategic plan around commitment to sustainability get the value of that at the university. But, [to] a lot of the older folk around the university, that’s just lip service.” He also explained that the Sustainability Office is now a separate entity to Property Services. This means more autonomy, but he no longer has immediate access to energy-use data gathered by Property Services. Furthermore, an imminent change in the way that services work will be contracted for the whole university will see different companies being responsible for various facilities contracts, rather than one company. This will no doubt have an effect on the likelihood of the HVAC system upgrade, but the outcome is uncertain. What is clear that, because this constitutes another organisational change, new relationships and cases will have to be made.
The shift to online learning at the university will likely lessen emphasis on building projects and maintenance, Andrew Wilks estimates. He guesses that plans “like the HVAC system for the galleries will be put on hold. … It’s been in the pipeline for a long time. But, financial constraints meant we just had to pause on a lot of that.” In terms of HVAC upgrades for energy efficiency, he is pessimistic: “So, I think … we’re not going to see a shrinking of the footprint of the university.”
Andy Cummins reported that the existing HVAC system underperforms and struggles: “…the HVAC system is now considered past life. I’ve had numerous conversations with a project manager.” He also indicated that a feasibility study for an upgrade had been carried out by Chris Irons of Facilities Management, but that the idea was shelved when Covid hit. He suspects it was not a priority, and understood that a plan still needed to be put to the University and into the budget to actually happen. The existing system does not control temperature and humidity well enough to be able to satisfy some institutional lenders of work: “It struggles on and then one day it struggles on and we become one of those galleries that … can’t meet those things [climate standards] and so … we won’t be able to do some shows. … It under performs so badly that you may as well just not have it because it’s still using energy to not meet your requirements…”
Andrew Wilks and his team set up these controls so gallery staff could choose between either strict conservation standards or regular building conditions where the HVAC would be turned off at night. Former gallery technician Anton Berndt was trained in using this new system, but Andrew is unsure if the gallery is still implementing this feature that allows the gallery to choose regular building conditions when conservation standards are unnecessary. The only time the HVAC system was completely turned off was during the ‘The Future Is Unwritten’ exhibition.
Andrew tracks the energy consumption of all the buildings throughout the campus. He noticed the gallery started consuming less after this change was implemented, but has plateaued since. In 2014, the university was 36% below ‘business as usual’ and 11% below their target for electricity use in 2014.
In the past year, Andrew has been working to further solidify the relationship between Victoria University and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) so the university can receive consistent support instead of having to apply for funds each time they undertake an energy conserving project. In effect, this means the university would have an account manager who would provide them with funds, which would result in the possibility of more projects being implemented. If Victoria University provides 60% of the budget, the EECA can provide 40%.
One of these possible projects would be to undertake a more detailed analysis of the temperature and airflow throughout the university in an attempt to tune the HVAC system to be more efficient. This study would include the Adam Art Gallery. A common oversight is that too much outside air enters the building which needs to be cooled or heated, and this can create an energy sink. I brought up Rob Bishop’s interest in this too, and Andrew explained he used to work for Rob at Energy Solutions between graduating and becoming the Environmental Manager at Victoria University. It reminded me of how these sorts of initiatives are driven by the force of a few dedicated individuals in a community.
Tina commented that it is the Exhibitions Officer who is responsible for implementing the technical and practical operations of the building. Previous officer Anton Berndt, who was working at the time of the letter, was highly committed to the project. However, as is often the case, maintaining the recommendations ceased along with his employment. Tina believes the implementation for adjusting the climate control is an aspect that continues to be monitored.
During the first lockdown and gallery closure, and at other times over the last two years, Sophie Thorn reported that it was possible to turn the HVAC system off at-work mode for unspecified periods; and that they have “adjusted the temperature and humidity settings very slightly,” although changes and efficiencies were not specified.
