Guideline 1.1

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Guideline 1.1:
Conservation concerns are incorporated at the start of the exhibit planning process.


The importance of introducing conservation early in the exhibit process cannot be overemphasized. Museum exhibition experience has shown that an object-friendly exhibit can be achieved most effectively and efficiently when object conservation is included as a priority at the beginning of an exhibit’s development.

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Why is it essential to introduce conservation concerns at the beginning of exhibit planning?

Conservation concerns should be introduced at the beginning of an exhibit project to:
Incorporate conservation efficiently into the exhibit process:
  • Incorporating conservation as a priority at the start of exhibit planning will reduce the likelihood of time-consuming and costly complications arising later on. Such attention to conservation ensures there will be sufficient time to make necessary modifications to the exhibit plan, or to select alternate objects to replace particularly vulnerable objects, or to find an alternative exhibit location or venue.
  • Knowing early on what steps will be required for effective conservation allows the exhibit team to schedule sufficient time and budget adequate funds for their successful completion. These estimates can also provide early warning that the initial plans are too ambitious given the resources available for conservation.
Maximize options for exhibit damage mitigation
  • By identifying the conservation needs of exhibit objects early on, the exhibit team can consider all options for protecting objects from the hazards of exhibition. If the team defers conservation concerns until later in the process, they will have already locked out many options. These include mitigation features that require time for installation, such as room climate controls and building modifications, and those that must be incorporated into the exhibit design, such as well-sealed exhibit cases and object-safe construction materials.
Ensure efficient use of resources
  • Leaving conservation concerns until later in the exhibit process not only reduces mitigation options, it can also be more costly. If the preservation needs of objects are not identified until after the exhibit design has been established, the design may fail to include adequate safeguards to protect the objects while on exhibit. It can be expensive and difficult, if not impossible, to retrofit exhibits. Similarly, it may be too late to employ simple and cost-effective solutions, such as grouping together objects with the same vulnerabilities in one climate-controlled case enclosure. Resources can be used most efficiently when the specific preservation needs are identified early on.
Achieve a successful balance between exhibit goals
  • By starting discussion and cooperation at the beginning of the project, the exhibit team (e.g. the exhibit’s coordinator, designer, curator, and conservator) can most easily create a successful balance between meeting the preservation needs of the objects and realizing the educational, interpretive and aesthetic goals of the exhibit.


How to ensure that conservation concerns are incorporated in early planning: The Exhibit Proposal

The exhibit team evaluates the proposal for conservation concerns: The exhibit team should discuss and review potential conservation issues during the early planning process. By evaluating the key features of the written exhibit proposal at an early date, the exhibit team can begin to identify any conservation concerns inherent in the proposal, anticipate the associated conservation costs, and decide on modifications. Consider addressing the following preservation issues:
• How long objects will remain on display
• Whether the exhibit will travel
• Whether collections from other institutions will be included and whether there will be outside preservation loan requirements
• What personnel and financial resources are available for the design, construction, installation, and maintenance of the exhibition
• What optional locations are available for the exhibition and how each of these will impact security, lighting, and other conservation issues.
• What climatic region will be involved and what environmental conditions are likely
• Whether special mandates for the exhibit, such as open display for most objects, will affect object conservation. Special populations may require special contact with collections.
• Whether objects can be replicated, or reproductions used; and whether objects can be rotated or substituted.
Addressing conservation concerns by modifying the exhibit proposal is oftentimes much less costly than utilizing complicated conservation features in exhibit design or risking damage to collection objects.
A proposed exhibition of 19th century lace-making equipment, for example, may require that interpreters use the equipment to demonstrate how it worked. To avoid damage to collection objects, the proposal could be modified to require that non-collection objects or reproductions should be acquired to use in place of the originals.
A qualified conservator reviews the proposal for conservation concerns: The exhibit’s conservator should review the various aspects of the initial exhibit proposal—proposed exhibit objects and methods of display, location, intended duration of exhibit, intended audience—that could have an impact on the conservation of the objects. By reviewing the exhibit proposal at this early stage of exhibit development, the conservator can identify conservation concerns that are inherent in the proposal. The conservator can then discuss the implications for object safety with the exhibit team and can suggest modifications to the proposal.


How to ensure that conservation concerns are incorporated in early planning: The Exhibit Location

In many cases, the exhibit team does not have a choice of location for the proposed exhibit. However, when more than one location is available, the team should consider the potential impact the proposed location (gallery, hall or room) could have on object safety. If the proposed location raises conservation concerns, it may be advisable to locate the exhibit in an alternative location with fewer potential conservation hazards.
The exhibit team could evaluate the suitability of the location with reference to site features such as:
  • What are potential hazards in the surrounding environment?
For example: What is the likelihood of natural disasters such as flooding, earthquake, and wildfires? What is the ambient air quality?
  • What are potential hazards in the exhibit building?
For example: Does the building have a flat roof prone to flooding?
Is the museum located far from fire hydrants?
  • Does the specific location accommodate the requirements of the exhibit plan?
For example: Will the space accommodate the size of the exhibit being planned or will displays become dangerously overcrowded and cramped? Will the floor bear the weight of the proposed exhibit objects?
  • Does the space contain features that could be hazardous to the exhibit objects?
For example: Does the space have overhead water pipes? Are there heat vents or windows and skylights within the exhibit space? Do air quality data for the space indicate the presence of contaminants or extremes of temperature and relative humidity?
  • In climates with periods of extreme cold, heat or humidity that can pose severe hazards to susceptible objects, does the exhibit space provide protective features?
For example: The space has few exterior walls that could transmit temperature differential or condensation; floor is above ground level and thus not prone to damp or flooding; vapor barriers are included in the walls, floor, and ceiling. Weather seals and insulated walls, floor, and ceiling are adequate.
  • If deficiencies are identified, how feasible will it be to modify the space?
For example: Can windows be blocked? Can climate controls be added to the room or a climate-controlled case be used? Will the exhibit budget be able to cover the necessary expenses?
(For information on assessments the exhibit’s conservator will conduct of the exhibit location and for examples of site features to evaluate, see Guideline 7:1 and Guideline 7.2)