Friday, February 13, 2009

What does climate change mean for collections?

Jerry Podany, the dynamic President of the International Institute for Conservation of historic and artistic works (more easily known as IIC), is keen to get conservators addressing and indeed leading on some of the key issues confronting collections.

In September 2008 I helped Jerry organise an IIC public ‘dialogue’ (the first of a number we hope) between experts on the theme of climate change and collections. It was an exhilarating evening at the National Gallery in London with the auditorium overflowing. For my money, the most significant contributions were from May Cassar, Director for Sustainable Heritage at University College London, and Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate Museum.

Serota has clearly got the message that we all need as museum professionals to be seeing what we can do, and through the UK Council of Museum Directors, he has initiated a review of environmental conditions for collections.

Cassar has been in this space for a long time (she published Museums Environment and Energy in 1994), and is an exhilarating person to spend half an hour with, as I was lucky enough to do the day before the dialogue, as she is so knowledgeable in this area. She is leading the UK’s research into what can be done to confront the cultural and physical challenges of the 21st century which incidentally, although it is funded by the European Community, can partner with organisations worldwide.

The dialogue managed to get most of the basic facts on the table, of which to be honest there are not many, as there is surprisingly little data about how well collections will really cope with climate change. We know a bit about how buildings react, but very little about the things stored or displayed inside them.

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