Andy Cummins reported that they did turn the HVAC from an exhibition setting to a human comfort setting for a period following a major touring show in 2020, but that they turned it back again when the Collection Officer determined the humidity to be too high.
A Victoria University technician came through and did climate control fine-tuning for an important touring exhibition, Andy Cummins reported, and arranged for data to be sent to the Gallery electronically every week, which streamlined their internal monitoring of temperature and humidity considerably.
Sophie Thorn reported that the University has “changed the light fittings over to LED rather than halogen. … And I think that big change-over to LED was part of the energy efficiency of the university, and what got us the high rating was … there were a lot of simple solutions to energy problems.” She also indicated that sensors with timers have been introduced recently to some back-of-house lighting at the Gallery.
According to Andy Cummins, the Gallery’s halogen lighting was replaced in 2020 with LEDs with a twenty-year life, and that this upgrade will yield considerable energy efficiency gains. The financial saving alone was estimated to be able five times the cost of making this change.
When the letter was written in 2009, Sherman didn’t recommend installing a Solar PV system for the Adam Art Gallery due to the fact that Victoria University, being a large organisation, had bargained down their energy prices, making solar energy financially unviable. He commented that solar power in New Zealand makes more sense in remote places like Gisborne, where one would pay three times more for energy than in a city such as Wellington. Sherman also mentioned that even though the price of solar technology has dropped dramatically in the last five years, there are still monetary and environmental costs that go along with the expense of maintenance and production.
In the past five years, Andrew has been completing an economic feasibility study of using a PV Solar System around the university in three different scenarios: installing PV on the roof of the large buildings, some smaller structures, and the Victoria University Emergency Operations Centre at 6 Waiteata Rd (which would replace the diesel generators that are stored to provide ten days worth of energy). None of these studies came back as financially viable because it would take the university nine to seventeen years to pay back the cost. When I asked Andrew why this decision, he explained that if he has a certain amount of money to invest in this type of initiative he chooses the ones that have a quicker payback first.
Tina thought that a Solar PV system did not make sense for the Adam Art Gallery. But a year later at the this website projects release she showed an interest in it’s viability which I relayed to Andrew Wilks who negated it.
Ralph describes the situation in general terms: either we cut carbon emissions globally to around zero by about 2060, with developed countries reducing their emissions at a much faster rate than other countries, or we accept that the planet will warm over the danger threshold of 2°C, taking us into an era of unmanageable climate change. In this context, he states we need to think creatively about what Victoria University ought to be doing to cut its emissions. He then prompts a thought experiment: With this in mind, let’s consider the implications if the price of carbon went up from around US$7 per tonne of CO2 (as it is now) to around US$200 per tonne (say NZ$300 in round figures; and as some economists have estimated it should be if it is to reflect a more accurate social cost of carbon). What we would find is that the price of electricity would go up dramatically. Retail electricity prices might almost double. This would radically affect household and building managers’ views about electricity use. There would be an immediate response to cut back on electricity usage and generate more renewable electricity such as wind and solar PV. Solar PV would be immediately economic and could be easily installed on many rooftops around New Zealand. Wind power would also be more profitable.
Andrew Wilks indicates that the university is somewhat interested in solar power solutions, but at this stage the only actual solar power set-up is small and tokenistic.The possibility of an energy provider installing solar infrastructure to the University at no cost had been explored, but had ultimately evaporated, Andrew Wilks explained: “…there was an offer from Meridian, it’s called power purchase agreement, they would do all the install costs, set it up and essentially own it and maintain it and sell power to us. So, that was interesting for us in terms of a way of getting more solar power onsite, but keeping low costs associated with it.” When asked if this project could involve the Gallery’s building, he said that it was not one of the buildings considered suitable for solar development due to size, shape and orientation: “…we did a review of the whole campus … and actually it comes down to, one, how much sun it gets, and two, the construction of the roof … We’ve identified a few sites and we dipped our toe in the water with a house, or two houses combined; and so that was all lined up, but then Meridian got cold feet because they said it was going to be the first installation of its kind in Wellington, and they couldn’t justify setting it up just for two little houses. They wanted a bigger … starting point. So, now, with that criteria, we once again picked a site. The architecture on Vivian Street has got a much bigger roof that still checks all the boxes, but the issue here is … the capital works programme that’s being put on hold for financial reasons [to do] with Covid.” There was, he said, a refurbishment plan in place for the roof of these buildings, “we don’t want to go and put solar panels on a roof that’s [being] replaced.”
