PREVENTIVE CONSERVATION AND THE EXHIBITION PROCESS: DEVELOPMENT OF EXHIBIT GUIDELINES AND STANDARDS FOR CONSERVATION
TOBY J. RAPHAEL
7 ENSURING CONSERVATION A PLACE IN THE EXHIBIT PROCESS
Having the Guidelines in place has assisted the NPS to integrate conservation practices into its museum exhibition process. Diagrams and lists of conservation activities were included to ensure understanding and to clarify the process. In particular, projects have benefited that utilize exhibit contractors, on whom the NPS increasingly relies. The NPS, like many large museums, depends on exhibit firms to develop and produce new exhibits and these firms are provided a copy of the Guidelines. Each firm is also offered introductory training on the use of the document and a discussion with an NPS exhibit conservator. Since publication five years ago, the Guidelines have been used outside the Park Service in dozens of museums nationally and internationally, and have been translated into Spanish and Vietnamese.
The creation of exhibit standards is now possible partly because of advancements within the exhibits industry and conservation field, and because of the familiarity exhibit firms now have with the Guidelines. Display technology and construction materials are now available which allow exhibit specialists to better balance the need to present and interpret museum collections with the conservation features necessary to protect them from needless loss.
After several decades of work with exhibit specialists and conservators, it has become apparent that a conservation standards document is critical to our shared goal of ensuring collection safety in museum exhibitions. Written standards will facilitate the inclusion of conservation by everyone involved; conservation features can be more easily specified and included as routine exhibit components. These standards can be included in contracts from the beginning, thus becoming an integral part of the procurement process. Other expected benefits include:
- The quality of exhibits will be more uniform. Discrepancies between diverse firms with strong backgrounds in conservation and those with little experience will be minimized and collections will not suffer as a result of these differences.
- Debate will be curtailed. Unnecessary discussion will be shortened or eliminated, such as, “When does an exhibit merit an exhibit conservator being assigned?” or “When must an exhibit case be used to display vulnerable objects?”
- Less time and resources will be spent reinventing conservation solutions. During the planning and design phases a tremendous amount of time is spent re-establishing basic preservation requirements and re-exploring well-known approaches.
- More responsive design will result. Exhibit objects face diverse levels of risk in different exhibits; however, the categories of risks stay the same. Standards will allow conservation dialog to focus on the specific design development that will withstand the levels of risks presented.