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Why The Future of Museum Gallery Lighting is Already Here

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to lighting a museum gallery. On the technical design side, there are two main factors to consider: light color temperature, or the warmth or coolness of a light source, and the Color Rendering Index (CRI), or the system used to indicate relative color rendering ability.

On the operations side, there are also a few things to think about, such as the susceptibility of the art piece to light damage, the conflict between preserving a piece and displaying it, and cost (labor for installation and maintenance, lamp purchases, and electricity).  

It’s no wonder then that museum art and lighting directors are so fond of LEDs. They are the easy solution to all the questions outlined above. And respectively why fluorescent lights were so largely dreaded prior to the arrival of LED lighting. 

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Quality

After their installation was upgraded with LED lighting, IU Art Museum’s curator Linda Baden wrote, “As far as aesthetic issues go, there is a very interesting discussion going on right now at the museum concerning light temperature. The clarity, crispness, and full-spectrum color afforded by the museum’s 5000K LEDs is very different aesthetically from the warm incandescent lighting we are all used to.”  One of the main concerns with the warm tones of incandescent or halogen lighting has always been the yellow hues that alter the representation of colors in art pieces.

Energy Efficient and Cost Effective

On a typical gallery operating schedule, LEDs are estimated to live up to 20 years, while halogen bulbs live up to one year. This means a reduction in cost for labor to replace lamps in high-ceiling galleries, which would require skilled labor, not to mention the risk of damaging the art. They also only consume 12W of power, whereas halogen bulbs consume 90W.

The Jordan Schnitzer used 54 LED lamps to replace 49 halogen lamps and reduced their annual electricity cost from $593 to $84.

Unique Features

LED lights can be dimmable up to 25 percent intensity. For museum galleries, this means the same bulb could be used for both light-sensitive and durable art. This eliminates the need for scrims or filters to reduce light and allows more flexibility in use since the museums could determine different light levels for different exhibits. This ultimately would add to the reduction of cost because it would eliminate the need for scrims, filters, and manual labor for installation and removal.

With these improvements and as LEDs make more headway to answer the demands of museum gallery lighting, the future for more cost effective, multipurpose options for museum lighting looks bright and promising.

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