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MOCA Forms Environmental Council

On October 14, 2020 The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) announced the creation of an Environmental Council, the first for a major art museum in the United States. The Council is focused on climate, conservation, and environmental justice in furtherance of the museum’s mission. In development since Klaus Biesenbach became the Director of MOCA in 2018, the museum will unfold important initiatives made possible by the Council within the first year, including financial commitments and expertise to work toward institution-wide carbon negativity, carbon-free energy, environmentally-focused museum quality exhibitions, educational programming, related artist support, and reductions in emissions and consumption. MOCA plans to publicly share the Council’s efforts and progress as a platform for public dialogue and engagement on this urgent topic.

MOCA Environmental Council Founders and Co-Chairs are David Johnson and Haley Mellin. Founding Council members are Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Aileen Getty, Agnes Gund, Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and Brian Sheth. Expert advisors to the Council include Illina Frankiv, Dan Hammer, Lisa P. Jackson, Lucas Joppa, Jen Morris, Calla Rose Ostrander and Enrique Ortiz. MOCA Executive Director, Klaus Biesenbach, and MOCA Deputy Director, Advancement, Samuel Vasquez will be ex-officio members of the Council and assure continuity and communication between the Council’s priorities and the museum’s activities and operations.

The Council will support artists working on critical environmental issues by financially supporting meaningful exhibition and educational programming. An upcoming exhibition with the artist Olafur Eliasson (2024) will be supported by the Council. In preparation for future exhibitions, Biesenbach conducted virtual studio visits this summer with artists to discuss their work and issues of climate, synthetic biology, and environmental justice. These virtual studio tours are currently available on MOCA’s YouTube channel (Anicka Yi and Olafur Eliasson). As the creative work of artists is pivotal to both awareness and action, the museum looks forward to this programming on climate engagement and pressing ecological issues in Los Angeles and globally. In an initial step forward, MOCA's upcoming exhibition Pipilotti Rist: Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor, the first West Coast survey of the internationally renowned Swiss media artist, will be carbon neutral.

MOCA Director Klaus Biesenbach said, “I am grateful and excited MOCA will be the first U.S. museum to have an Environmental Council supporting the museum’s meaningful understanding and engagement on environmental issues that have been a priority of mine since I joined the museum.”

Environmental Council Co-Founder David Johnson said, “MOCA–through this new Environmental Council–is committed to institutional environmental responsibility and with an understanding that art is a force for global discourse, to support artists who channel that force for the environment. I couldn’t be more delighted to work with my co-founder Haley, the other founding members and advisors.”

Environmental Council Co-Founder, artist, and conservationist Haley Mellin said, Art and conservation are about legacy and permanence. Our actions today are a method of committing to the long-term wellbeing of our planet.”

MOCA Deputy Director, Advancement Samuel Vasquez said, “The founding of MOCA’s Environmental Council cements our commitment to climate awareness and responsibility. We look forward to leveraging the transformative power of art to protect our world and museum for future generations.”

Founding Council and Initiators:

Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani is the Chairperson of the Qatar Museums, Doha Film Institute, Reach Out to Asia, and Qatar Leadership Centre. She serves her country in multiple fields – among them education, culture, leadership, and philanthropy – and facilitates conversations across borders. As a public servant, Sheikha Al Mayassa’s objective is to invest in Qatar’s local community and celebrate the country’s diversity using the visual arts as a vehicle for communication. Through her public work and support of the Qatar Vision 2030, she is building an exciting creative future for the country.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby is a Nigerian-born artist currently living and working in Los Angeles. She was a participant in La Biennale di Venezia, 58th International Art Exhibition, May You Live In Interesting Times, curated by Ralph Rugoff (2019). Recent solo exhibitions include Njideka Akunyili Crosby: “The Beautyful Ones," The National Portrait Gallery, London (2018-19) and Counterparts, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, TX (2018-19), Baltimore Museum of Art, MD (2017-18). She is the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Art from Swarthmore College in 2019, a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship, and was awarded Financial Times' Women of the Year in 2016.Z

Tim Disney is an artist and entrepreneur. A graduate of Harvard University with degree in Fine Arts, Tim currently serves as a Trustee of The Southern California Institute of Architecture, and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of California Institute of the Arts. Tim lives on a hill in Los Angeles.

