Inside the Collection

At the Frontier of heritage conservation. A report from the Museums Australia Conference, Perth 2011. Part 2

Toner Stevenson standing outside the WA State Library
Toner Stevenson outside the WA State Library.

Written by Toner Stevenson, manager, Sydney Observatory. Only last week Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate galleries, campaigned against environmentally-damaging conditions in Museums and galleries worldwide. It is true, many museums spend a significant proportion of their budget in keeping galleries at a steady temperature and humidity level. Filtering pollutants and controlling light levels is taken very seriously. Also costs escalate when Museums display loaned artifacts which require even more stringent controls governed by contracts.

Making decisions about whether and how much to cool, heat and de-humidify has been much debated and, with the onus on reducing our carbon footprints and the running costs, the old standards are in question. International Conservation Services (ICS), a private conservation company based in Chatswood, took out this year’s Museums and Galleries National Award for an Australian-based research project titled Development of Guidelines for Environmental Conditions for Museum and Galleries. The presentation of the findings by ICS Director, Julian Bickersteth, considered both human comfort in galleries and the temperature and humidity conditions required for objects made form different materials, looking at the crossover range and suggesting that more flexibility can be tolerated. The new guidelines for the UK (PAS 198) are leading the way and it is timely for Australia to consider its own varied climate, and, argues Bickersteth, set its own guidelines.

The Powerhouse Museum is fortunate to have a highly-skilled Conservation Department who monitor spaces and advise on all the environmental requirements for all exhibitions. At Sydney Observatory we can only keep paper and textiles for a very short time and in a few rooms that have the least fluctuation in temperature and humidity. These new practically-based guidelines will help all Museums and Galleries make better decisions about the storage and display of their collections, guiding reductions in energy waste. .

The Judges Comments: “This project holds great significance for the cultural and heritage sector throughout Australia (arguably the world) as it builds knowledge, skills, understanding and standards for keeping collections safely into the future, both in storage and whilst on display. These guidelines will become the well-thumbed or bookmarked resource that remains on every gallery, library, archive and museum professional’s desk.”

Related reading:
Dialogues for the new century: Discussions on the conservation of cultural heritage in a changing world, 2010.

Australian Institute for the Conservation of cultural materials (AICCM) National Cultural Policy Discussion paper

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