Back to STANDARD 1: The Planning Process
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What are the benefits of identifying and mapping out all conservation-related activities?
- Experience has shown that successful object preservation depends upon conservation measures being incorporated systematically into each phase of the exhibit process. Thus, conservation of collections needs to be woven like a thread, methodically, throughout the entire exhibit process.
- The team should not be surprised by unanticipated conservation requirements or the length of time needed to complete conservation tasks. It is therefore important to identify all the steps necessary to protect exhibit objects and to map out the logical sequence of events. By laying this groundwork, the exhibit team can avoid both extra expense and potential damage to exhibit objects.
- As an example, the initial exhibit plan should be reviewed for conservation concerns. (See Guideline 1.1) For instance, in an exhibit of Victorian wedding dresses, the initial plan might call for dresses to be displayed in positions that would stress their vulnerable fabrics and crowd them into an exhibit space that could not safely accommodate the expected number of visitors. The condition assessment of the wedding dresses and their exhibit mounting system should therefore be scheduled well in advance of the opening date of the exhibit. This will ensure sufficient time to complete required conservation treatment and design appropriate mount supports before the exhibit opens.
What are the key conservation activities to address in the Planning phase?
- The following section takes a generic exhibit and outlines the main conservation activities and concerns that should be addressed during Planning. These activities are revisited in greater detail throughout the Standards for planning.
- • Selecting Personnel: Exhibit team members should be qualified to fulfill the conservation requirements. All team members share responsibility for preserving the collection. However, the conservation specialist, the exhibit coordinator, the designer, mountmaker and fabricator, bear particular responsibility for the welfare of objects.
- • Planning sessions: A conservation specialist should be included in the appropriate planning sessions to provide advice on the use of objects, to evaluate objects proposed for exhibit, and to advocate for appropriate preservation practices.
- • Conservation review of the exhibit plan: The conservator should review the exhibit plan or proposal to identify any risks to exhibit objects that are inherent in the plan.
- • Object selection: The criteria for selecting objects should include conservation concerns such as an object’s current condition and its ability to withstand the rigors of display. For security purposes, each object’s curatorial significance to the collection should also be established.
- • Object assessment: Once objects are selected, a conservator should conduct an assessment of their vulnerability to exhibition and assess the conservation treatment they require to prepare them for exhibition. (The specialists treating specific objects will develop comprehensive treatment proposals at a later date.)
- • Selection of the exhibit location: The exhibit location should be selected with consideration for the safety of exhibit objects.
- • Environmental monitoring of the exhibit location should be conducted to gather baseline data on temperature, relative humidity fluctuations, and airborne contaminants. Ideally, monitoring will provide data that reflects changes throughout the year.
- • An exhibit location assessment should be conducted in the exhibit space to identify potential hazards, such as airborne contaminants, pests, overhead pipes, or excessive amounts of natural light to determine what modifications may be required for the space. This may take the form of a general risk assessment.
- • Specialized risk assessments: Specialists may be brought on site to perform specialized assessments such as security and fire assessments. Such assessments may be advisable for long term exhibits or collections of particularly valuable objects. Local building codes may also require specific assessments. In the case of exhibits featuring exceptionally heavy objects, such as stone sarcophagi or monumental sculpture, a structural engineer should assess the load-bearing capacity of the gallery floor—and even of the hallways and other pathways through which the objects must pass en route to the exhibit space—to ensure they can support the weight.
- • Exhibit conservation requirements should be established by the conservation specialist for each object going on display. These requirements describe the level of protection the object requires from the various hazards of exhibition (light exposure, pests, temperature, etc.). And they are based upon the curatorial significance of the object, its specific vulnerabilities, the conservation threats found at the exhibit location, and the requirements of the exhibit plan.
- • Collections care training may be required for exhibit team members to enable them to fulfill their basic responsibility for protecting and preserving the exhibit objects. Typically this would include an overview of methods used to protect objects while on exhibit; object handling and documentation practices; and basic accountability procedures.
- • Temporary object storage: A suitable temporary storage area must be provided for objects while they are readied for display. The conditions in this storage area should meet the objects’ conservation requirements.
- • Exhibit object transit: Transport of exhibit objects must be well-planned and supervised to prevent damage or loss of objects during transit. Qualified individuals should be utilized for packing and shipping of collections.
- • Security training: Staff security training may be needed, depending on the security plan being proposed and staff experience.
What are the key conservation activities to address in the Design phase?
- The following section continues the description of a generic exhibit and outlines the key conservation activities and concerns that should be addressed during the Design phase. These activities are revisited in greater detail throughout the Standards for design.