Aileen Getty established the Aileen Getty Foundation (AGF) to support a wide range of endeavors around the world that enhance the environment, communities, and the lives of individuals. In recent years, Aileen shifted the foundation’s focus to organizations and individuals committed to responding to the climate emergency and treating our planet and its inhabitants with kindness and respect. As an extension of Aileen’s climate-focused work, in 2019, she co-founded the Climate Emergency Fund (CEF) to support activists who are pushing for urgent climate action. She currently serves on the Advisory Board of CEF. Aileen devotes her energies to addressing the climate emergency and has served for several years on MOCA’s Board of Trustees.

Agnes Gund is president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art and chair of its International Council. She is also chair emerita of MoMA PS1. Ms. Gund is founder and chair emerita of Studio in a School, a non-profit organization she established in 1977 in response to budget cuts that virtually eliminated arts classes from New York City public schools. A philanthropist and collector of modern and contemporary art, Ms. Gund serves on the boards of the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies, and the Morgan Library & Museum. She is co-founder and chair of the Center for Curatorial Leadership. In 2017, she launched the Art for Justice Fund in partnership with the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors to support criminal justice reform. Ms. Gund received the National Medal of the Arts from President Clinton (1997), the J. Paul Getty Medal (2018), and the inaugural Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Woman of Leadership Award (2020).

David Johnson is the founder of Act 4 Entertainment, a film entertainment and new media content company. He lives in Los Angeles. In the environmental field, David executive produced Company Town and is currently in production on Canary, a documentary about the life of climate scientist Lonnie Thompson. He was previously a partner of the international law firm of White & Case. David is a Life Trustee and former Board of Trustees Co-Chair of MOCA. David is a board member and former Chair of Public Counsel Law Center and serves on the boards of California Institute of the Arts, Demos, Human Rights Watch (California), the Smithsonian National Board, Voices of a People’s History of the United States, and the Yale School of Drama.

Haley Mellin is a painter and conservationist based in California. She founded the Art into Acres initiative, which connects single artworks in conserving large-scale forests for climate and biodiversity, supporting the conservation of 22 million acres of new protected areas. The initiative supported the first carbon-neutral exhibition in a US museum at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2019, and the first carbon neutral full-museum exhibition at the Guggenheim in 2020. Recent solo exhibitions include The Journal, New York and Bischoff Projects, Frankfurt. She attended the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, is the recipient of a Doctorate of Art from New York University, and received a New Museum Rhizome grant.

Brian Sheth is a first-generation Indian-American, is a leader in business, philanthropy and private equity. Brian applies the same systems-driven strategies that have yielded billions of dollars of value for investment partners to the charities and programs he supports. His breakthrough strategies and leadership resources foster operational excellence and measurable impact in programs that support the resilience and well-being for all life on earth. He believes in building strong coalitions with business leaders, other process-driven NGOs and citizens to ensure that no one stands alone while protecting life in a changing world.

Ex-Officio Members of the Council:

Johanna Burton is the Maurice Marciano Director of The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). She was previously the Executive Director of the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, where she concentrated on developing and expanding initiatives actively engaged with the most pressing cultural issues of our times, in addition to overseeing an expansion of the center’s education, outreach, and public programs. Burton’s past posts also include Keith Haring Director and Curator of Education and Public Engagement at the New Museum, New York; Director of the Graduate Program at Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies (CCS), New York; and Associate Director & Senior Faculty Member at the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program (ISP), New York. She holds an M.A. in Art History from Princeton University (Ph.D., ABD), an M.Phil from New York University in Performance Studies, and an M.A. in Art History, Criticism, and Theory from the State University of New York, Stonybrook.

Samuel Vasquez is the Deputy Director, Advancement at The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Previously, Samuel oversaw the opening of The Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA) and established it as the first fully solar-powered art museum in the US. He is committed to establishing equitable communities and sustainable practices for arts organizations and the cultural sector at large and believes that art is a catalyst for change.

