Being on Twitter is extremely fun for me. People are hilarious and I’m constantly learning from those I follow. As a paleontologist, I am drawn towards fossils, and Twitter is no different. I follow paleontologists, museums, and even SUE the T. rex. I also have another interest, and that is conservation of museum collections. This makes me also follow conservators, organizations, and anyone who tweets about these topics.
A while ago, I signed up to manage the account @RealScientists, hoping to get the word out about my work in #FossilConservation. This account has over 66,500 followers, and these numbers increase weekly with every person curating the account. The idea of doing this felt exciting, but also scary because I was afraid I was not going to be able to manage speaking to such a huge audience. When one of the admins of the account contacted me, I was super happy to have the opportunity to share my work.
Curating the account means you can tweet as often as you want for a whole week. You are free to do polls, engage in Q&As, talk about your science, and even about yourself. It is a great way for others in the Twittersphere to know you, and to learn from you. I tweeted mostly about my experience in paleontology collections, but also focused on conservation.
There is one tweet in particular I want to share because I did not expect it to be so popular, and for people to be so interested. It was a tweet about the 10 agents of deterioration. My idea was to make the tweet accessible to those not working in conservation, by using emojis. This proved to be an excellent choice; the tweet has 330 likes, 146 retweets (plus 25 retweets with comment), and was seen by more than 32,000 users. Who knew people would be so excited about preventive conservation and collections care?
Image by Mariana Di Giacomo
The most exciting part was not only seeing the likes and retweets, but reading and replying to comments. I kept tweeting that day about the different agents of deterioration, and even though those tweets were not as popular as the main one, I received comments on them as well. People were intrigued by the effects of light, as well as by the effects of temperature and relative humidity. The agent “thieves and vandals” felt odd to one user, who thought this was no longer an issue in museums. Money and budgets was also a topic of discussion, as well as participation of conservation professionals when deciding construction and renovation projects. Emergency preparedness and involvement of the inside and outside community were touched upon, and people responded positively. It blew my mind how interested people were in these topics.
One of the short conversations I enjoyed the most was about education in conservation. An educator asked how to support students interested in these topics, and I gave her some suggestions for success in the field, but ended up talking about advocacy for diversity in conservation. This brings me to the last thing I want to talk on this post: the importance of social media.
I know this has been spoken about a million times, and those managing accounts for museums and collections say this all the time. However, all of us working on conservation need to be more active if we want to inspire change. From the 330 likes I had on the post about the agents of deterioration, many came from conservators and museums, but a lot came from people outside the field. People are fascinated by treatments’ “before and afters”, but they also care about collections. Bringing communities into the backstage is something we should all do, and should do more often. In a single week, I had over a million views of my tweets, from people from all over the world. This shows how powerful social media can be for outreach purposes, and why we should be more involved.
Tell people about what you do. Be humble. Recognize when you don’t know something. Be open to comments and suggestions. Learn when to disconnect. Have fun. Inspire. Those are the things I learned during this week. If you’re on Twitter, you should consider signing up for something like this. If you’re not, what are you waiting for?
To promote awareness and a clearer understanding of different pathways into specializations that require particular training, The Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) is conducting a series of interviews with conservation professionals in these specialties. We kicked off the series with Chinese and Japanese Painting conservation, and now we are focusing on Electronic Media Conservation (EMG). These conservators work with time-based media, which is characterized by artwork with durational elements, such as slide, film, and video, analog or born-digital materials, performance, light or kinetic art, sound or software-based art. We’ve asked our interviewees to share some thoughts about their career paths, which we hope will inspire new conservation professionals and provide valuable insight into these areas of our professional field.
In the first interviews for this series, we spoke with emerging conservators starting in the early stages of their careers working in time-based media, which included Alexandra Nichols, Nicholas Kaplan, Brian Castriota and Yasmin Desssem. In this interview, we hear from Christine Frohnert, a conservator who graduated in 2003 from the University of Arts in Berne, Switzerland, where she majored in the Conservation of Modern Materials and Media. Prior to establishing a private practice for Time-based Media (TBM) with colleague Reinhard Bek, Christine served as chief conservator at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany for twelve years and as chair of the AIC Electronic Media Group from 2008-2012. In 2012, she was named the inaugural Judith Praska Distinguished Visiting Professor in Conservation and Technical Studies at the Conservation Center at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University (CC/IFA/NYU), where she now serves as the Time-based Media Art Conservation Curriculum Development Program Coordinator.
ECPN: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your current position.
Christine Frohnert (CF): I am a conservator of contemporary art with a specific focus on technology-based art. Reinhard Bek and I founded Bek & Frohnert LLC in NYC in 2012- a conservation studio in private practice specializing in the conservation of time-based media (TBM). We are both German, have been trained in Europe, worked in leading positions in museums, and have been involved in international research projects.
