AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting – Information on the NEH SCHC Grants at the Linking Environmental and Heritage Conservation luncheon. May 9, 2012

Below are the comments I made on the National Endowment for the Humanities grants for Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections during the Linking Environmental & Heritage Conservation luncheon sponsored by the Committee for Sustainable Conservation Practice Committee at AIC’s 2012 Annual Meeting:

“Thank you Sarah Nunberg and thanks also to the Committee on Sustainable Conservation Practice. I appreciate having this opportunity to say a few words about NEH’s Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections grant program, which we call SCHC for short. We’re emphasizing sustainability, which we know is a word with many meanings. Our intent is to help museums, libraries, and archives plan and implement preventive conservation measures in sustainable ways – in ways that balance preservation goals, cost, and environmental impact.

Some of what the program encourages includes:

  • a more risk-based, institution-specific approach to identifying preservation needs with less reliance on prescriptive targets and perceived ideals;
  • pragmatic thinking, looking first for passive ways to improve conditions for collections as well as ways to make existing buildings and systems work more effectively and efficiently;
  • matching preservation strategies to institutional capabilities; and
  • a greater awareness of an institution’s environmental footprint.

Rather than discuss the specifics of the grant program, which you can read about in our online handout  and in the guidelines, I want to stress the important role that the conservation community plays in helping NEH make this an effective grant program.

The program defines a kind of collaborative and interdisciplinary planning that we think can lead institutions to more sustainable ways of achieving preservation goals.  When we launched the program in 2009, the guidelines indicated that planning teams could include conservators, architects, engineers, facilities managers, administrators, curators and others. But conservators were not always on the teams that first year, so for the second year we added to our guidelines a statement that “a collections conservator must be a member of the project’s team.” And that has helped, but sometimes we’re seeing the conservator’s role at the front end of the planning process, providing reports and specifications, with no role or a limited one thereafter. We believe you should be at the table throughout the planning process, on into implementation, and beyond, so we’re thinking about clarifying this during our next guidelines revision.

Also, we see how important the advice is that conservators give to museums, libraries and archives through conservation assessments and consultations. Applicants append your reports and recommendations to grant applications to justify their funding requests. How can the field ensure that conservation consultants and assessors are prepared to provide risk-based, pragmatic advice that can lead to sustainable preventive conservation strategies? If more educational opportunities are part of the answer, I would mention that NEH has another grant program for preservation education and training, with a deadline coming up June 28.

It is also important for institutions to share more about what they are doing to balance preservation goals, costs, and environmental impact. SCHC grantees are required to write “white papers” to share lessons learned. Starting this summer, my Division of Preservation and Access will begin posting these papers on our Web page from grantees who have completed their projects. We’ll make sure to alert you to their availability.

And, in early August, we’ll be announcing the third round of SCHC awards, and I think there will be some projects that should be of great interest to the field, so stay tuned. Visit our website if you are interested in seeing a list of awards from the first two years.

I also want to mention that we will be revising the grant guidelines for the next deadline, which will be December 4, 2012. If you would like to offer comments or suggestions about strengthening the program and the guidelines, please contact me by June 8 by email to or call me at 202 606-8501.

Finally, I want to congratulate you on the formation of this committee on sustainable conservation practice and on the creation of the Collection Care Network. We look forward to following your very important work. Thank you.”