42nd Annual Meeting – Opening Session, 29 May, "Being a Gallery in a Park – balancing Sustainability, Access and Collection Care" by Nicola Walker and Ann French

This talk revolved around the Whitworth Art Gallery, part of the University of Manchester in the UK. I was interested in this talk in particular because I was interested to see the differences between UK and US approaches to sustainability, and to see how sustainability measures against other principles such as access and recommended storage conditions.
One of the central themes of this talk was that “access is central to all of the gallery activities”. This resulted in some interesting decisions, which strike a balance between practical and ideal. One that stuck out to me personally was the presence of an IPM working group which meets weekly, to discuss what needs to be done in order to ensure that events like festivals and those involving food can be pulled off. Their maintenance of a ‘can do’ attitude is inspiring, and ensures that the museum works with it’s surroundings – a park, which families want to be able to visit and enjoy in tandem with the museum.
The process which the museum went through in order to add an addition to the building was also discussed. A few points stood out there, as well:
– A new route was introduced to separate catering delivery from art movement and delivery (which is also related to the IPM working group).
– A green, bio-diverse roof was put into place on part of the building.
– Stores were relocated into a basement, where the environment can be controlled with passive techniques rather than air conditioning.
– Solar panels were added to the roof.
– Daylight was introduced into some galleries.
– A ground source heat pump was installed.
The idea of the green, bio-diverse roof was fascinating. In order to prevent it from drawing unwanted pests into the museum, they worked with entomologists to ensure that they only attracted specific insects – those who don’t want to eat their lovely textile collection. The introduction of daylight into galleries as discussed here formed a funny comparison to another talk given on sustainability and environmental consciousness.
Another aspect to sustainability was also discussed: the development of working patterns which allow the collection to be feasibly managed and kept in the best condition. One of the theories they work under is known as the Pareto 80:20 principle, which says that 80% of results come from 20% of issues, or in this case, 20% of objects. They use this principle to target their work-flow, focusing on the 20% which give the most result and working on the other 80% on a “modular” basis.
This cross of sustainable environment and sustainable work practices extends to the methods they use to package their 2D objects, as well. This category of object is packaged in a way that it can be easily switched from storage to display or vice versa, and the packaging provides a buffering layer that reduces the need for strict environmental control.
I would have loved to hear more about these storage/display procedures, as I think they could be useful for other museums. I’m also curious to have a more specific list of the plants they used in their bio-diverse roof garden, because that too could be useful in other places. Their practices seem to be very widely applicable, and their attitudes towards having a museum that works for the public and within its environment are admirable. I would love to see other museums adopt these approaches, to be environmentally friendly and to sustain the working environment of conservation professionals.