Specialists/Advisors to the Council:

Klaus Biesenbach will be Director of Neue Nationalgalerie and Director of the future Museum of the 20th Century, Berlin in 2022. Biesenbach is the former Maurice Marciano Director of The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). He co-initiated the Environmental Council at MOCA, the first sustainability support group in a United States art museum, and will continue on as the Council's artistic advisor while in Berlin. Biesenbach was previously Chief Curator-at-Large at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and Director of MoMA PS1 in New York City. He founded Kunst-Werke (KW) Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin and the Berlin Biennale. He co-founded MoMA's Department of Media and Performance Art. Throughout his career, Biesenbach has organized programs and exhibitions addressing environmental topics, including the large-scale ecological festival EXPO 1 and rescue efforts and art programs after Hurricane Sandy in Rockaway, New York with the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy.

Illina Frankiv is a Global Senior Energy Program Manager at WeWork, where she created their first Energy Program. She specializes in energy management, renewable energy, and sustainability reporting for large corporations. With a strong belief in the clean energy future, she contributes to the movement by sitting on the Advisory Board, chairing the Supply Chain and International Committee, and acting as Faculty at the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA). She summited Mt. Everest without a guide in 2018; becoming the 4th Canadian female to summit Mt. Everest via Tibet.

Dan Hammer is a founder and Partner at Earthrise Media and a Climate Fellow and Senior Advisor at X. He is the winner of the inaugural Pritzker Environmental Genius Award. Dan earned his PhD in environmental economics from U.C. Berkeley, where he was a Fellow at the Berkeley Institute for Data Science and won the 2019 Mark Bingham Prize for Excellence by a Young Alumnus. He previously served as a Senior Policy Advisor in the Obama White House and a Presidential Innovation Fellow at NASA. Dan was the Chief Data Scientist at the World Resources Institute, where he co-founded Global Forest Watch. He has been a National Geographic Fellow, a Watson Fellow, and a Lang Opportunity Scholar.

Lisa P. Jackson is the vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives at Apple, where she leads the company's work to address climate change and other environmental issues along with programs on education, policy and accessibility, and their Racial Equity and Justice Initiative. From 2009 to 2013, Lisa served as Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Appointed by President Barack Obama, she focused on reducing greenhouse gases, protecting air and water quality, preventing exposure to toxic contamination, and environmental justice. She serves on the boards of Tulane University, SF Film, The American Film Institute, Conservation International and Emily’s List.

Lucas Joppa leads sustainability efforts at Microsoft as the company's first Chief Environmental Officer. He works to advance Microsoft’s core commitment to sustainability through ongoing technology innovation, program development, policy advancement, and global operational excellence. With a combined background in both environmental science and data science, Lucas is committed to using technology to help transform how society monitors, models, and ultimately manages Earth’s natural resources. He founded Microsoft’s AI for Earth program in 2017—a five-year, $50 million cross-company effort dedicated to delivering technology-enabled solutions to global environmental challenges.

Jennifer Morris is Chief Executive Officer of The Nature Conservancy, a global conservation organization working with partners around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Jennifer leads nearly 4,000 global staff whom seek to transform business practices, shape government policies, and leverage rigorous science to prove and scale on-the-ground conservation work. Jennifer brings more than 25 years of conservation leadership experience to her role as CEO. Previously, she was president at Conservation International, where she developed some of CI’s most enduring programs, partnerships, and innovative strategies using business development as a tool to protect nature for the well-being of humanity. Jennifer is a passionate storyteller, avid outdoors enthusiast, and mentor to the future generations of conservation leaders.

Enrique Ortiz is a tropical ecologist (Princeton University), born and raised in Peru. Enrique is perhaps better known for his activism and leadership in Latin America on the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems. He has published extensively and is a frequent contributor to newspapers and environmental journals. He is a founder and board member of several innovative and successful Latin American NGOs. Enrique currently serves as President of the board of Amazon Conservation-ACCA, a leading Peruvian NGO. For over two decades he has worked for private philanthropy foundations supporting biodiversity conservation in the Andes and the Amazon regions, resulting in over 30 million acres of protected areas. He is currently the Senior Programs Director of the Andes Amazon Fund.