Andy Cummins said that he would like to cost a solar power system for lighting, a desire stemming from the great savings made by upgrading the lighting system to LEDs. But that it would mean only a small improvement in energy use over all, he said, as most of the Gallery’s power is used by the HVAC system that runs 24/7. The savings would be much greater if a solar upgrade could in part power the air-conditioning system at the Gallery. Andy is hopeful about this becoming more possible as time goes on: “…the conversation’s hopefully shifted. When this thing was written, they were like solid, absolutely no go. I’m hoping that one day that conversation will shift. … It was like quite a lot of money to get solar on the roof.”
Sherman observed that money and efforts would be better spent in lowering the gallery’s consumption of energy. He also remarked that New Zealand is slowly becoming more energy conscious, and New Zealanders are changing the way they use energy, for instance insulating homes to keep them warmer. We discussed retrofitting houses to make them more energy efficient, such as using responsive technologies that ensure lights are only on when you’re in the room. Sherman pointed out that most of the energy in New Zealand comes from renewable resources, adding that even as someone who’s completely behind solar energy, he chose natural gas for heating his Wellington home as it is still cheaper and more reliable.
All of this aside, Sherman foresees PV growing exponentially as power prices go up due to carbon becoming more regulated and less available, eventually contributing to a “spiral of death” for the power companies.
Covid lockdown and closures in 2020 meant a slowing of the exhibition programme with attendant material economies. As Tina Barton commented, “I was thinking about the discussions we have around construction and reuse of materials. And I think we’re very mindful of that, mainly because we have little money. So, you know, a small institution with a miniscule budget thinks very carefully about recycling.”
On the subject of waste generated by exhibition projects, Andrew Wilks put forward that the best long-term results would come from a change in thinking – from trying to work out ways to deal with waste that had been produced already, to focussing on minimising the waste created in the first place: “the waste issue is more … an engagement activity, not so much around the environmental impact of reducing waste to landfill … Waste to landfill is just the symptom of the bigger issue of the kind of decision making we make in … a very consumer driven society. We gather a whole lot of stuff and don’t use it very well and then throw it away. So, I think the waste to landfill is more symptomatic. We’ve got to change the upfront action … Instead of putting excessive material into the art gallery, maybe be thinking about [that] … when you’re designing the installation… Or even if you decide somebody needs excessive material, think about what you’re going to do with that after the exhibition’s been and done at the starting point rather than going ahead and then coming up with the installation [without a solution] for this problem. Trying to, through the whole process, trying to design out waste as the outcome… Lots of sustainability challenges we face are huge in scale and it’s really intimidating or off-putting for people…”
The Gallery has recently built the University’s zero waste policy into its contracts with artists, said Andy Cummins. This means that artists and the gallery need to think about how materials drawn into projects can have another life after the show is over. That process creates more work for the Gallery staff, he offered, and possibly use more energy to transform materials into usable commodities for sale or gift: “…that’s starting to become a conversation that everyone’s having and I think we’ll have it here as well. … We are in the real world, and art is always a reflection of the world around it, and also the institutions around it.” In his experience, looking at the rubbish bins when their contents are to be disposed of can be confronting, as one day there might only “be some little bits of masking tape and a paint roller sleeve and bits and bulbs, but sometimes it’s frightening.”
