WAACNewsletter
September 2000 Volume 21 Number 3

Grants and the Western Association for Art Conservation

by Mitchell Hearns Bishop

On a number of occasions, WAAC members have approached the Board to ask if WAAC could function as a grant administrator for their projects. While this would be a great service to provide to WAAC members, it does represent a significant addition to the traditional role that WAAC has played. Because interest in this issue seems to be growing, the WAAC Board felt we needed to seriously explore this issue.

I was asked to write an article for the Newsletter to address this issue and to talk about a dialog that has been going on in the WAAC Board meetings for several years. Initially, I looked into the whole issue of grants and prepared a simple report for fellow Board members. In response to this report, a committee of Board members was asked to look into the issue further and report to the WAAC Board. I was one of these members. This article represents my own personal view of the issue with input from other committee and Board members. Some of the ideas are probably more far reaching than WAAC could take on, but are presented to encourage discussion in the membership. Your comments are welcome to any of the Board members.

First, I think we need to look at some of the reasons for increasing interest by our members.

More and more, conservators are moving from public employment to private practice. This is happening for a number of reasons. It seems that the number of new staff positions in institutions is not at pace with the number of new graduates from the training programs. Additionally, as museums restructure, one trend is for conservation services to be contracted outside of institutions rather than performed by permanent in-house employees. What is emerging is not entirely clear since museums are enjoying a period of far greater attendance. How this will affect the permanent staffing of museums in regard to conservation is, as yet, unknown. (However, for those seeking to employ conservators in private practice, the choice has never been better.)

While some changes have occurred in the structure of grant funding, it remains true that in order to receive grant funds potential recipients typically need to be affiliated with an institution or an organization that can act as a grant administrator. Recognizing this and acknowledging the changing demographic of its membership -- from institutional to private -- WAAC has been motivated to consider its participation as a grant administrator.

There seems to be a perception by both conservators in private practice and granting agencies that it is better if the conservator is associated with an institution of some kind. It has been suggested that WAAC might play this role. An examination of the nature of this role and if it is a good fit for WAAC must then be made.1

Non Profit Status

Non profit organizations enjoy their non-taxable status because it is presumed that they act in the public interest in some fashion. Accordingly, the IRS has laid down guidelines and articles of incorporation for non-profit foundations depending on their function. WAAC's articles of incorporation are posted on the Conservation OnLine web site at (http://palimpsest.stanford.edu/waac/incorp.html) .

In the past, grant administration is not something that WAAC has done either for the group itself or for its members. WAAC could, in fact, perform this function since it is a 501 (c) (3) organization under IRS rules. By way of a comparison, AIC is actually a 501 (c) (6) organization and FAIC is a 501 (c) (3) organization.

The reason for this is relatively simple. AIC is technically a trade organization and FAIC is organized so that it can collect tax deductible contributions and distribute money. For reasons we need not go into here, WAAC has incorporated both as a trade organization and as an organization that can accept tax deductible gifts and disburse money.2 Essentially, nothing stands in the way of WAAC receiving or giving grants except, of course, the will to do so and the money to do so. If we, as an organization, decide this is something we want to begin doing, we could either seek grants ourselves for this purpose or conduct some form of fundraising. Before we do either, we will have to consult with a lawyer to make sure that this casual assessment is legally correct.

Various Types of Grants and their Administration

However, if we decide to start making or administering grants we need to consider the various categories of grants and what the implications are for the organization. Perhaps a few words about the function of a grant administrator are in order.

In brief, the responsibility of a grant administrator, be it an individual or an institution, is to see that the money awarded is spent in a proper fashion and that appropriate paperwork is generated to document the expenditure of the funds for the granting agency and the IRS. To some extent this is guided by the terms of the individual grant but for the most part, the purpose is simply to insure that the money is not stolen or wasted or spent improperly. If any of these things happen, the grant administrator is legally liable for the money and the granting agency can hold them personally liable. This means they will recover, or attempt to recover the money from the organization or individual. Unfortunately, this does happen and it's not pretty.

WAAC has no permanent employees who can take responsibility for administering grants over time periods that may exceed the time periods that WAAC officers are in office. An organization run entirely by volunteers is not barred from receiving or administering grants but there are obvious dangers in this situation. Something else we need to keep in mind is that there already are a number of grants available that our members may not be aware of.