Bek and I focus on the conservation of artworks with a durational element in our practice—such as sound, moving image, performance, light, or movement, that unfolds to the viewer over time via slide, film, video, software, or the internet. Since the studio’s inauguration, we have responded to individual needs for both TBM conservation treatments and consulting requests. However, over the last several years, we have experienced a rising demand to serve as consultants for different U.S. institutions without time-based media conservators on staff, as well as for collectors and artists. As many TBM art collecting institutions are facing rapidly increasing needs to adequately acquire, preserve, exhibit and store TBM works, we are responding to this development and our work is more geared towards long-term collection care and the development of preservation plans, as well as education.
ECPN: How were you first introduced to conservation, what contributed to your decision to specialize in time-based media, and why has been your training pathway?
CF: As with most of my colleagues, I started conservation being exposed to more traditional media such as paintings and sculpture. About 20 years ago, I realized that technology-based artworks can be seriously harmed or lost without a new conservation specialty being established. I became fascinated with TBM, and I learned about the newly established program ‘Conservation of Modern Materials and Media’ at the University of Arts, Berne, Switzerland. I graduated from there in 2003.
ECPN: Are there any particular skills that you feel are important or unique to your discipline?
CF: A complex range of skill sets are needed, which should be solidly grounded in the conceptual framework of contemporary art conservation as a whole. It requires knowledge in electrics/electronics and programming, and an in-depth understanding of each media category, technology and its preservation, documentation and digital preservation needs. As our profession is highly collaborative by nature, soft skills are equally important to collaborate with all the stakeholders in the institutions involved, as well as with affiliated external professionals such as engineers, computer scientists, and technicians. This is important when defining, communicating, and verifying goals with vendors.
As many museums recently formed or are currently forming ‘Media Teams’ in their respective institutions to tackle their individual TBM collections needs, we have witnessed a rapidly increasing need for skilled labor, dedicated TBM lab space, equipment, and the trustworthy storage and management of huge amounts of born-digital or digitized artworks.
ECPN: What are some of your current projects, research, or interests?
CF: Currently our recent projects include consultation with several institutions to analyze their TBM collections and develop custom-designed conservation strategies according to their individual collections needs and skill sets of staff. These consultations may include surveys, assistance with media acquisitions, exhibitions and artwork documentation, storage, and migration. Bringing in external expertise often provides the bridge that many museums and their TBM stakeholders do not find in-house or do not have the capacity to coordinate. This work helps to identify and structure these needs more clearly and often provides the basis for institutional development and the implementation of larger collection care projects.
Recent and current treatment-based activities range from analyzing the ‘mechanical’ programming of a light-based work, the conservation of a seven channel-video wall from 1998 consisting of 207 Cathode Ray Tube monitors, digitization of analog video, and the reverse engineering of custom-designed large format slide projectors, to name a few.
ECPN: In your opinion, what is an important need in your specialization?
CF: the most pressing need is education. Technology-based art is considered to be very sensitive to damage, loss, misinterpretation, and incorrect installation, due to its very specific and sensitive relationship to time, space, and concept. Damage or loss of a TBM work cannot be seen by simply examining the physical material and may not be immediately apparent unless the individual has received specialized training.
TBM conservation has been identified as a priority by many museums, collectors, and funding agencies. However, the educational opportunities are still limited, and there is currently no U.S. graduate program offering a degree in this specialty (but this will change soon!). As a result, a huge amount of our most recent cultural heritage is at risk, in an unknown condition, and/or not sufficiently integrated into museums’ missions of collecting, exhibition, conservation, research, and education.
However, thanks to the generous funding provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Conservation Center at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, started the TBM art conservation curriculum planning project in 2016.The new TBM specialization will be integrated within its current curriculum starting in fall 2018. This will be the first conservation program offering this specialty in the U.S. and the graduates will receive a dual degree: an MS in the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and an MA in the History of Art and Archaeology.
ECPN: Have you been involved in any advocacy, outreach, teaching or professional service roles in your specialization?
CF: During my time as EMG (Electronic Media Group) board Chair from 2008-2012, we received numerous request from the membership to offer continuing education opportunities, and in response EMG launched the conference series entitled TechFocus in 2010. The series is designed to provide hands-on guidance and systematic education on different media categories (TechFocus I: Caring for Video Art, Guggenheim Museum, NY, in 2010; TechFocus II: Caring for Film and Slide Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, 2012; TechFocus III: Caring for Software-based Art, Guggenheim Museum, NY, in 2015). In addition, the first periodical worldwide that focuses on TBM art conservation was launched by the EMG in 2012, The Electronic Media Review.
At the (CC/IFA/NYU) I have offered instruction in TBM conservation art in different capacities, including the course Art With A Plug: The Conservation of Artwork Containing Motion, Sound, Light, Moving Images and Interactivity (Fall 2012 and Spring 2015).