VOC-free paint was investigated but, according to Andy Cummins, “It was either that … it was too expensive, considered too expensive by comparison, because the paint we would get is like a real box standard, cheap product.” He was intending to look into it again with another supplier, Resene.
In a discussion about artists’ attitudes towards waste creation – which historically tended to be exceptionalist – Andy Cummins suggested that “maybe every exhibition should come with a waste rating … a consumption rating like a washing machine. … It just gets audited at the end. … It’s like the art world’s gone into a post-peak moment, and also like big installation-making is gone. … It’s just such a different moment. … It would be really cool to find the sweet spot between no waste but then [a] still really impacting installation.” He also talked about he’s an optimist, and thinks that galleries are responsible for moving the conversation about sustainability and climate change, and for listening; and that he is grateful for people like Amy Howden-Chapman for “making us all talk about that for the last 15 years…” Ultimately and philosophically, he thinks, “nothing is going to change globally until we work out the dollars associated with environmentalism.”
The amount of people commuting to the university by car is slowly decreasing, but the numbers were good to start with. Only around 7% of students drive to campus and 30% of faculty. The University is doing a lot of work with the Wellington City Council to promote public transport, however overseas and out-of-town air travel is increasing, which is a problem.
It is an exception that invited artists and guests travel from out of town to visit the gallery via train. The gallery is open to keeping the option in mind, and this review process has been a reminder to do so. When artists do travel from overseas for exhibitions, it is usual to plan a tour that involves them in the activities and programmes of other institutions throughout the country as well. This networking makes the most of their visit and the distance they have travelled.
Tina Barton reports that Gallery travel has been reduced significantly in 2020 due to Covid-related travel restrictions. There has also been no international freight for the exhibition programme, with a shift in focus onto local practice, archives and histories that has also yielded energy savings in travel, freight and materials. No international projects were planned for the future programme at this point. Tina explained, “I’ve been teaching my old fashioned history of New Zealand art course and thinking, well, this makes sense now. People should know about … the particular histories of this place. And I don’t try to do it in a boring, narrow way. … It has evolved in this complex matrix of relationships with other places. … It actually matters that we have specific kind of stories to tell.”
The University made significant cuts to air travel expenditure in 2020, Andrew Wilks pointed out, and that air travel represents a huge part of the University’s carbon footprint. And that as a result of cuts they are tracking to be down 40% on carbon emissions. Furthermore, an increase in on-line learning will likely benefit the university’s efforts to lower their carbon footprint.
There is now a built-in 5% carbon-offset fee charged into every Victoria University airfare, which contributes roughly half of the cost, Andrew Wilks reported.
Overall, Sherman and I talked more about the economic incentives rather than the environmental or moral benefits of using solar power. I was left wondering whether these benefits would now be fact, and not need to be questioned, if the gallery had installed a Solar PV system when it had been built.
On the subject of a worldwide campaign of universities leading the way on sustainable measures, based on acknowledging that our actions affect the future and New Zealand universities’ role in this, Tina felt she was not informed enough to take a position but knows there are those at Victoria University who are promoting and advising on sustainable actions. She believes everyone must take responsibility, and personally she is very willing to do her bit. Tina went on to say that, while it is of course important people are considering sustainability and acting accordingly, she considers these micro–actions are usually undertaken by people of great privilege, and we should keep in mind the large–scale flows of capitalism; encouraging third–world nation states with first-world incentives, like the purchasing of cars, is only going to cause exponential problems. Big–picture thinking is needed, and Tina doesn’t know how to best contribute to these big issues, which are structural and so engrained. She says we have accepted a capitalist system to live by, which is based on over–consumption.
Tina informed me that as the Adam Art Gallery is on a restrictive budget, they are very careful about how things are used and reused. The aim of the exhibition programme is to present strong shows, that are worth revisiting, within the means of the gallery’s resources. The pace of the exhibition schedule, which tends to be thoughtful, well-researched, and slower than other galleries, also reduces the physical demands and cost of installs.
