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A Exhibit Planning - Conservation and the Exhibit Process

A:1 Integrating Conservation into the Exhibit Process

  • Integrate conservation early in the exhibit planning phase. Make a commitment to preserving objects placed on exhibit by including conservation concerns throughout the development and production of the exhibit.
  • Provide adequate time and resources. Build in enough time for development and review of technical designs, case prototypes, lighting mockups, and the testing of proposed materials. The schedule must allow for safe handling, exhibit mount making, and installation. Budget for tasks, such as treatment and special casework.
  • Search for balanced and appropriate solutions. Conservation solutions should be chosen that efficiently meet the needs of the specific exhibit circumstances.

[sidebar]
A successful museum exhibit fulfills its educational intent, is aesthetically engaging, and protects the objects on display.
--RPArenstein (talk) 11:33, 11 December 2019 (CST)

The Exhibit Process

The development and production of an exhibit are organic processes. By incorporating preservation as an integral part of the process, a museum can create an exhibit that fulfills its educational intent, is aesthetically engaging, and provides a protective environment for the objects. Each person involved in the exhibit process has some responsibility to ensure that museum objects are not damaged as a result of display. Exhibit conservators serve as liaisons between conservation and exhibition, helping to bring about a balance between preservation and display.

Dual Responsibilities of Museums

The common mission of museum—to collect, preserve, and interpret collections—involves a complex web of responsibilities. The preservation commitment is to long-term conservation of the artistic, natural, and cultural resources entrusted to an institution. Exhibits are important and effective interpretive tools, but they expose objects to conditions that can damage them. Exhibition and preservation do not have be at conflict if exhibit specialists employ appropriate and balanced conservation solutions.

An exhibit's design and environmental conditions have profound effects on the long-term preservation of museum objects. Exposure to intense light, wide variations in temperature and humidity or excessive humidity, dust and pollutants, and inappropriate handling and mounting techniques can irreparably damage objects. On the other hand, objects illuminated at relatively low light levels, housed in an environment with stable temperature and humidity, and supported by protective mounts will remain in good physical condition. [Sidebar] Conservation is a thread to be woven through the four stages of exhibit development and production: planning, design, fabrication, and installation.

Conservation and the Exhibit Process

Conservation is a thread to be woven through every stage of the exhibit process. The conservator's expertise is too often introduced late—in some cases, after the initial design has been approved. It is costly and difficult, if not impossible, to retrofit exhibits. The challenge is to design and produce preservation-responsible exhibits that also attract and inform the public. Discussion and cooperation among the designer, curator, and conservator at the beginning of a project can ensure a successful balance.

Successful inclusion of conservation means the involvement of conservators in key exhibit decisions and the provision of critical conservation services. (See Figure 1) Integrate conservation into these four aspects of exhibit development:

  • Planning: Object selection should take into account the current condition and future welfare of each object. Include a conservator in the selection process. Allowing sufficient time and resources to address the preservation requirements established by the conservation criteria is critical to the conservation success of an exhibit.
  • Design: The conservation criteria affect the design concept, display format, and layout. Sensitive collections may require specific climatic conditions. The lighting plan should reflect a concern for light- sensitive objects.
  • Fabrication: The methods used to build the exhibit environment should meet the conservation criteria. Construction materials, especially the exhibit casework, require careful selection, inspection, and testing to ensure that they will not damage the objects they house.
  • Installation: The installation process should be orchestrated to avoid damaging collections, with specific care given to the handling of objects.

Object mounts are a special area of conservation concern and the development of a maintenance manual is critical in providing preservation information.

The following chart highlights the steps in exhibit devel- opment (planning and design) and production (fabrication and installation) that require conservation involvement. (See Figure 2 ) Conservation will play a greater role in some phases than in others. Issues such as environmental conditions and object handling are a concern throughout the process. Some issues even affect whether an exhibit proposal is carried to fruition and which objects are placed on view.

Commitment of Time and Resources

As solutions to conservation concerns are worked out, more planning and design time may be required. Time for appropriate collections management, such as the tracking and proper handling of objects, must also be allowed. Providing sufficient time to construct and test case mockups ensures that elements of conservation design actually perform as intended. Likewise, the exhibit budget must include special conservation features and costs, such as archival framing, sealed cases, or additional security measures.

A:2 The Exhibit Team

  • Work cooperatively and share conservation responsibility. Each team member should take responsibility for understanding basic conservation issues and working with other members to achieve preservation-sensitive displays. The search for balanced and appropriate solutions often requires compromise.
  • Utilize supportive design staff. Use designers who are experienced in working with exhibit conservators and firms that have a history of producing preservation-responsible exhibits.
  • Require the highest construction standards. Develop drawings and specifications that clearly articulate the intended conservation features; consider including performance criteria. Oversee production contractors to ensure that conservation components are built as specified.


[Sidebar]
The exhibit team works together to arrive at effective, practical approaches to preservation-responsible display

Preservation-Minded Design Team

The exhibit team ideally includes a project manager, a Each member shares responsibility for ensuring the designer, a curator, an educator, a registrar, a preparator immediate safety and long-term preservation of the or installer, and a conservator. Team membership may objects and each should have a basic understanding of conservation issues. (See Figure 3) A cooperative and vary depending on the institution. Teams in smaller institutions may have fewer members, while some projects creative approach to problem solving is critical to the may require additional participants, such as a security successful incorporation of conservation.