Several professional organizations and initiatives have created additional targeted educational opportunities and collaborations. However, despite all these good developments, further training is needed at the graduate level, as well as in continuing education for professionals, to address the fast-increasing demands of TBM conservation.
Under the leadership of Dr. Hannelore Roemich, Professor of Conservation Science and TBM program Director, I have also served as TBM Program Coordinator to assist in identifying skill sets and core competencies of TBM conservators that translate into the educational needs to develop a TBM curriculum. In the fall of 2016 the Conservation Center offered the course and public lecture series Topics in Time-based Media Art Conservation, which included ten lectures by leading art historians, artists, computer scientists, and conservators. These events were an important outreach component of the curriculum development project, and they created the opportunity to promote the field, foster the dialogue between TBM professionals, and build a community.
We are now organizing the upcoming symposium It’s About Time! Building a New Discipline: Time-based Media Art Conservation to be held in May 2018. The two-day symposium will provide a forum for educators, artists, art historians, museum curators and directors, collectors, gallerists, engineers, computer scientists, and conservators to promote TBM art conservation as a discipline on an international level and will conclude the TBM curriculum planning phase.
ECPN: Do you have any advice for prospective emerging conservators who would like to pursue this specialization?
CF: While I am not comfortable issuing general advice, I can say that I personally appreciate working with students and colleagues in our field, and that this has shaped and enriched my professional life. If you are a strong communicator who is interested in the intersection of art and technology, art conservation, and art history– and maybe you even have a background in one or more of the related media fields–why don’t you join the EMG sessions at the AIC annual meetings and/or attend the upcoming NYU symposium to engage with the TBM community and find out if this specialty may be just the right fit for you?
ECPN: Please share any last thoughts or reflections.
CF: We currently see an extremely high demand for trained TBM conservators. This can be measured by the exponentially increasing job offers worldwide and the challenges many institutions face to find qualified candidates. So, it is safe to say that this is the best moment in time for becoming a TBM conservator in this country. If you are interested in pursuing a career in TBM conservation- check out the new TBM curriculum page at the Conservation Center, Institute of Fine Arts at NYU.
To promote awareness and a clearer understanding of different pathways into specializations that require particular training, the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) is conducting a series of interviews with conservation professionals in these specialties. We kicked off the series with Chinese and Japanese painting conservation, and now we are focusing on practitioners in AIC’s Electronic Media Group (EMG). These conservators work with time-based media, which can include moving components, performance, light or sound elements, film and video, analog or born-digital materials. We’ve asked our interviewees to share some thoughts about their career paths, which we hope will inspire new conservation professionals and provide valuable insight into these areas of our professional field.
This is the third post from ECPN’s EMG blog series, for which we first interview Nick Kaplan and more recently, Alex Nichols. For our third interview from the EMG series, we spoke with Yasmin Dessem, currently Head of the Audiovisual Preservation Studio at UCLA Library where she serves as the technical lead as the library continues to develop its program of preservation, digitization and access of its moving image and sound holdings. Previously she managed archive deliverables for new feature releases at Paramount Pictures. She has experience working with a wide variety of moving image and sound formats, as well as pre-film animation devices, silent-era cameras, costumes and paper collections. Yasmin holds Master’s degrees in Art History and Moving Image Archive Studies from UCLA.
ECPN: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your current position.
Yasmin Dessem (YD): I oversee the preservation of moving image and recorded sound materials at the UCLA Library’s Preservation Department. For nearly 90 years, the UCLA Library has collected audiovisual materials with content such as home movies, oral histories, and radio broadcasts. Examples are home movies of Susan Sontag’s parents sailing to China in the 1920s and field interviews with Watts residents after the 1965 riots. Audiovisual preservation (AV) at the library is a relatively young unit—a dedicated AV preservationist first came on board in 2011. We offer a number of in-house digitization and preservation services and are currently focusing on increasing our capacity and launching a survey.
ECPN: How were you first introduced to conservation, and why did you decide to pursue conservation?
YD: The 1996 re-release of the restored version of Vertigo first made me aware of film restoration and preservation as an actual practice. Later, as I was finishing my Masters in Art History at UCLA, I took a wonderful class on restoration, preservation, and conservation with Professor David A. Scott. The course covered the material care issues and decision-making ethics for a wide breadth of cultural heritage materials. The class struck a deep chord with me, but I was eager to graduate and start working. After graduation, I ended up working in the film industry for about six years. I was tracking down historic stock footage at one job when my mind circled back to the preservation field as I considered how the films were stored and made available. I had entertained the idea of potentially returning to graduate school to study art conservation some day, but around that time the idea of film preservation as a possible career path began to fully materialize for me. As a result, I began exploring potential graduate programs.
ECPN: Of all specializations, what contributed to your decision to pursue electronic media conservation?