Tina went on to explain an economy of scale that operates in the art world: the more successful and supported you are, the more demands you are able to place on resources. Such an artist is able to ship large, heavy works at great expense to the gallery, while similar artists working primarily with video can insist on a certain level of preparation of the exhibition space, also at great cost to the gallery. This stratum doesn’t necessarily recognise that we can’t all operate at that level, nor that everyone desires to; a modest attitude can still achieve strong work, just as there is courage in choosing other priorities over an ambitious career. The art world contains a broad spectrum of modes of working, and therefore differing levels of assumed responsibility for material consumption and the roles we play as part of a greater ecosystem.
Ralph concludes, “The effects outlined here need to be happening now, rather than in some hypothetical future. We have essentially run out of time to solve it, and emergency action is now needed. Fiona’s project points out the limited amount of change that will take place under the current regime. Under current prices (especially the unrealistically low current price of carbon) it is not worth investing in Solar PV. But that is because the so-called real (economic) world has not yet caught up with the real world of the physics of climate change. The real world is actually stuck a couple of decades behind where it needs to be. My conclusion is that we need to break away from the so-called real world, which is actually out of touch with the physics, and start to take action based on the physics and the ethics of responsible action in a world of climate change.”
Sophie Dixon made an interesting point in her consideration of the Adam Art Gallery’s sustainability – that a relatively empty building with low student visitation rates represents a form of waste in itself. She suggests that the Gallery focus on encouraging students “to engage with the art” and to ask “how do we bring more students into that building?” The issue of bringing more students into the gallery to socialise is complicated, in her mind, by the way that “we have a lot of space on campus, we have events in the hub (…) but we’ve never used art gallery as a function space.” Beyond thinking of the Gallery as a venue for events, encouraging students to engage with the art, to her, is also affected by a shift in the way youth experience culture and connect from the physical to the virtual; and a change in what is expected of art in terms of material sustainability, making “ambition and impact” in the art world a “tricky thing.” She explained that “Because we have a vector of being able to communicate now on social media and on-line – [it] is larger than we could ever imagined 20 years ago. So, we have this increase of scale of visibility, but then there needs to be … shrinkage in terms of material costs. But, it’s a shame because from the outside it looks like art is shrinking and populism is enlarging and, I don’t know, it’s just ways of rethinking.” Ultimately, the relative greenness of the building now or in the future becomes irrelevant, from her perspective, if it is not used by students as a gallery: “if this space doesn’t work for students then, from a sustainability student perspective, it doesn’t matter if the building is sustainable, because the building is a gallery first and foremost.”
The likelihood of a major HVAC upgrade to the Adam Art Gallery as a stand-alone sustainability initiative is low, according to Lincoln North.
In context of a University portfolio of $1.4b in buildings and infrastructure with many competing needs there is an order of prioritising capital development projects: “(1) safety of people in buildings, (2) fit-for-purpose facilities, (3) space for growing programmes and, finally, (4) a more sustainable and economical way of doing things. We are seeing no. 4 being integrated into the way of achieving items 1-3, but there is still a financial-economic, rather than circular-economic lens applied to investment decisions.
Prioritisation of capital expenditure is also directly related to improving the student experience. “Where do the bulk of our students spend their time? What’s the student experience?” Why do students come to VUW? Are our facilities responding to the student needs of the future? “the hub has been incredibly successful in terms of bringing students together and providing the social environment that students of today want.” In terms of the gallery, one would have to ask what the enhanced student experience would be by spending a million dollars (or more) on increased HVAC efficiency?
The gallery is not a core function of the student teaching, learning and engagement environment at the University – it serves an important function for donor recognition and engagement with partners but has narrow appeal to the student body. There are many other ways the university is undertaking sustainability initiatives that have a broader impact on behaviour and understanding of environmental issues, and major investment in efficiency of buildings that have high occupancy loads.