Napa Valley Museum Sees the Light


Lighting is a hot topic in museums across the country, including the Napa Valley Museum, located in Yountville. As many of us convert to light emitting diode (LED) lighting in our homes and offices, museum administrators and curators responsible for exhibition lighting are confronting a big, expensive decision. They know LEDs significantly reduce energy consumption, maintenance costs, and waste, but the initial investment is substantial—and how will these lights affect the artwork?

“The environment is one of the key topics in our mission (art, history, and environment),” said Kristie Sheppard, Napa Valley Museum executive director. “We felt we should be doing our part to help the environment.” So last year, Sustainable Napa County (SNC) and Napa County Energy Watch (NCEW) performed an audit at the Napa Valley Museum to see if there were places the nonprofit museum might achieve energy cost savings. 

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Subsequently, the museum replaced incandescent lighting with LEDs in the entrances, outdoors, and in the downstairs history and spotlight galleries. Many museum curators are reluctant to switch to LEDs because of perceived color issues and concerns about how the lighting might affect the art. LEDs are actually less damaging to historical artifacts than regular lights, so Sheppard was happy to make the switch in the downstairs gallery, but she shared the same concerns as her colleagues and held off converting the main gallery, which houses changing art exhibitions.

The effect of lighting changes is a hot topic among museums, and a current focus of research. Last year, the Smithsonian American Art Museum organized a conference called “Gallery Illumination: LED Lighting in Today’s Museums,” where expert lighting specialists, scientists, designers, and end-users shared expertise on the topic from their various perspectives. Additionally, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has implemented several lighting case studies in museums throughout the U.S. A successful demonstration at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in New Mexico was followed by LED installation in the gallery spaces at the Getty Research Institute and Getty Museum in Southern California. The DOE recently published its final evaluation report from the study at the J. Paul Getty Museum and found that retrofit of lighting used to illuminate a special photography exhibition resulted in significant energy savings—and the LED lamps had no more affect on photodegradation than would be expected from UV/IR filtered halogen lamps. 

In view of this reassuring information from others in the field, the Napa Valley Museum recently took the plunge and replaced traditional halogen lamps with 80 LED Energy Saving R20 floodlights in its 2,500-square-foot main gallery. The LEDs offer a color-rendering index of 90 and a dramatic reduction in IR radiation and UV radiation, both of which are carefully monitored in museums due to their harmful effects on artwork.

Wine_reception__Huether_program_and_NVM_building_photos_015“The museum didn’t compromise the artwork, and receives all the added benefits of energy-efficient lighting without the concern for harmful heat and high electrical bills,” said Sheppard. “And by switching to LED lighting, the museum will see about a 9 percent decrease in our electrical bill.” 

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