Since the department of conservation was established in 1956 at The Art Institute of Chicago museum, facilities have been developed for the conservation of paintings, works on paper, textiles, photographs, three-dimensional objects, and books. Currently, the museum employs 19 conservators and two scientists. In 2000, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded a $2.75 million grant to the Art Institute to establish and operate a scientific laboratory, which also enabled the Art Institute to hire a head scientist.
The new laboratory focuses on analyzing works of art and studying their materials’ structural and chemical natures. The cost of equipping the laboratory is significant, and the development of funding sources for the purchase of analytical instruments and conservation equipment is an ongoing challenge.
To enhance scientific research and analysis capabilities, the Art Institute has teamed up with Northwestern University, again with funding from the Mellon Foundation, on a program with two main components: collaborative research projects and a seminar series in conservation science. The ultimate objective of the program is not only to strengthen the Art Institute’s research capabilities, but also to offer a model for integrative and cross-disciplinary collaboration among museums and universities in the effort to strengthen the field of conservation science in the United States.