YD: My longtime love for film and music intersected with my curiosity for all things historical and technology-related. These were topics that in one form or another always interested me, but I don’t think I had a full grasp on how to combine them meaningfully into a profession. Preservation was the missing key. My exposure to preservation and conservation while studying art history and my later experience working at film studios both helped direct me towards the specialization.
ECPN: What has been your training pathway? Please list any universities, apprenticeships, technical experience, and any related jobs or hobbies.
YD: I pursued my studies in the Moving Image Archive Studies (MIAS) Program at UCLA—which persists today as a Master of Library and Information Science (M.L.I.S.) with a Media Archival Studies specialization. While in the program, I completed internships with Universal Pictures and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, and volunteered at the Hugh Hefner Moving Image Archive at the University of Southern California. Throughout the two-year MIAS program, I also worked as a fellow at the Center for Primary Research and Training program at UCLA Library Special Collections, where I learned archival processing. My experiences weren’t limited to preserving moving image and sound media, but included paper-based collections, costumes, and film technology. After graduating I attended the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) Film Restoration Summer School hosted by the Cineteca di Bologna and L’Immagine Ritrovata.
ECPN: Are there any particular skills that you feel are important or unique to your discipline?
YD: Digital preservation will continue to be a key area of expertise that’s needed in museums and archives. Preserving the original source material and digitizing content is not enough. There are more resources than ever for strategies and tools for digital preservation, and it’s important to seek them out. Another valuable skill is developing a level of comfort with handling and understanding the unique characteristics of a wide variety of physical analog formats such as film, videotape, audiotape, and grooved media (LP, 78s, lacquer discs, wax cylinders, etc.). Similarly, it’s helpful to have a familiarity with playback devices for these obsolete media formats (equipment like open-reel decks or video decks.) Lastly, metadata can be an unsung hero in media preservation. Often, we’re the first to see or hear a recording in decades, so capturing metadata around the point of transfer is critical. Metadata standards can be a rabbit hole of complexities, especially when it comes to describing audiovisual media, but understanding their application is an essential skill.
ECPN: What are some of your current projects, research, or interests?
YD: We’re just wrapping up digitization of materials from the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company (GSM), an African American-owned and operated insurance firm established in Los Angeles in 1925 in response to discriminatory practices that restricted the ability of African American residents to purchase insurance. GSM operated for 85 years and their collection is a vibrant resource documenting Los Angeles and the empowerment of a community. We received grants from the National Film Preservation Foundation and the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation to support this work. The digitized collection is now available on Calisphere. We’ve just started a crowd sourcing project working with former GSM staffers to describe any unidentified content. It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career, hearing everyone’s stories and seeing how much it means to everyone involved to have this collection preserved and made available.
We’ve also been in preparation to launch a large-scale survey that will help us gather data on the Library’s audiovisual collections that can be used for long term-planning. Outside of UCLA, we’ve been involved with ongoing work with cultural heritage institutions in Cuba. Last February, I set up equipment and held a workshop on the digitization of radio transcription discs held at the Instituto de Historia de Cuba (IHC) in Havana. I’m heading back there next week to begin a project to transfer IHC’s open reel audio collections.
ECPN: In your opinion, what is an important research area or need in your specialization?
YD: It’s crucial to preserve the expertise related to the operation and repair of playback equipment. Playback equipment will become more and more difficult to source in the future. Engineers, whose entire careers are dedicated to the use and care of this equipment, are some of the best resources for this knowledge. Their knowledge is shared through conversation, YouTube videos, social media, and professional workshops. Documenting the skills required to handle, maintain, calibrate, and service this equipment in a more formalized way and sharing that knowledge widely will ensure that the preservationists can keep their equipment viable for longer.
ECPN: Do you have any advice for prospective emerging conservators who would like to pursue this specialization?
YD: Try everything. Media preservation requires a wide variety of skills from computer coding to soldering decades-old circuit boards. Depending on where your career takes you, it’s good to have at least a passing familiarity with the full range of skills you may need to call upon. Apply for internships or fellowships with organizations, like the National Digital Stewardship Residency. Volunteer at community-based archives that need help getting their collections in order. Join professional organizations, like the Association of Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) or the Association of Moving Image Archivists. Attend conferences like code4lib, the Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG), or the Digital Asset Symposium (DAS). Network with engineers or preservation professionals to continue to grow your own expertise, but also share your own skills when you can. Collaboration and knowledge-sharing are a fundamental part of the profession.
ECPN: Please share any last thoughts or reflections.
YD: One thing to be aware of, if you’re a woman in the field of audiovisual preservation, is that you may occasionally run into people who are surprised to see a woman working with technology (much less wielding a screwdriver!). This response persists to some degree despite the presence of many successful female professionals in the field. What’s encouraging, however, is seeing the growth of groups like the Women in Recorded Sound collective at ARSC providing support.