Calla Rose Ostrander is an independent Strategic Advisor dedicated to the well-being of people and planet. She specializes in climate change and agricultural policy, science communications, and movement building. Since 2013 she has worked to support the advancement of carbon farming, compost production and climate beneficial material economies in California, Calla has supported the successful scaling of regenerative agriculture to the state scale. Between 2008-2013 Calla served as the Climate Change Projects Manager for the City & County of San Francisco where she created and managed internal sustainability and GHG reporting systems and inventories, the San Francisco Carbon Fund, and community wide climate planning.

MOCA Receives Grant From Frankenthaler Climate Initiative

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) is honored to have been selected to receive an award from the Frankenthaler Climate Initiative, a new grant-making program established by the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation that seeks to catalyze climate change action in the visual arts. It is the first program of its kind supporting energy efficiency and clean energy projects for the visual arts in the U.S. and is the largest private national grant-making program to address climate change action through cultural institutions. The grant will help The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA to achieve its goal of becoming a solar-powered museum.

"On behalf of MOCA’s Environmental Council, we deeply appreciate the generous support of the Frankenthaler Climate Initiative to help achieve our urgent goals for the Museum’s sustainable future, as climate, conservation, and environmental justice are critical and existential issues for us all," said MOCA Director Klaus Biesenbach.

The Frankenthaler Climate Initiative was launched in 2021 by the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation as a multi-year grant program to support visual art museums and collecting institutions in achieving carbon neutrality and catalyzing climate change action. The 79 grant recipients from the 2021 grantmaking cycle represent a broad cross-section of collecting institutions across more than 25 states, ranging from smaller specialized museums, to regional powerhouses, to major encyclopedic institutions.

"As an artist, Frankenthaler saw the ecology of making a lasting mark. The Frankenthaler Climate Initiative will have a significant impact on museum sustainability," said artist and MOCA Environmental Council co-founder, Haley Mellin.

Stewarded by MOCA’s Environmental Council, founded in October 2020 as the first council of its kind for a U.S. museum, the technical assistance grant will support a transformational solar energy project at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. Shifting to renewable energy will make the greatest impact on the museum’s energy consumption, yielding an estimated 68% savings in annual energy costs and moving to carbon-free energy for a healthy climate. The grant will support the technical phase in transitioning MOCA Geffen to solar energy. This follows scoping work conducted as part of the Low Carbon Leaders pilot program with the U.S. Department of Energy and the L.A. Better Buildings Challenge (LABBC) to demonstrate pathways to low or zero net carbon in buildings.

"Art is about pushing boundaries, opening ourselves up to new ways of thinking and being. That’s the kind of vision and creativity we need right now to address the climate crisis. Will we do the harder thing and build back better, or go back to business as usual? MOCA is choosing the harder path, and I’m excited to embark on this journey with them," said David Hodgins, Executive Director of the LABBC.

One of many initiatives of MOCA’s Environmental Council, "Greening the Geffen" encompasses converting to renewable energy; improving efficiencies in exhibition space and design; and creating a publicly accessible green space through ecologically conscious landscaping and the construction of a community garden. This aligns with a long history of energy efficiency at MOCA, as MOCA Grand was built to be sustainably minded in the 1980s and frequently renovated to enhance sustainability.

About the Frankenthaler Climate Initiative
The Frankenthaler Climate Initiative is the first nation-wide program to support energy efficiency and clean energy use for the visual arts and the largest private national grant-making program to address climate change action through cultural institutions. Its grants provide critical support to visual art museums in the United States seeking to assess their impact on the environment and to lower ongoing energy costs, which are among the highest fixed costs faced by museums. The Frankenthaler Climate Initiative builds on the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation’s commitment to social impact philanthropy, catalyzing change across critical issues in the arts. The Frankenthaler Climate Initiative was launched and is managed in association with RMI, an independent nonprofit that engages businesses, communities, institutions, and entrepreneurs in accelerating the adoption of market-based solutions that cost-effectively create a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future, and Environment & Culture Partners, a nonprofit that creates relationships and leads collaborations that engage the cultural sector in broader climate action.

About the L.A. Better Buildings Challenge
A local affiliate of the U.S. Department of Energy Better Buildings Initiative, the Los Angeles Better Buildings Challenge (LABBC) is a network of L.A.’s best buildings, committed to reducing energy and water use in line with the science-based goals outlined in the Sustainable City pLAn and the Paris Climate Accord. With more than 100 million square feet of buildings participating, the LABBC is one of the most significant sustainability initiatives in the world.

