Exhibition Conservators: How to Select One
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An exhibit conservator serves as the liaison between the conservation and exhibition fields, facilitating the incorporation of preservation into the exhibit process.
What is an exhibition conservator?
An exhibit conservator concentrates, not on the treatment of individual objects, but on how exhibit techniques can protect museum objects while they are on display. An exhibit conservator is:
- a preservation specialist with a multi-disciplinary approach to the care of collections on exhibit;
- a fully trained professional with specialized knowledge in material science, environmental control, and the engineering problems of exhibit development;
- supportive of the institution’s responsibility to its exhibit collections;
- practical and able to offer balanced solutions for incorporating conservation into the exhibition process.
The exhibit conservator ’s purpose is to incorporate conservation of collection objects into the exhibition project. The conservator achieves this through the development and implementation of the conservation criteria. The conservator then works with the exhibit team to arrive at practical methods to meet the conservation criteria. The effectiveness of an exhibition conservator depends on his or her inclusion throughout the planning, design, production and installation of the exhibit. Specifically, the exhibit conservator:
- uses a conservation viewpoint to assist in the selection of objects suitable for the proposed exhibit;
- evaluates and documents the condition of the artifacts selected for exhibition;
- conducts a conservation risk assessment of the proposed exhibition space;
- establishes the written conservation criteria for the exhibit;
- reviews exhibit plans and drawings from a conservation standpoint;
- provides technical assistance on conservation issues including case design, construction, decorative and finish materials, exhibit lighting, security, and mounting techniques;
- works with other members of the exhibit team to design and test casework intended to provide a specific conservation function;
- oversees the selection of environmental control measures and monitoring equipment for the overall exhibit space and for any microclimate case environments;
- analyzes proposed exhibit construction, finishing, and mount making materials;
- advises on conservation issues for traveling exhibits.
How do I locate an exhibit conservator?
Some institutions utilize their own in-house conservation departments, or a contract conservator or a regional conservation center they have used in the past. Other institutions contract with a conservator specializing in exhibit conservation. To locate an exhibit conservator:
- use the [www.culturalheritage.org American Institute for Conservation's] Find An Expert *consult professional organizations and local conservation guilds;
- ask for referrals from other museums, especially those that have opened recent, major exhibits, and exhibition design firms;
Always review the resume of potential conservators and carefully check their references.