Audiovisual preservation is such a gratifying profession. Having the opportunity to make historic content available is incredibly meaningful work that I feel lucky to be a part of everyday. On an even more basic level, figuring out a new workflow or getting a piece of equipment to finally work is just so viscerally satisfying. I’m part of an amazing team whose passion, humor and willingness to try out new things inspires me every day and makes me feel so lucky to be doing this work.
I participated in the “Reading Between the Lines: Understanding Construction and Exhibit Design Drawings” workshop along with 12 other conservators. During the introductions, we learned that the participants come from all over the country and as far away as Taiwan and Australia. Many had signed up in order to prepare ourselves for upcoming major renovations or new construction in our institutions. The workshop was taught by four instructors: Jeff Hirsh (Architect, Principal, Director of Cultural Practice at EwingCole), Bill Jarema (Principal, Mechanical Engineer at EwingCole), Angela Matchica (Principal, Electrical Engineer and Lighting Designer at EwingCole), and Mike Lawrence (Chief of Design at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History). EwingCole, an architecture, engineering, interior design, and planning firm, has worked extensively with museums and other cultural and research institutions. They recently collaborated with Mike Lawrence and Cathy Hawks (Museum Conservator at the NMNH and a participant and organizer of this workshop) on building the Q?rius Learning Space at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, a permanent exhibition space in which visitors can engage with the museum collections through hands-on interactions. Much of the materials that were used in the workshop – drawings, specs, images, and group exercises – are documents from the Q?rius project.
The workshop covered a lot of ground, filling two full days during which we plunged into the complex world of construction projects. The workshop utilized a mixture of powerpoint presentations, tabletop exercises, and both planned and impromptu Q&A sessions to guide us through each step of the renovation process and help us to understand different types of construction and exhibit design documentation.
Day 1: Introduction to stakeholders, phases of design, basic terminology, reading mechanical and electrical drawings
We began with an overview of the stakeholders in a given construction project and the progression of projects from start to finish. I found it very helpful to learn about the types of documentation created during the various phases of planning and what level of detail can be expected from each phase. For example, a project starts from a concept report, which narrates the scope, timeline, and intent, progress to schematic designs, then to more detailed design development drawings, and finally to construction documents, which will go out to contractors for bidding. This lesson was supplemented by a tabletop exercise that asked the participants to find light temperature information among documentation from various phases of Q?rius design process. The exercise helped to drive home the importance of becoming a stakeholder and communicating preservation priorities at an early stage of the project, since it is becomes increasingly more costly and difficult to make revisions as the project progresses.
In the morning, we also learned basic terminology and symbols found in drawings. Because depicting the numerous things that are happening in a space – both inside and outside of the walls – is so complex, multiple drawings representing various levels of detail, multiple perspectives (elevation, plan, section), and specific categories of information are necessary. These drawings are supplemented by written documentations such as indices, keynotes, and specifications to convey the full scope of information. A reviewer must understand the system of symbols used as shorthand to indicate important information such as past edits, recent changes, the location of detail drawings, and demarcations of areas slated for demolition. At the start of the workshop, Jeff Hirsch had introduced the building as “a tool for preventive conservation”, and as the session progressed, I found it increasingly more helpful to think of the drawings as a set of instructions for using a very complex tool – in our case we are looking for ways to maximize the building’s ability to support collections preservation.
In the afternoon, we delved deeper into the different types of construction drawings by examining the general, architectural, mechanical, and electrical drawings, which each come with their own system of symbols that are used to communicate a wealth of meaning. Despite the sometimes daunting complexity of the drawings, it became clear that they follow a very specific and consistent order. I learned that when reviewing the drawings, it helps to understand them as both a set of instructions for the contractors and a legally binding contract for all stakeholders. As the latter, edits and revisions are closely tracked from version to version. Successful drawings clearly, thoroughly, and accurately communicate the scope of the project, including what is being demolished, what is being built, and what materials are being used for construction. Since each drawing can contain an overwhelming amount of information, approaching them with specific questions in mind makes them easier to navigate.
Some examples of information a conservator may need include: Do the edges of a demolition space impinge on existing collections? What are the fire ratings of the partitions slated for use in collections storage spaces, and will the fire rated partitions be fully enclosed (they must be in order to be successful)? Are there flammable materials sharing a wall with collections storage? Are smoke detectors and sprinklers located in appropriate areas? Are there enough outlets reserved for housekeeping, and are they readily accessible? What types of light sources are being used and how will they be controlled? If a new HVAC system is being installed, look to the mechanical schedules for the system’s ability to provide humidification/dehumidification and filtration information, and to the control chart for set points. Finally, with all systems that require maintenance and upkeep, it’s important to consider their proximity to collections materials, the frequency of maintenance, as well as space needs of associated personnel and equipment.
