In February 2016 the Getty Conservation Institute, with the Lunder Conservation Center at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, organized a two-day class on recent developments in museum and gallery lighting. “Master Class on Museum Lighting: Options Beyond White LED” (offered in two back-to-back sessions because of high demand) presented methodologies for the effective use and evaluation of the new generation of LED lighting, including the accompanying control options for museum settings.

The classes brought together professionals from different backgrounds involved in exhibition lighting and lighting policies in museums and galleries, specifically those who face the challenges of integrating and evaluating LED lighting into their exhibition settings. Participants included lighting and exhibition designers, facility managers, conservators, and conservation scientists.

Opportunities and challenges from the introduction of color-tunable LED lighting systems and their utilization in museum exhibits were addressed, along with energy consumption issues of new LED lighting systems and the problems of balancing aesthetics with preservation. In some cases, these new lighting systems may provide a higher margin of safety to light-sensitive artifacts. But because the spectral distribution of light from color-tunable lamps can be manipulated for aesthetic reasons (with the possibility of enhancing faded colors in objects or selecting higher color temperatures), the potential damage factor has to be considered. Despite the current availability of technical and scientific tools for assessing potential light damage, there is some uncertainty in assessing risks of damage from lighting.

The master class provided a nuanced view of damage caused by light and a better understanding of the concerns of, and challenges faced by, different professionals. The class format encouraged an exchange of knowledge and ideas and promoted discussion of topics ranging from color perception and color preference to light damage to light-sensitive artifacts. A visit to the renovated Renwick Gallery gave participants the opportunity to experience novel lighting design and implementation. Systems issues with LEDs were discussed in a real setting. The participants raised the important topic of documenting lighting design as part of an exhibition, especially where the lighting has become a more integral part of an artwork.

The class offered a unique opportunity for participants to share experiences and strengthen their understanding of different aspects of museum lighting, from practical implementation and cost balance to aesthetics and managing the risk of damage caused by light.


  • Jim Druzik, senior scientist, GCI
  • Naomi Miller, senior scientist, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Portland
  • Joe Padfield, conservation scientist, National Gallery, London
  • Tess Perrin, lighting scientist, Advanced Lighting Team, PNNL
  • Scott Rosenfeld, lighting designer, Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC