How can you safeguard your collection for generations to come?
This week on ArtEvolve we were joined by Austin Senseman, co-Founder and CEO of Conserv, who shared his expertise about preventative collection care and the role environmental monitoring plays in supporting it.
What is preventative collection care?
- An easy way to explain preventative collection care is to say what it’s NOT – and that’s any work to repair damage. This is, of course, critical to an artwork but it is not preventative.
- Preventative collection care IS – anything related to preventing the 10 agents of deterioration (physical forces, fire, pests, light, humidity, water, pollutants, temperature, dissociation, and thieves and vandals).
Preventative collection care is not a new discipline, but recent technological advances have seen it progress, particularly in terms of making it easier to collect data and then analyze that data to help inform decision-making.
Why is it so important for museums to do preventative collection care?
Results of this week’s poll “Preventive Collection Care in Museums”
Put simply, it’s practical and cost-effective. At a time when resources are often scarce, art institutions must get the most out of their budget but still maintain excellent levels of care. However, museums must now also consider their artworks in a broader context: with preventative collection care, they can fine-tune their environment, saving energy, money, and reducing their carbon footprint in the process.
Big data might sound scary…
…but it’s all about making large or complex sets of data understandable. Environmental monitoring software helps us understand the relationship between the environment and the condition of artworks. Sensors collect thousands of readings a day – far too much for a person to analyze – but software helps us crunch that data and reach actionable solutions for collections. We know exactly how the environment affects artworks and have the evidence to prove it. This can be invaluable in helping conservators to persuade decision makers to invest in preventative collection care.
Removing blocks to preventative collection care
Most museums perform some kind of preventative collection care but a sense of perfection can sometimes stop them from doing more. The idea of there being just one right way of doing it can intimidate people and stop them increasing their efforts. Remember: the goal is progress, not perfection and barriers to preventative collection care are often less than you might think. As Austin explained, environmental monitoring can be done at relatively low cost and with little hassle, particularly in comparison to just a few decades ago.
Initiatives such as Brooklyn Museum’s Visible Storage/Study Center and Depot (a mammoth new warehouse that display the entire collection of Rotterdam’s Boijmans museum) are excellent inspiration for how museums can make preventative collection care ‘sexy’.
Predictions for the future
With new specialist academic programmes, as well as groups like Collection Care EU and companies such as Conserv, Articheck, Vastari, Art Tech, and more, the future looks strong for preventative collection care. If institutions can increase investment in the field, museums will be able to save time and money (compared to old methods of monitoring and reporting) and reinvest it into caring for our art heritage. A collaborative approach between different areas, for example, condition reporting and environmental monitoring, will also be hugely beneficial.
Canadian Conservation Institute – works with institutions and professionals to ensure collections are preserved and accessible to Canadians now and in the future.
Museum Study – online training in collection care.
American Institution for Conservation – supporting and empowering professionals, institutions, and the public in preserving America’s irreplaceable cultural heritage.
Connecting to Collections Care – online resources, such as webinars and courses, designed to support small to mid-sized cultural institutions to care for their collections.
STASH – Storage techniques for art, science and history
Articheck is committed to helping art and heritage organisations reduce their footprint. If you are interested in chatting with us about conducting an environmental study at your institution, please book a call here.
A special thank you to our guest speaker, Austin Senseman, co-Founder and CEO of Conserv.