Day two: preventive conservation, exhibition design, and Q&A session
On day two, instructors began with an example in which the design team and conservators collaborated to identify an optimal pathway to move collections between the freight elevator and the Q?rius exhibit at the Smithsonian NMNH. An ideal pathway was not available, so the team mapped various options on the floor plan and used color coding to identify areas with issues such as security, access, and cleanliness. The drawing was supplemented by a filmed walk through of the actual path, which communicated potential issues with a clarity and immediacy that was difficult to convey through other media. I liked the way this example underscored the ways in which preventive conservation often relies on collaboration among parties with specializations beyond conservation, and that it focussed on an aspect of the environment – pathways – that is often overlooked when thinking about preventive conservation.
This followed with a tabletop exercise to find the outlets in the the drawings for the Q?rius space, which drove home how sometimes the little things can make a big impact on the maintenance of a finished space. In this case, it was important for us to consider the amount and location of outlets designated for a new space to make sure that enough are available for both display cases and for housekeeping use. In addition, we had to consider the accessibility of outlets for housekeeping and deduce from the drawings whether staff had to crawl into the base of display cases to reach outlets, for example. Through this exercise, we also learned that it was often necessary to switch between different sets of drawings (in this case, between electrical and exhibitions) because the information we needed was covered by overlapping specializations.
Moving further into the world of exhibition design drawings, we examined ways in which an existing space can be slightly modified to provide better climate collections objects. For example, Mike discussed an instance in which he built a vestibule as a means of limiting air exchange to an exhibit space that is located close to exterior walls and windows. In these instances the contractor schedule would be the place to look for information regarding the types of doors that are designated for use in a space.
Mike also walked us through the ins and outs of looking at drawings of custom exhibit cases, which provide detailed information on what can and cannot be done. I took a lot of notes here of factors that are important in the final product, such as: glass size (may be swapped to a different type without notice), acceptable deflection amount, potential need for levelers, desiccant chamber capacity (consider the climate of space that the case is going into), presence/type of lighting inside the cases, type of gasket used (does it actually press against the other side?), presence and composition of adhesives inside case. Getting custom cases sounded like a taxing process that was further complicated by the case builder’s use of proprietary materials.
The workshop concluded with a lively Q&A session that was populated by both questions that were pre-submitted by participants and by impromptu questions. Instructors and participants discussed questions relating to fire coding in collections and user spaces, condensation in air diffusers, preparing for a new building to be added to a museum, and considering the efficacy of using inhouse vs. outside consultants on construction projects. All in all, the workshop covered a lot of ground in two day period and offered a wealth of information that I was happy to bring back to share with my colleagues in preparation for our own renovations. I certainly felt more prepared and informed when our own construction drawings arrived at my desk several weeks later.
Relative being the key word in this talk, Steven Weintraub of Art Preservation Services, Inc., presented a checklist of critical thinking when making decisions about relative humidity (RH) microclimates for collections. Question the accuracy of your RH measurement
Weintraub points out it’s really easy to be 5% off on measuring RH for a myriad of reasons including sensor locations relative vent locations, drift in the measuring equipment. While 40% to 60% is the usual goal, a conservator has to ponder how comfortable are you with 35% to 65%? Weintraub admitted those extremes make him less confident for preventive conservation; microclimates can be the answer when an object requires tighter control.
The talk ended on this accuracy theme as well. While technology has come to RH measuring systems such as blue tooth systems so the case no longer has to be opened, accuracy remains in issue. Before setting up an exhibit, compare all the meters so to have at least an internal standard for readings. Calibrating the meters before exhibitions is ideal, of course but not always feasible. If there is a large discrepancy in RH readings between the loaning institution and your institution, it might be worth having a conversation about calibration methods. To seal or not to seal a case
Weintraub recounted the common reasons for not sealing a case: Avoid trapping off-gassing; gallery climate control is adequate; it’s harder and more expensive to construct an airtight case. However hindsight is harder to manage. It’s harder to retrofit a leaking case and make it air tight after the fact when too much dust is collecting on the objects or other problems occur. Thus it’s best to start with air tight cases and loosen if needed. Hence whether intentional or not, sealed cases are microclimates. Microclimates: Active control, Passive control, or Nothing
Weintraub recommend building all cases to have the provisions for at least a passive RH control system regardless. Again the theme of enabling flexibility and avoiding retrofitting later applies. Building space for silica gel trays and not using it is easier than retrofitting the case later.