Image Credit: The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, photo by Elon Schoenholz.

Image Credit: The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, photo by Elon Schoenholz.

2021 Achievements

  • Founded first Environmental Council for a U.S. art museum
  • Supported 18 international partner museums, 44 local Los Angeles galleries, and 6 climate-art sector initiatives in developing their sustainability missions
  • Supported the formation of the Gallery Climate Coalition Los Angeles chapter (GCC LA)
  • Announced first carbon reduction commitment for a U.S. art museum
  • Declared the museum’s carbon reduction targets of 50% emissions reduction by 2030 and net-zero carbon by 2023
  • Completed the first annual carbon audit, reduction strategy, and strategic climate funding
  • Hosted MOCA’s first carbon net-zero exhibition: Pipilotti Rist: Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor; followed by its first net-zero production: Sun & Sea
  • Funded Sun & Sea production, including tickets for 40 climate artists and activists
  • Funded exhibition on environmental justice of Crenshaw Dairy Mart and Los Angeles Poverty Department’s abolitionist pod (prototype), 2021
  • Hosted first climate-responsible events for Jennifer Packer: Every Shut Eye Ain’t Sleep inaugural reception and opening dinner for Pipilotti Rist: Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor
  • Completed materials re-circulation audit and carbon inventory for Pipilotti Rist: Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor exhibition and published the museum’s first Climate Impact Report
  • Hosted ecological-focused studio visits with artists Anika Yi, Olafur Eliasson, and Katharina Grosse with Klaus Biesenbach
  • Double offset base year carbon emissions and Pipilotti Rist: Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor exhibition via REDD+ and permanent land conservation support through Galleries Commit and Art for Acres
  • Received the inaugural Low Carbon Leaders pilot grant, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and the LA Better Buildings Challenge
  • Received the inaugural Helen Frankenthaler Climate Initiative grant for solar implementation Phase II at The Geffen Contemporary
  • Completed Art to Zero staff 8-month sustainability conversation series with a final presentation to all-staff in October 2021
  • Declared the museum’s single-use plastic free target of 2022
  • Completed staff-supported single-use plastics audit, along with a sustainability audit of office areas, kitchens, mini-kitchens, breakrooms, and exhibition production areas
  • Completed EPA Energy Star Portfolio Manager benchmarking report
  • Partnered with peer institutions in Los Angeles as a founding member of
    MuseoCycle, a materials sharing platform targeted to the art sector
  • Participated in the Ki Futures pilot program, a sustainability education and
    community building program for the art and cultural sector
  • Hired Sustainability Consultant Simone Paz
  • Published the first Environmental Council Newsletter for MOCA staff
  • Completed an energy efficiency assessment through the Low Carbon Leaders program for improving building efficiency at Grand Ave and The Geffen Contemporary
  • Set energy reduction targets for The Geffen Contemporary in line with the
    museum’s carbon reduction targets

2022 Goals

  • Further funding of local and site-specific talks and programs at MOCA that support artist activism, climate, and environmental justice conversations
  • Completing the funding strategies and installation of solar panels at The Geffen Contemporary
  • Developing leading visual and education programs on intersectional
    environmental justice work with artists in Los Angeles
  • Completing the carbon inventory for historical emissions from museum inception
  • Ongoing research and review to incorporate daylighting into galleries to reduce energy consumption and carbon footprint
  • Collaborating with international museum partners on ecological exhibitions and initiatives
  • Creating a materials recirculation strategy for exhibitions using the Pipilotti Rist: Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor exhibition as a case study
  • Introducing a composting program throughout the museum
  • Initiating sustainable clothing partnerships for branded merchandise at the MOCA Store
  • Making policy recommendations and creating replacement strategies based on single-use plastics audit results
  • Identifying plant-based and climate-responsible catering sources for Gala and other catering needs
  • Implementing 100% recycled paper for all museum printing needs
  • Reducing paper use throughout the museum by 50%
  • Continued support of capacity building of arts organizations with meaningful and sector-specific response to the climate crisis


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