Museum Lighting

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Museum Lighting

Lighting is a major consideration when it comes to museums. Improperly placed or installed fixtures can even cause damage to artwork. Beyond this, museum guests expect a pleasant, safe experience during which they can clearly see the art. A thoughtfully planned and professionally installed lighting scheme is crucial for any museum. In addition, many museums have an educational center for learning, have storage requirements, and staff that require proper light levels.
Museum exhibit
Museum exhibit with emphasis on lighting

Key Factors in Planning Museum Lighting

When planning a new lighting scheme or replacing existing lights in a museum, there are lots of factors that must be considered. In many museums, each different exhibition space and gallery has different lighting needs based on things like ambiance, the nature of the artworks or type of museum, how many pieces there are, and how big or small they are. Natural light from windows and skylights must also be considered, as well as visitor and staff safety and security. For example, a museum can range from an art museum which houses smaller pieces to an air and space museum that houses much bigger displays.

Pillars of Success – Museum Lighting And Design

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  • graphic graphic
  • graphic graphic

Pillar 1: Proper Illumination

Museum guests and staff must be able to see clearly throughout every part of the museum. Not only do they need to be able to see the artwork, but they also must be able to see where they are walking. Museums often have many staircases, hallways, and galleries across multiple floors, all of which require good lighting. Exterior areas, cafes, gift shops, and parking lots and garages must also be outfitted with high-quality lighting. Dimly lit areas can give way to accidents and crime, so it is important to work with a lighting professional to ensure your museum is well-lit with fixtures with the appropriate lumen output.

Pillar 2: Ambiance

In museums, ambiance is a key part of the experience for visitors. People are more likely to enjoy their time in the museum if the lighting is appropriate for the space. Lighting control devices like dimmer switches can be installed throughout the space to enable staff to specifically tailor light levels to the atmosphere of each part of the museum. Some installations call for bright, clear, white lighting. Others call for moodier, colored lighting. There are some light colors that are actually damaging to paintings – for example, some Van Gogh pieces have been damaged by blue and UV lighting. Whatever your specific needs may be, our lighting technicians can help choose and install the best lamps and fixtures for your museum.

Pillar 3: Reduced Energy Costs

Given the facts that they operate most of the year and many must be lit 24/7, museums consume a lot of energy. For example, in 2017, the Philadelphia Museum of Art was spending $3 million per year to heat, cool, and light the space. Museums that rely on taxpayer funds and privately-owned ones alike can certainly benefit from savings associated with upgrading to energy-efficient lighting. LED bulbs last incomparably longer than traditional ones, meaning they need to be replaced less often and require little maintenance. However, it is important to work with a lighting professional in planning your museum lighting scheme, as some LEDs can be damaging to certain types of artworks. Strategically placing lights so that they will be illuminating without causing issues is critical.

Venue collage

How Lighting Impacts Museum Guests and Staff

According to Hannah Crowell, an exhibition designer at the Mint Museum, “Lighting is about visibility but also perception,” Crowell said. “At its core, lighting design is about controlling what is light and what is dark to help tell a story.” Thoughtfully planned lighting is always important in public spaces, but especially so when it comes to museums. Guests come to museums for a curated sensory experience. A major part of that curation is carefully controlled lighting levels that enable them to perceive the artwork in a specific way. Additionally, staff and visitors cannot feel safe and comfortable in a museum if they cannot see clearly where they most need to. Areas that see a lot of foot traffic or don’t have much access to natural light must be properly illuminated in order to prevent accidents.

Venue interior with chandelier and large winding stair case

Antique chandelier in Baltimore, MD

Museum Lighting Case Studies

With close proximity to the Baltimore Washington metropolitan area, we supply lighting to many local museums. Most of these museums are hundreds of years old. Finding the correct LED lamp for re-lamps and retrofit projects can be challenging. In one of our recent case studies, Bay Lighting was enlisted to find a replacement lamp for an antique chandelier. Upon completion, this LED retrofit project paid for itself within 18 days through rebates and energy savings. Visit our case studies to learn more.

Smithsonian archives

LED Lighting in Suitland, MD

Museum Turn-Key Projects

At Bay Lighting, we offer a comprehensive and collaborative lighting design and installation process from start to finish. We help museums accomplish their lighting goals and create beautiful, safe, inviting spaces.

Areas that should be considered in any turn-key museum lighting project include:

  • Galleries
  • Lobbies
  • Exhibition halls
  • Classrooms and conference rooms
  • Office spaces
  • Restoration rooms
  • Storage areas
  • Restrooms
  • Cafes and gift shops
  • Stairwells
  • Parking lots and garages
  • Exterior walkways and trails
  • Exterior installation spaces
Museum lighting

Contact Us

At Bay Lighting, we work with museums throughout Washington, D.C. and Maryland to install quality lighting and retrofit exiting fixtures. Our certified lighting technicians will conduct an on-site assessment in order to identify your specific lighting needs and help you maintain a well-lit space in which staff and guests can feel welcome and safe and artwork is protected from any potential damage. Fill out our contact form to request a lighting consultation


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