What is the rate of leakage for the case is the most important question for microclimates. The leakage rate will determine if a passive control is adequate or active control system is needed. Weintraub noted, no silica gel system in the world is adequate for a highly leaky case. Nominal leaking from a tight system then begs the question about why an active system is needed.Leakage assessment can be easily accessible. Weintraub feels it’s important and empowering for institutions to be able to conduct their own leakage rate tests. It will enable identifying when repairs are needed under service contracts and also make more informed choices about the steps needed for microclimates. A caveat on interpreting leakage rates when you’re shopping for cases No standard protocol exists for determining leakage rates; so manufacturers reported values are hard to compare. Leakage rates change over time as materials age and warp Creating your own leak detector
Weintraub shared two easy ways to have your own leak detection system. Cans of dust-off contain small amounts of refrigerant. A refrigerant detector can be easily purchased from HVAC suppliers for about $500; the detector is akin to a Geiger counter. It’s a qualitative tool that helps locate the leaks. The second leakage assessment choice is monitor carbon dioxide levels. The carbon dioxide level in the case increased above ambient levels (600 to 2500 ppm) and use a meter installed in the case to monitor the change in carbon dioxide levels. Let the case reach equilibrium at before starting the leak test. Weintraub and students at the NYU conservation center are currently examining how long it typically takes to reach equilibrium. Weintraub likes to run his leak tests for 3 days. Basically it’s calculating the rate of loss of CO2 Thus the difference in CO2 measurements over the time period. Close to 0 for the rate means success as there is minimal leakage. A large rate indicates an issue. At that point, consider looking at the half-time decay, how many days it takes for CO2 levels to drop 50% in the case. How much silica gel? Answer: Leakage rate * number of exhibit days* buffering capacity of silica gel at your target humidity levels= weight of silica gel.
You can examine compare different silica gel types for your scenario as some silica gels perform better at high humidity and others at low humidity. For a maintenance-free case, Weintraub’s rule of thumb is double the exhibition quantity of silica gel. Another silica gel tip is to mix silica gels at different humidities to get the target humidity such at mixing 55% and 40% RH gel systems to get a target of 50%.
Also, mind the air gap in the case. An air gap is needed to make sure air flow is adequate in the case to get the benefits of silica gel actually reaching the collection objects.
Lastly, we as conservators need to do a better job of sharing our learning and experience about microclimate to develop a collective pool of knowledge
Weintraub’s article on Demystifying Silica Gel is available on Art Preservation Services website along with some of his work on LED.
I was tweeting up a storm during this session (#AICSF). Why the fervor? There is nothing like hearing the conversion of smart professionals towards the gospel of collaboration, preservation management and the preservation environment. A two-year intensive review of the air handling systems at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library (Delaware) generated insights into the management of the preservation environment that provided refreshing new data on how to approach mechanical renovation projects. During the panel, each stakeholder told a part of a story that provided many “Ah Ha” moments. Here’s a sample of the tweets:
On the issue of getting all the stakeholders in the room: I keep saying this: collaboration between facilities and conservation colleagues is a key for establishing set points. Collections management and facilities management must be in handshake [pic of hands shaking].
On the implementation of nightly shut downs and seasonable shifts to manage the preservation environment and reduce the use of water and energy: It’s not so simple to do shut downs and seasonably adjust set points. Achilles heel of doing shut downs may be antiquated systems including [antiquated] monitoring. Really, you cannot just shut off the furnace!
On the struggle to adequately understand the way that air handling systems may have evolved over time due to changes in personnel, changes in technology, and changes in the built environment: Sounds like facilities engineers could take a page out of @conservators documentation strategies and requirements. #asbuiltsnotdrawn
[A fireplace that had served as an air return decades ago was blocked during renovations wreaking havoc on the HVAC control]: Secret air return: non-working fireplace… blocked.
[Retired engineer returns to review the system and finds out that all of the built-in compensation for Gerry-rigged HVAC has been resolved]: “We always run two boilers!” “Let me tell you what: now we’re only running one.”
On the monitoring tools that are essential for understanding how your systems are running: eClimate Notebook from IPI is such a great tool. Proud to plug it!
Winterthur reports a decrease in its energy costs, which include the reduction in the use of fresh water, and intends to repurpose energy costs into programming. Now that’s sustainable!
Jim Coddington, the chief conservator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, presented some trends that were found from analyzing the environmental data that was collected at MoMA over the past six years. This was particularly interesting because it compared two relatively new or newly renovated buildings with different types of usage/functionality and HVAC systems. The building on 53rd street, Jim admits, is very leaky from a number of sources, including the many doors through which thousands of people pass, and has a steam and electric HVAC system. The building in Queens (QNS) on the other hand is mostly concrete with very little glass and has a gas powered HVAC system. The data that Jim presented was collected from across the museum including finance, operation, conservation, and vistor services. Needless to say there are a lot of people invested in this.
Jim showed mostly graphs and charts. These included data showing the temperature and %RH outside, inside the buildings, dew point, and comparing this energy usage. I’ve included images of the graphs that I found most interesting or informative.
