AIC PRESENTATION TO THE WORKING GROUP ON FEDERAL MUSEUMS POLICY
THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) was established in 1960 as the American Group of the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC-AG). Its purpose was to advance knowledge and methods of all subjects related to the conservation of all historic and artistic works, and to establish, promote, and maintain standards and ethics in conservation. These purposes are furthered through publications, annual technical meetings, and liaison with other organizations.
In recent years, and especially in response to the rapid growth of concern for the conservation of collections, one of AIC's main concerns has been the promotion and maintenance of standards. The first tangible manifestation of this concern was the adoption in 1963 and 1967 of two parts of our ethical code. These documents are now being revised, and it is hoped that the new Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice for Conservators will be adopted at this year's annual meeting.
Another step in the area of standards was the adoption in 1973 of a certification program for conservation of art on paper. This program was intended from the beginning to lead the way to certification in other conservation specialities, and indeed there is now a committee attempting to chart the way, not only for the certification of practitioners in all specialities, but also the accreditation of training programs.
This bit of background is given to suggest the scope and nature of AIC's concern with the conservation of cultural property. Our emphasis on standards is a product of the extremely rapid growth in the conservation field, which, as welcome as that growth is, creates great potential for irreparable harm to objects through ill-advised treatment.
The following statement will not exactly follow the four specific questions posed in the invitation to attend this meeting; rather it will be a general statement of conservation needs and priorities as perceived by AIC.
There is no need to belabor the need for increased levels of conservation for museum collections with this audience. It is significant, and rewarding, that the only two non-museum organizations invited to participate in this meeting are AIC and the National Conservation Advisory Council (NCAC).
Conservation has been stated to have three parts: examination, restoration, and preservation. Much of the focus of those concerned with conservation has been on restoration, the actual physical treatment of museum objects. This focus has included the training of conservators, the establishment of conservation laboratories, both within individual museums and in the form of regional centers, and on the treatment of objects or collections. However, because restoration or physical treatment requires both highly developed judgment and highly developed skills, this area of conservation can only grow at what might be described as an organic rate—that is, the kinds of judgment and skills that we are concerned with can only develop with time and experience; they cannot be created overnight.
Thus it is the recommendation of the AIC that Federal support for the restoration or treatment areas of conservation should emphasize the following:
- Continued support for training of conservators. The record of Federal agencies in this regard is admirable. This support should be continued, and augmented.
- Improvement of the knowledge of conservators already practicing through continuing education programs, seminars, and publications.
- Strengthening of existing conservation facilities, both institutional and cooperative, that demonstrably and consistently maintain high technical and ethical standards.
- Where Federal support for new conservation facilities is being considered, the qualifications of the personnel involved, or the possibility of obtaining well-qualified personnel, as the case may be, be given maximum attention.
It is in the area of preservation, defined as action taken to prevent the deterioration of cultural property, that the most benefit with the least risk can be gained at the present time; that is, until the rapidly increasing number of young conservators graduated by the training programs gain experience and maturity.
Major aspects of preservation are: the provision of proper environment, storage, handling, exhibition and transportation practices and facilities. Two of the most important, environmental and storage facilities, often require large capital investment, and it is capital investment of a sort that is not glamorous. Benefactors are more likely to be attracted to a Richard Roe Gallery and to a Richard Roe storeroom or a Richard Roe air-conditioning system.
Thus, the AIC would like to urge the Federal museum programs to place major emphasis on the following areas of preservation:
- Aiding museums in obtaining optimum environmental conditions for maintaining and exhibiting collections through:
installation or improvement of climate control systems.encouraging further research on optimum environmental conditions for different types of objects and on how to achieve and maintain those conditions.further research on optimum lighting conditions and systems, and support for their installation.effective monitoring of environmental conditions.
- Aiding museums in providing adequate storage for collections through the provision of storerooms with environmental controls and proper equipment, and by providing for the personnel needed for moving, repacking or other operations required for achieving safe storage of objects.
- AIC is especially concerned about the inexorable deterioration of objects caused by travel for loan and travelling exhibitions.
We therefore urge that:
- Federal support for exhibitions involving travel of objects not be granted unless the applicant has demonstrated adequate attention to the environmental conditions for the preservation and for the conservation of the objects.
- Support for adequate conservation services before, during, and after travel be considered where appropriate and as a necessary part of support for exhibitions involving travel.
Many of the recommendations that AIC is making are in fact continuations or extensions of activities that are already being supported by Federal museum programs. That is to say, the Federal museum programs have advanced conservation far beyond what would have been possible without their support.
With the prospect of increased levels of Federal support for museum conservation, the primary concerns of AIC are that Federal support be granted for those aspects of conservation that are the most efficient and effective for preservation, and for competant, experienced treatment programs avoiding inexperienced, inappropriate treatment that can do more harm than good.
January 20, 1979