Call for Participation: New Annual Meeting Event “A Failure Shared is Not a Failure”

AIC members from all specialty groups are invited to attend and participate in the event “A failure shared is not a failure: learning from our mistakes,” happening on Saturday, June 2nd, from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. — click here to add it to your Sched. We will gather and share our cautionary tales, including treatment errors, mishaps, and accidents, with the idea of helping our colleagues not to repeat them.

Discussing mistakes is a hot topic that has already been embraced by others in our community. Two examples of events scheduled during the month of May are: “Mistakes were made,” a regular feature at the American Alliance of Museums conference, and the lecture “Conservation Confidential” hosted by our conservation colleagues across the pond in the Independent Paper Conservators’ Group.

Participants can speak for up to 5 minutes; if you prefer to remain anonymous, a reader will be happy to present your tale on your behalf. If you are unable to attend AIC’s Annual Meeting but would like to submit a tale to be read by one of our organizers or a colleague, please reach out.

Screens to project PowerPoint slides containing your images/video will be available (16:9 format), and a Dropbox folder will be made available for submissions. Please also bring your presentation on a USB Drive (highly encouraged). Time permitting, audience members inspired by their colleagues will be welcome to present. If appropriate (and acceptable to the speaker), the floor will be opened for questions and discussion following presentations. Extra points for suggesting safeguards and solutions!

Please note that this is a forum for sharing personal mistakes and solutions only. Participants are requested not to name other persons, organizations, work places, and avoid politics—institutional, national, and global!

The event will include a cash bar, so come, relax, unwind, share, laugh, groan, and learn. We plan to publish the event for those who wish to be included.

If you are interested in participating or have questions about the event, please contact Tony Sigel at or by calling 617-767-1900 (cell), or Rebecca Gridley at by May 10th.

Please include 2-3 quick sentences introducing your topic and indicate whether you plan to use a PowerPoint with images and/or video.

See you in Houston!

Second Deployment of National Heritage Responders to Puerto Rico 

Two teams of FAIC’s National Heritage Responders are wrapping up a week of work in Puerto Rico. This is the second wave of team members to visit collections on the island affected by Hurricane Maria. 

Mold growth continued to be the primary issue facing most of the institutions visited. With such lengthy power outages, many collections faced exposure to extremely high temperatures and relative humidity. Even as power is restored for some institutions, assessing any incursions of mold remained a priority task. Team members continued to stress the importance of personal protective equipment for staff members working with collections, providing guidance on how to safely address the mold. 

Susan PPE

While site visits made up the bulk of the work completed by the teams, one group held a workshop for local artists and institutions on salvaging works. The Museo de las Américas, a museum in San Juan visited by the first deployment team in late November, graciously offered their space to host the workshop. Over thirty individuals attended to learn about how to handle their affected objects.   

Karen Workshop

FAIC will continue to work with affected collections and provide resources. You can learn more about our emergency programs here and see previous updates on recent emergencies here Stay tuned for more information about this group’s deployment and the team members who participated!

Puerto Rico Deployment of National Heritage Responders

FAIC has been an important resource for many institutions in the aftermath of the 2017 hurricane season. Following deployment of a National Heritage Responder (NHR) team in Texas and site visits in Florida, this past week, a team of NHR members were able to provide assessments and training to institutions in Puerto Rico. Due to the extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Maria, response from a NHR team was necessarily delayed so resources could be directed to life and safety issues. While there are still significant infrastructure challenges facing residents, the recovery process now includes assessment and salvage of cultural heritage. FAIC had also provided remote support prior to this trip and will continue to work closely with national and local organizations throughout the recovery process.

PR NHR Deployment

Last week, our NHR team visited institutions across the library, archives, and museum field in Puerto Rico. Water damage and resulting mold growth were intensified by power outages and lack of air conditioning, and are the primary concerns at many institutions, less so structural damage due to wind. Mold is a health and safety issue, and NHR members helped provide instruction on proper handling of affected materials and use of personal protective equipment (PPE). In the image above, NHR members evaluate a collection of Puerto Rican artists’ catalogs.

FAIC will continue to provide assistance and support recovery efforts. For more information on our emergency programs, visit our website,, and see previous updates on recent emergencies here: We will also continue to provide updates via our social media and member publications.

Even as we continue to respond to Hurricane Maria, we are also monitoring the devastating wildfires in California. Institutions can reach NHR members via phone (202.661.8068) and email (

Update on Disaster Response and Recovery 10/13

During what has been one of the worst hurricane seasons on record, FAIC’s Emergency Programs have been working fervently to connect people to planning and response resources. Through collaboration with our partners on the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, (HENTF) we have been working to gather information about affected institutions and provide support as needed.

In Florida, following Irma, National Heritage Responders visited several affected sites to help assess damage and set up cleaning protocols. Museums from Orlando to Miami received in-person assistance, and many more throughout the region were given advice via the NHR hotline (202.661.8068) and email (

A new outreach project has been developed in collaboration with HENTF in order to make contact with all collecting institutions that may have been affected by recent storms. FAIC worked with partners in Texas and Florida to develop lists of regional institutions. Students at the University of Texas’s iSchool created tools to conduct a calling project with the Texas sites; the model has been adopted by students at the University of Florida who are in the process now of reaching out to Florida sites. The primary goal of this outreach effort is to connect those who suffered damage with the National Heritage Responders if salvage information is needed, and with FEMA if information on the Public Assistance process is needed.