I would suggest several categories of grants be considered. We could proceed incrementally and then, if these are successful, move ahead one step at a time. I think the first category could be approached without trepidation but the rest must be considered very carefully. However, I would like to bring them up for discussion here. For the first category, I suggest that we consider travel grants.

Travel grants to attend conferences or travel as part of a research and study activity are critical to the professional life of the conservator. For conservators in private practice or those working in institutions with no funding for travel, conservators typically combine this travel with vacation plans and pay for it themselves or they don't go. This is an area where WAAC may be able to help out its members.

We may be able to obtain funds from granting agencies and disburse them to members on some sort of competitive basis. This is a fairly straightforward award since a proposal would be submitted and a committee of WAAC members or Board members could award the grant competitively. The organization of a committee of members, of the application process, and of awarding of the grants might be a useful function for the members at large to take on. A report, a paper at a WAAC conference or conference workshop could be required of the grantee in fulfillment of the grant. We could do this on an annual basis out of money we raise from membership, or we could apply for funding from various sources. If we started in a modest way to fund travel and study grants for two years, I think this would help us in going to funding agencies for money. By having a proven track record at funding travel grants and a two-year commitment of our own funds, we would be a more credible candidate for receiving grants.

Several more categories could also be considered. I must stress that these become increasingly problematic and more difficult to oversee and administer. These would be publication grants, study grants and large projects. Publication grants are currently available from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation (http://palimpsest.stanford.edu/aic/faic/kress.html) and applications are done through the FAIC. The purpose of these grants is to allow release time from work obligations for conservation professionals to prepare publishable manuscripts. WAAC members should be encouraged to apply for this award since it is intended to increase the body of conservation literature. Perhaps we could consider modest grants in aid of WAAC publications or publishing projects unique to the western region. It is possible that there are already adequate grant resources in this area that our members are not aware of or taking advantage of. I think we need to hear from the members on this issue.

Study grants are another possibility. However, The American Academy in Rome (http://www.aarome.org/prize.htm) now has a prize for conservation. In the 1999-2000 awards, two prizes were awarded in our area. The National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Historic Preservation and Conservation was awarded to Alice Boccia Paterakis and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation Fellowship in Historic Preservation and Conservation was awarded to Elmo Baca. One of last year's award winners was WAAC member Leslie Rainer. The beauty of the Rome prize is the time and resources it allows to pursue research and the opportunity to do so in Rome. I think study grants similar to the travel grants could also be considered. By study, I think we would have to conclude that the member asking for the grant would want funds to travel to work in an archive, visit a bronze foundry and study techniques, or some similar activity. Presumably the money would offset travel costs or lost income for private conservators during this period. A similar application process could be considered where a proposal is submitted, reviewed by a committee of members and board members and the award made. After the activity was completed, some sort of presentation should be made in a WAAC publication, or as a paper or workshop at a WAAC meeting.

Funding large projects such as the conservation of a historic structure involving teams of conservators or a few conservators is a different matter. The amount of money involved is much larger and the process of administering such a grant is far more complex. Similarly, meeting the requirements of administering such a grant would be far more rigorous. This could only be done if a WAAC member was willing to make a virtually full time volunteer commitment over a long term period or if some mechanism was created in which WAAC would have employees such as a paid administrator and or support staff. Some facility would have to be found for the staff to work in and to house the records on a more or less permanent basis. While this is not impossible, it would represent a major change for the institution from an informal organization to a formal one.

I would like to have the board begin contemplating the possibility of initiating travel/study grants on a two-year trial basis. If these are successful, we could expand into some of the other categories. We could simply seek external funding to continue or expand these or move into other areas incrementally.

I would also like to suggest that we consider setting up a grant that would be named in honor of a deceased WAAC member, or well known deceased conservator or conservation scientist from the West to fund scholarships for West Coast students entering conservation programs. I think one of WAAC's greatest contributions has been the promotion of the conservation profession in the West. Young people growing up in the West have never had the exposure to the profession that is available in the Mid Atlantic states. I think this would be an excellent way for WAAC to continue to support the development of the conservation profession in the West. This scholarship could be funded by donations from the membership and others sympathetic to our goals.


1. A discussion with Tim Whalen, formerly in charge of Conservation Grants for the Getty Grant Program formed a valuable background for this article. Tim is now the Director of the Getty Conservation Institute.

2. I am indebted to former AIC President Paul Himmelstein for this explanation.

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