- • Development of conservation strategies: The conservator should collaborate with exhibit team members to develop strategies that will afford appropriate protection to exhibit objects (i.e. satisfy the objects’ conservation requirements). Such strategies include: building conservation features into the exhibit design, adding environmental control equipment, instituting museum polices that support conservation objectives, and making architectural modifications to the exhibit location and building:
- • Mitigation of threats through exhibit design: In collaboration with the conservator, the designer can meet the conservation requirements, in large part, through including the appropriate conservation features and layout in the exhibit design.
- • Conservation hardware and equipment: The conservator, and other specialists as needed, should advise on specialized hardware and equipment that could help mitigate environmental and security threats. These would include climate control systems, air filtration, light dimmers, security features, etc.
- • Architectural modifications to the exhibit space: The conservator should identify architectural modifications, such as the addition of vapor barriers, a vestibule or window bars, that could help mitigate environmental and security threats.
- • Instituting policies that support conservation requirements: Museum policies can create a safer environment for exhibit objects. For example, implementing an Integrated Pest Management Program, limiting areas where food can be consumed inside the museum, and minimizing vegetation close to exterior walls can all reduce the threat of pests.
- • Exhibit design documents: The designer should provide clear instructions on how specialized conservation hardware and equipment, and design features, such as well-sealed exhibit cases, will mitigate the threats to exhibit objects. Documents should contain specifications for fabrication.
- • Technical review of drawings for the proposed design: The conservator should evaluate the strategies selected for object protection and the specifications that will be passed on to the fabricator.
- • Proposed construction materials should be carefully selected and tested to ensure that they are safe to use with exhibit objects, especially in exhibit casework. (Their proximity to exhibit objects determines whether construction materials need to be “non-hazardous” or whether a “low hazard” material is acceptable. Materials are discussed in the Standards on design.)
- • Conservation-grade exhibit cases and frames must incorporate the appropriate preservation features and should be tested with mockups whenever possible to ensure that they function as intended.
- • Object lighting: A lighting plan should clearly illustrate how exhibit lighting will meet the conservation criteria for light-sensitive objects; it should also indicate lighting that should be tested with lighting mockups.
- • A Lighting mock-up should be used to preview the potential impact of the proposed exhibit lighting on the objects and indicate whether the lighting plan should be modified.
- • Object mounts and supports should be developed with input from the conservation specialist and incorporate preservation safeguards in their design and materials.
What are the key conservation activities to address in the Fabrication and Installation phases?
- The following section continues the description of a generic exhibit and outlines the key conservation activities and concerns that should be addressed during fabrication and Installation. These activities are revisited in greater detail throughout the Standards for fabrication and installation.
- • Conservation treatment: A conservator will assess exhibit objects and submit treatment proposals for those objects identified as needing conservation treatment before they can go on exhibit. (Approval to proceed with treatment is generally given by curatorial or administrative staff.)
- • Object Replication: Replicas of particularly delicate objects may need to be produced as an alternative to display of the original. A conservator’s oversight is usually required during this process.
- • Fabrication techniques used to construct exhibit furniture should carefully incorporate all conservation features specified in the drawings and planning documents.
- • Construction materials: The materials specified in the fabrication drawings must be used. It may be necessary to find materials to substitute for those proposed in the design. Such substitutes should be tested and reviewed by the conservation specialist.
- • Inspections of conservation features should be conducted by the conservator during the exhibit’s production and at the final installation to ensure that all features have been included as specified and are working effectively.
- • Exhibit object mounting for the more vulnerable objects often requires a conservator’s input and supervision, including inspections during fabrication of the object mounts; textile garments may need to be mounted by a conservation specialist, and oversight is required when paper items are newly framed.
- • Exhibit object transport: Transport of exhibit objects to the exhibit space must be well-planned and supervised to prevent loss and damage.
- • Object documentation should continue to be a priority during the installation phase. Exhibit objects are often moved into temporary storage areas pending installation and them moved again to the exhibit space. During such times of transition, objects are more easily misplaced or lost.
- • Environmental monitoring and adjustment must be conducted to ensure a safe environment before objects are finally installed. All systems should be evaluated to ensure they are performing as designed.
- • Installation of objects must be carefully planned and orchestrated to allow sufficient time for safe installation. Specific attention should be given to the storage, handling, and mounting of fragile objects. And time should be allowed for paint and finishes in the exhibit location to cure before beginning installation.
- • Exhibit object mounting should be performed by qualified mountmakers, installers, curatorial staff or a conservation specialist.
- • Museum staff training: Museum staff will need initial training to operate and maintain the exhibit’s conservation features. This may include activities such as lamp maintenance, exhibit cleaning, environmental monitoring, and accessing exhibit cases. Staff may also need briefing about special security hardware and electronics.
- • The exhibit maintenance manual should include precise information on how the exhibit’s conservation features should be maintained in working order.
- Resources: A Sample Timeline (to be included here)