Response to Hurricane Maria in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico has been slow-going but progress is being made. The level of damage in the region has meant that life and safety issues have remained the priority far into the recovery process. FAIC is started to gather information about the institutions in need, and is once again closely collaborating with HENTF and our Federal partners to ensure an effective response. We will notify members about opportunities to support these efforts.

Finally, we recognize that hurricanes are not the only natural disasters wreaking havoc on our shared cultural heritage. The wildfires in Northern California have brought devastation to the region, and can impact not only those in the path of the flames, but those who may suffer from smoke and soot damage. FAIC is working closely with California partners to assess the situation, and the National Heritage Responders are developing lists of resources on smoke and soot damage to help with the recovery process.

The natural disasters that our nation has faced in the past several weeks serve as a reminder of the importance of preparedness – in our institutions, in our private practices, and in our homes.

Art preservation and natural disasters, a letter to the NYTimes editor

In response to the recent New York Times article by Paul Sullivan, Protecting Andy Warhol From Flood, Fire and Quake, published online September 15, 2017, the AIC board of directors (through Treasurer Sarah Barack) has submitted a letter to the editor of the Times. The letter is printed in full below.


To the Editor,

The recent article, Protecting Andy Warhol from Flood, Fire and Quake, was commendable in that it brought to the forefront the need to protect art collections when disasters are looming. As the professional association for art conservators in North America, the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) has long been concerned with mitigating such damage, and aiding those museums, institutions and collectors whose collections have thus been impacted. AIC has resources available on its website ( for the general public, and also provides a Find a Conservator digital database, which allows any individual looking for professional conservation advice to be matched with an appropriate, professional conservator. Further, AIC is able to activate a nation-wide network of conservators trained to respond to emergencies following such events. 

As we all know, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure— however this benefit requires proper prevention which can be provided by trained art conservators. Should these measures prove insufficient, prompt conservation attention can help offset complete property loss.

Sarah Barack

Treasurer of the Board, 

American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works

Harvey Updates 9/8

FAIC’s Emergency Programs have been working in high gear to gather information about damage from Hurricane Harvey. Our National Heritage Responders have been fielding calls on their hotline (202.661.8068) and directing resources as appropriate. Steve Pine, an NHR team member and leader of the TX-CERA Alliance for Response group,  has been conducting assessments of Houston-area institutions that sustained damage. Today the first team of responders is arriving to assist with the stabilization of a mold-damaged mural and the flooded collection of props at a prominent local theater.

Many thanks to the Houston-area AIC members who have volunteered their homes for team members to stay in during future NHR deployments. We will keep the membership informed about additional opportunities to assist with recovery efforts.

Today, on a call organized by the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, FAIC shared updates on damage reports and our plans for action. We look forward to future collaborative efforts with our fellow task force members and representatives from Texas state agencies.

The next hurricane, Irma, is almost upon Florida. Our thoughts are with our members in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas as they finalize preparations for this historic storm. We will plan to continue to update this blog with information about our response to Irma as well.

Harvey Updates 9/1

The storm system from Harvey has finally moved out of southeast Texas and Louisiana, leaving behind catastrophic flooding. Recovery will take some time in the region, as many individuals are displaced from their homes.

We are just starting to receive some initial reports of affected cultural institutions. A conference call held today, 9/1, shared information between federal and state partners, developing a strategy for future outreach to the 500+ institutions in the region.

Several media outlets have covered the cultural community’s efforts to prepare for and assess damage from Harvey:

We will continue to share information about potential deployments of our National Heritage Responders and other ongoing AIC/FAIC response efforts.

Please encourage local institutions to contact the NHR hotline at 202.661.8068.


Harvey Updates 8/29

As we learn more about Harvey’s impact on the cultural institutions in southeast Texas, we will share updates on conditions and our plans for response.

Until we have information to share, please consider referring to these sites for updated posts:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center:

New York Time’s Harvey Live Updates:

ArtNews Updates on Texas Art Museums:


REMINDER: please encourage all local contacts to spread the word about our National Heritage Responders and their free 24/7 hotline for impacted institutions at 202.661.8068.

45th Annual Meeting – Workshop, May 29, “Building Emergency Response Skills”

Three veteran National Heritage Responders delivered an emotional and highly persuasive workshop (abstract) during this year’s AIC Annual Meeting.  Susan Duhl, Bob Herskovitz and Ann Frellsen, having spent many hours of hard labor together in the field during disaster response, spoke seamlessly as a complementary team, not completing each other’s sentences, but oftentimes each other’s thoughts.  They mentioned having lived together in an RV in Louisiana, smelly and tired…and clearly they have cleaned up their act and can take this show on the road.

