Friday, November 30, 2012

Environmental Guidelines - the Munich conference wash up

It has taken me longer than I expected to digest the Munich ' Climate for Collections' conference, not just because the content was so full on, but also because the conclusions are difficult to summarise.  What I can relay is that the proposed voting with red and green cards at the conclusion of the conference to flush out the general view of the delegates to relaxing or not relaxing environmental parameters sensibly did not go ahead. The reason for this was simply that  the issue is clearly not as simple as this.

So where do I read the current situation sits?  Somewhere along the following lines:

-  existing  environmental parameters for collections are based on a blanket approach, and are unnecessarily tight for all but the most vulnerable of artworks, e.g. panel paintings, and ignore the issue of 'proofed' RH, that is the extremes to which the artwork has already been exposed in its lifetime

-  major museums and galleries worldwide are recognising this and implementing relaxed parameters, e.g. The Tate, the Smithsonian and the V&A.

-  however a significant proportion of the conservation profession are not convinced that the risks in relaxing these parameters can be safely managed, a position best articulated by the National Gallery

- we are not going to achieve consensus amongst conservators internationally on this and therefore there will be no new blanket environmental standards ( coming to this realisation was my big take away from Munich)

But what we cannot do is to throw up our hands and say this is all too hard, not least because, in my view, folks, this is about the planet ( witness the news from the Climate Conference in Doha this week).  There are a number of ways forward:

Firstly,  in my experience air conditioning engineers and building managers are often not achieving the maximum efficiencies from HVAC systems, that is they know how they are built and operated, but are not focused on achieving optimum efficiency . To do so requires dialogue with the museum' s conservators, which is invariably not taking place.

Secondly, this dialogue can effectively achieve substantial energy savings without major capital investment and without sacrificing preservation quality, whilst safely managing any associated risks to collections. I have seen it in action.

Thirdly, this requires a holistic understanding of the collections, HVAC systems and capabilities, buildings, outdoor climate and infrastructure/capabilities of the staff .  What is clear is that every situation is unique.

This is way too important an issue to pull up the 'too hard' white flag on. You will hear more from me on this shortly.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Environmental Guidelines for Museums - the latest

'Climate for Collections' is the title of the conference I am currently attending at the Doerner Institute in Munich. Part of the 4 million Euro Climate for Culture, the conference is seeking to establish consensus amongst conservators about the levels to which environmental standards in museums and galleries can be relaxed. I have previously blogged about this vexed question. 

And boy is it vexed! I had imagined (I now realise somewhat naively) that I was coming to a meeting where we would be in general agreement on the sustainability and economic need to relax these standards within carefully defined guidelines.  

What I have walked into is a major reaction to the Bizot Group (of museum directors) push to make these relaxed standards become a reality. The German conservators in particular are fiercely resistant to any relaxation and see the Bizot push as being all about making loans more easily available between themselves. So the National Gallery's view on this (see previous blog) is more widely supported than I had realised.

All will come to a head on Friday when we vote individually where we stand with coloured cards ( red against the Bizot push, yellow for undecided and green for support).

My personal view is this is missing the point.  Let's ignore what the Bizot motives might be. As conservators we are in a prime position to lead in this discussion which more and more is being driven by skyrocketing energy prices more than the morality of sustainability. We understand the ability of materials to cope or not to indoor climate fluctuations, the various damage functions, and the opportunities that exist to play with HVAC systems.

More very soon after Friday's vote!