Green that Studio!

CAA Services to Artists Committee
Health and Safety in the Artist Studio
Wednesday, February 9th
Chairs: Mark Gottsegen, AMIEN and ICA Art Conservation; and Brian Bishop, Framington State University
Panelists: Jennifer Steensma Hoag, Calvin College
Brian Gillis, University of Oregon
Claudia Sbrissa, St. John’s University
David Zenk, Gund Partnership; and Monona Rossol, Arts, Crafts, and Theater Safety, Inc.
Mark Gottsegen, AMIEN, and ICA Art Conservation

At the 2008 CAA conference in Dallas, I co-chaired for the Professional Practices Committee, with Duane Slick of the Services to Artists Committee, a session entitled “The Sustainable Studio.” That session, also held in ARTspace, consisted of Duane speaking to his experience upgrading the RISD painting studios. As the art historian on the panel, I presented a paper entitled “Hazardous Traditions: A Short History of the Environmental Impact of Art Practice,” tracing the origins and historical usage of traditionally toxic materials in art practice. We also invited the artist Jae-Rhim Lee of MIT, whose studio work focused specifically on bio-remediation, to posit a potential answer to the use of toxic materials in the studio. Since then, there has been an explosion in the interest in “greening” the studio, and practice. So it was with great curiosity, and pleasure, that I attended this year’s Services to Artists Committee and ARTspace session “Health and Safety in the Artist Studio.”

This particular session, in comparison to the 2008 session, provided specifically ideas, information, and even where to start, if one has been bestowed with the arduous task by their department to create an environmentally safer, OSHA-compliant, accreditation-accommodating, and pedagogically advantageous studio. The nuts-and-bolts nature and breadth of these presentations made them easy to understand, and they covered a wide variety of disciplines.

Jennifer Steensma Hoag and Brian Gillis addressed the explicit needs of the specialized photography and ceramics studios. Jennifer went into detail about the different high tech collection systems Calvin College is utilizing to process developing chemicals. Brian provided in depth information about the leading occupational lung disease known to ceramists, Silicosis. Information regarding shop hazards, and common health and safety issues in a ceramics studio was also discussed.

David Zenk and Monona Rossol, and Mark Gottsegen addressed more general building design parameters, such as building codes, energy conservation, chemical storage and use, the storage and disposal of hazardous waste. Mark showed several examples of good and bad examples of proper ventilation and storage. The information provided was vast, and extremely illuminating. In particular, Mark Gottsegen reminded all of us that studios are also, technically, chemical labs and industrial machine shops, and should be treated accordingly. Secondly, he reminded us to “READ THE LABELS!”

Claudia Sbrissa brought a unique and equally significant point of view to the discussion. In her paper “Greening the Studio,” Claudia discussed the convergence of receiving the commission in 2003 to renovate the printmaking studio at St. John’s University in New York, a studio not modernized since the 1970s, and the necessity to make massive changes to her own artistic and personal life, to make them “greener.” During the course of the panel discussion, dialogue veered toward the attitudes, and/or willingness, of the faculty and students to maintain this “green” sensibility. Again, Claudia experience best provided for this answer. She made it very clear that, if you continually practice “green art,” your students will take note, and follow suit. She mentioned, and I agree, that most students today are very aware of, and passionate about, environmental issues, they just need to learn the detailed training in studio management, and the encouragement from faculty to integrate these practices into their professional and personal lives.

Brian Gillis offered a brief overview for putting together a proposal for studio upgrades. In other words, for asking for what you need:
• A needs assessment/report
• Proposal
• Meet with Department Head
• Meet with Safety Officer
• Meet with Dean
• Try to connect with diverse funding sources on and off campus
• Because of budget issues, try as much as possible to connect funding with best practices.

In response to funding, here are key areas to look at:
• Training
• Policies/Protocols
• Curriculum
• Facilities
• Equipment

I remember creating in studios caked with paint, resins, and inks. Students and faculty alike repeatedly ate, drank, and even smoked inside the studios, alongside the pigments and mineral spirits. Ventilation was at a minimum. Thanks to Brian Bishop and Mark Gottsegen, and everyone on this panel, as well as previous panels, for highlighting such an important issue!

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