Conservation Checklist for the Exhibit Planner

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A preservation-responsible exhibit incorporates conservation at the earliest stages of the planning process. The exhibit planner facilitates the inclusion of conservation issues.

What is an exhibit planner or project manager?

The exhibit planner, often called the project manager, guides the exhibit process. The exhibit planner may be a curator, exhibit designer, register, another staff member, or even an outside contractor. Making sure that team members identify and address conservation criteria is an important function of the planner.
While the planner is not directly responsible for many of the tasks required to produce a preservation-responsible exhibit, the planner or manager has the administrative role of ensuring that these actions are taken. Because routine maintenance and the de-installation of the exhibit must also be carried out according to appropriate conservation criteria, oversight of object preservation by the exhibit planner continues even after the exhibit opens.
Scheduling enough time to address conservation can be a challenge for an exhibit planner. The form in this Technote can be used to track conservation throughout the exhibition process. Such a form can be used alone, but may be more useful if incorporated into the overall exhibit schedule.
What is the exhibit planner’s role in exhibit development? The exhibit planner has the administrative role to ensure that three major steps are taken during exhibit development.

  1. Compiling information the conservator needs to develop the conservation criteria.
    • written requirements for all objects incorporating those borrowed from other institutions, including the length of loan, current condition of the material, and any security and conservation requirements;
    • requirements for exhibit case access and curatorial maintenance;
    • data on the environmental conditions of the proposed exhibit spaces under consideration (particularly ambient relative humidity and any problems, such as damp exterior walls, etc., that may have been observed).
  2. Providing for safe collection management procedures.
    • a holding area for objects selected for display; include tables and work lamps;
    • label or clearly tag all exhibit objects so they can be identified without handling; prove handling guidelines; use precaution signs to signal particularly delicate or fragile materials;
    • gather relevant accessioning information such as when the material was last on display and any past conservation treatment;
    • prepare conservation reports on proposed exhibit items.
  3. Incorporating conservation into the exhibit design.
    • necessary preventative features designed into the exhibit;
    • objects, cases, and light fixtures easily accessible for maintenance and emergencies;
    • begin formulating the maintenance plan for the exhibit.

How can the exhibit planner support conservation during exhibit production?

The successful implementation of the conservation criteria for an exhibit is realized during the production phase. Important steps in producing a conservation-grade exhibit that the exhibit planner can facilitate include:

  • establishing a production schedule that incorporates agreed upon preservation measures;
  • reviewing any exhibit props—especially taxidermy specimens, food stuffs, and natural products—to identify any pest control measures required to eliminate risks;
  • ensuring that conservation prototypes are built, tested, and fine-tuned;
  • preparing a clean and secure space near the exhibit site for last minute mount making and temporary artifact storage where the artifact mounted and possibly the conservator can work on the final fitting of the mounts away from the traffic of visitors or other workers;
  • assuring all transported exhibit objects receive proper packing preparation and shipment of objects coming from different geographical/climate zones often require special care to prevent damage during transport.

What responsibility does the exhibit planner have after the exhibit opens to the public?

Post-installation responsibilities focus on paperwork and on following through with scheduled exhibit maintenance. It is important that conservation features built into the exhibit be maintained. When the exhibition planner is not a museum employee (outside design firm), a staff member must be appointed to implement post-installation responsibilities. Duties include the following.

  • assure that any conservation treatment reports and condition reports are placed in permanent files;
  • set up an exhibit check list to be used during the first six months of a new exhibit to catch any problems; notify the appropriate party of deficiencies so that corrections can be made in a timely manner, and before any warranty has expired;
  • implement a pest management program for the exhibition, including constant monitoring for evidence of insects;
  • monitor the temperature (including heating due to exhibit lighting) and humidity in all environmentally controlled exhibit cases;
  • assess the performance of exhibit cases and discuss any needed adjustments with the exhibition team (including the level of interior pollutants if a filtering/monitoring system is installed);
  • check light levels and arrange for any changes to be made;
  • finalize the exhibition maintenance manual and follow through with schedules.