As an active collections emergency responder for a large academic library institution, here are my key takeaways:

When responding to a disaster, we need to get to know local government agents, whose word is law and yet whose language is foreign to most conservators.  We can prepare for this by taking the FEMA Incident Command training, which introduces the vocabulary and the hierarchy of the world of the First Responders.  What we’ll get out of it is the ability to communicate with others and to understand our roles.  By the way, conservators are NOT First Responders…that term is reserved for the fire, police, National Guard and other official personnel whose priority is human safety.

Personal health has to be our #1 priority, because we’re no good to anyone if we’re injured or sick.  When there’s no electricity, there’s no Nilfisk, no fume hood, no suction disk, no light table…so we are going to McGyver our way through this thing with all our appropriate PPE on at all times.  Fresh air and sunlight go a long way when the alternative is standing in the dark, knee-deep in “mud.”  (I put that in quotes because the components of disaster area mud should be assumed to be everything you don’t ever want to ingest.)

Mental health of those around you is going to be a bigger concern than you expect or, indeed, want.  You can provide the sympathetic shoulder, the gentle persuasion to take a break, or even the diplomatic persuasion to a leader to move sideways and let someone else shoulder that burden for a while.  It can be hard to wrap one’s mind around saving cultural heritage when people around you have lost homes and loved ones, but in fact our role in rescuing their patrimony contributes to their healing.

Conservators with a bit of grit can survive and, in fact, thrive, in the extreme environment of disaster response.  We have to “think outside the lab,” and get creative to make the best use of what is available.  To take on leadership roles in a disaster response we have to stay calm and focused, and accept that we are surrounded by confusion.  We may be the only ones on site who know how to assess what is possible and what is practical. But we also tend to become superheroes and work to long and too hard.  I am really grateful for the specific language the instructors modeled for how to remove an Incident Commander (let’s get used to that ICS term for team leader) whose energy if not competence is flagging. “How are you doing?  You’re doing such a great job!  I notice you’re looking a little tired.  You’ve been working really hard.  What we really need right now is someone to sit down over here and fill out this inventory…can you help out with that?  One of us can hold the radio for a little while.”  You can’t just kick them out…instead, move them sideways, and then they’ll see that everything is going to be ok, and they can take a real break without feeling like they’ve abandoned their responsibility.

Our fearless leaders gave a lot of good tips and tricks.  Here is a sampling:

  • A Uhaul makes a decent workspace during the day and secure storage at night.
  • Don’t touch sooty things…any contact embeds the soot.
  • Fire extinguisher powder is corrosive and in a damp environment (i.e. from putting out the fire) it can become intractable.
  • Got earthquake?…Bring Ziplocs to keep the parts together.
  • Just say no to the “natural oils” used by some vendors for deodorizing; zeolytes work well, and charcoal is ok. Ozone oxidizes collections as well as odors, and should be avoided.
  • Also say no to vacuum thermal drying.
  • Don’t pump out a basement until the floodwaters have receded, or the hydrostatic pressure from the outside water could collapse the foundation.
  • Need weights?  Try double-Ziplock-bagged water, which conforms well to 3D surfaces.
  • Document anything that is being discarded so insurance will pay for it.
  • The answer to the question “How much mold is there?” is: “Yes.”

Want to be a part of this action?  Well, some of the National Heritage Responders are nearing retirement, so new recruits will be needed.  You need training first, and experience second.  Take FEMA’s ICS 100.b online training.  Watch Tara Kennedy’s Facebook Live recording on working with disaster recovery vendors.  Go to your regional Alliance For Response group (might be under a different name…ask the AIC Office) to join up with a local training opportunity.  And get to know the National Heritage Responders in your area…let them know you’re willing and able to respond.

Thank you to this team of veterans who have saved so many collections, and are now sharing what they know to give us all the tools to respond effectively.

P. S. I also attended the National Heritage Responders meeting after the workshop, and witnessed the official retirement announcement for Bob Herskovitz.  He’s retiring to his boat, so the group gave him a life preserver emblazoned with the name of his boat, “Ça Va Encore Bien.”

CCI and ICCROM Publish the ABC Method for Risk Management!

From an email announcement sent by CCI:

CCI and ICCROM are pleased to announce the publication of The ABC Method: a risk management approach to the preservation of cultural heritage. This is a comprehensive manual aimed at those working in cultural heritage institutions. The ABC method has been refined over many years through an international course presented by CCI and ICCROM, as well as by its application in numerous case studies by CCI, ICCROM and colleagues around the world.

Adopting a risk management approach will help you determine the priorities for preventive conservation and decide between options to address them. Risks occur in many forms, from the rare and catastrophic to the cumulative and slow, from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from those easily observed to those often overlooked. Risk management integrates the knowledge of those who care directly for the heritage asset with what can be applied through science and technology. An abridged publication, A Guide to Risk Management of Cultural Heritage, is also available for those who want to become familiar with the approach and tools of the ABC method.

In March 2016, the Risk Management and Risk-based Decision Making for Museum, Gallery, Archive and Historic House Collections workshop was held at CCI. Webcast recordings from this advanced professional development workshop explain how to use risk management techniques to make decisions regarding the care of collections on display and in storage.

For questions and further assistance: or