Exhibit team members must be willing to work together to arrive at practical, effective solutions to preservation-responsible design. An exhibit conservator will recommend steps to protect an object, but there may be several ways to fulfill a recommendation. Likewise, some conservation recommendations are more critical than others. The solution depends on both the urgency of the conservation criteria and the practical limitations imposed by the exhibit budget and schedule.

Two key team members are the exhibit conservator and the designer. The conservator focuses on how display techniques and materials may affect the short- and long-term preservation of objects. Implementing conser­vation criteria involves time and expense, so the conser­vator's recommendations must be realistic. Exhibit conservators must be committed to serving as the liaison between the conservation and exhibit fields, easing the process rather than creating barriers. Whether choosing a staff designer or contracting with a design firm, conservation sensitivity should be a requirement. Designers need to be conversant with conservation concerns, including material selection, case construction, lighting design, and display formats and mounts. Look for previous experience with exhibits that included a conservator's involvement, and talk with conservators who have worked with the candidate. In each contract with an exhibit firm, outline the firm's responsibility to address conservation concerns.

Specifications and Production Staff

An important responsibility of the exhibit team is defining production specifications with conservation elements in mind. Establish clear specifications, especially for case construction, lighting system installation, and mount fabrication. Be explicit when communicating the produc­tion details to the production workers. The exhibit conservator should help establish the performance criteria (if they are required) for conservation elements of an exhibit and approve all drawings and written specifications. Inspections during production are the best way to guarantee that specifications are followed.

Conservation awareness on the part of exhibit fabricators and preparators encourages responsibility for meeting specifications. When selecting a contract production firm, evaluate not only the ability to meet exacting specifications but also the willingness to make the special effort required. In all production contracts, include some form of conservation inspection for critical components. For instance, inspections are needed to verify that the exhibit meets construction specifications, cases meet physical and performance requirements, exhibit lighting functions properly, and object mounts are satisfactory.

A:3 The Role of the Exhibit Conservator

  • Include an exhibit conservator on the exhibit team. Select a conservator who is qualified in the specialty of exhibit conservation. Often, a part-time consultant is sufficient.
  • Involve the exhibit conservator in the earliest stages and throughout the exhibit process. An exhibit conservator should set conservation criteria, participate in planning and design meetings, review conservation-related decisions, and assess prototypes and exhibit work after installation.

A Specialty within Conservation

Exhibit conservation has developed as a specialized field within the conservation profession. Rather than focusing on the treatment needs of collections, an exhibit conservator studies how display techniques and exhibit environments affect the preservation of museum collections.

The exhibit conservator establishes the conservation criteria for an exhibit and then facilitates their implemen­tation. The conservator lobbies for the important elements of the criteria and works actively with the designer to arrive at practical solutions for the long-term preservation of the objects. The conservator must advocate conservation objectives that are both necessary and appropriate.

The exhibit conservator must attend all design and production meetings that deal with conservation-related issues. In addition, the conservator should be involved in developing and evaluating prototypes intended to address conservation concerns, such as specialized casework or lighting design. An exhibit conservator:

  • evaluates and documents the condition and susceptibility of artifacts selected for display;
  • provides technical assistance to exhibit planners and designers;
  • reviews plans and drawings from a conservation standpoint;
  • selects methods for the control and monitoring of special exhibit environments;
  • provides technical analysis of construction materials and consultation on other production issues;
  • inspects and assesses the fabricated exhibit components; and
  • makes recommendations on specialized object mounts and sometimes serves as mount maker.


The following chart outlines the relationship of conserva­tion invovement to the exhibit process. (See Figure 2)

Finding an Exhibit Conservator

Not all conservators have the necessary experience to serve in a coordinating role during the exhibit process. The conservator who is usually responsible for treating objects may not be the best candidate. In addition to conservation expertise, an exhibit conservator will have firsthand experience in the practical demands of exhibit production. Such experience allows the conservator to bridge the conservation and exhibit fields, facilitating the exhibit process rather than simply introducing conservation requirements or restrictions.

  • An exhibit conservator's background generally includes:
  • a degree from a conservation program or comparable course work and internship experience;
  • additional job experience beyond formal training;
  • some experience as a practicing conservator;
  • broad experience in preventive conservation;
  • knowledge of recent technological advances in exhibit conservation and preventive conservation; and
  • experience in planning and setting up exhibits and working with exhibit teams.

The AIC maintains a referral system for conservators who are members of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC). The system includes their fields of specialization as well as geographic location. The brochure "Guidelines for Selecting a Conservator" offers general advice and information; obtain a copy from AIC, 202-452-9545. Another way to locate a conservator is through a referral from a museum or a design firm that has used exhibit conservators. Publications and speaker lists from related conferences may also identify qualified candidates. Interview potential exhibit conservators, and check their references. Candidates should be AIC members. Associate membership is open to anyone, while profes­sional associate membership may be applied for after five years of experience. A fellow is the highest level of membership.