In QNS there is a large expenditures of gas in august and dips in winter. This is because that are able to use free cooling to extract excess heat for 8 or9 months, or 3 out of 4 seasons, through a heat exchanger on the roof. In this process, heat is absorbed from the condenser water by air chilled water. The length of time they are able to use free-cooling is based on set points of T and RH (see second image) and is affected by air temperature, relative humidity, and water supply temperature. Non-free cooling with the RH set at 50% happens over the summer and is longer at lower temperatures. So during the summer the temperature set point is allowed to drift to 22 degrees C. Jim mentioned that having a narrower set point may actually equal cost savings, but they have no data for that.
On the analysis for the 53rd street building, Jim highlighted that this is a very different situation. It is a high use building, with lots of leakage points and demand on the systems- steam and electric principally. Therefore, the energy usage is much higher.
It has been asked whether heat from visitors is significant? In Chris McGlinchey’s calculation, the 360 kJ/hr given off by the visitors with a typical stay of 4 hours, this is not a huge contributing factor.
In Jim’s summary and conclusions- The expected was stated that they are consuming more energy in the 53rd St building than QNS. This is mostly in winter (see the third image). The QNS building is more efficient because of the free cooling, lower set point temperature and equates to lower energy usage thanks to an efficient building design. Online Resources:
Steam- natural gas utility converter: http://www.coned.com/steam/default.asp
NIST Guide for the Use of the International System of Units (SI) 2008: http://physics.nist.gov/cuu/pdf/sp811.pdf
“Simple Method for Monitoring Dust Accumulation in Indoor Collections,” by Bill Wei was the first session in the Collections Care specialty section that was given on Thursday afternoon. As a museum technician in Preventive Conservation, dust is something I deal with on an almost daily basis. I thought that Bill’s talk could lend some valuable insight to my work, and I wasn’t wrong. Bill Wei is a Senior Conservation Scientist at the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, and in his session he presented on a simple and easily implemented way a museum could monitor how fast dust accumulates in an indoor collections space. He used the Museum de Gevangepoort and the Galerij Prins Willem V to demonstrate how the method.
The talk started off with a humorous introduction by Bill about views on dust in museum spaces. How for some people, museum professionals in particular, we can take a defensive stance on dust as if it implies we aren’t doing our jobs. For other individuals, dust adds an element of age that seems appropriate. He also mentioned that when the words “dusty museum” are googled the result is over 12,000 hits. Apparently more than just museum professionals see dust. Bill brought up the fact that dust is not only an aesthetic issue in museums, it can present chemical and health issues, and it can be costly and timely to remove. The two sites were then introduced, both of which house collections and are historic buildings. Construction was being done near the sites, and there was a concern about how much more dust accumulation this might cause, so they provided a good case study. Bill then introduced the question of how do you monitor dust?
Bill explained that dust on the surface of an object causes the light to bounce off in many different angles, as opposed to at the same angle, this makes a surface look matte. The resulting matte surface can then be considered to have lost gloss. This loss of gloss is something that can be measured using a glossmeter. The type of glossmeter used during this test was made by Sheen manufacturers. Bill was careful to point out that this test doesn’t measure how much dust you have, but how quickly it will accumulate. For this run of the test Bill used microscope glass slides, because they are cheap, reusable and glossy. The steps of the test are as follows:
Using the glossmeter, measure a clean slide on a white background (copy paper is suitable. This should be the same background used throughout testing.)
Put slides out at various locations you wish to test, remembering that the more slides you put out, the more work you will have to do. The slides should be placed in out of the way locations and staff should be told about them.
After a predetermined amount of time (ex. one month), using the glossmeter measure the slide on the same background that you used in step 1.
Clean the slide, and reuse, starting over at step 1.
The calculation that is then used to determine the rate of accumulation of dust over the time period is
Fraction change= (Dusty Slide after 1 month measurement – Clean Slide measurement)/ (Clean slide measurement)
Multiply that by 100 to get the percentage.
Bill explained that for every month that you take a glossmeter measurement, you add the value of the new measurement to the previous, since this is cumulative you will go over 100% at some point. You can then use these values and plot them in a graph over time.
If you wanted to test the dust samples, to find out where the dust was coming from and what it was made of, you could incorporate small conductive carbon stickers on the slides. Since this talk focused on the accumulation, not the source of the dust, this topic was not discussed in detail.
The placement of the slides was at one point done both vertically and horizontally surface. The vertical placement was done to mimic how much dust a painting might accumulate. However the vertically placed slides needed a much longer period of time to really show a loss in gloss, so it was not considered as necessary to run both types of slide placement.
When it came to analyzing the results of this test one thing that was found was the fact that the slide nearest the entry had the most dust. When it’s results were plotted onto a graph it produced the steepest slope over time. The more visitors a museum has, the more dust accumulation occurs. During peak tourist times there was a correlating peak in dust accumulation. One thing that was also noticed at the Museum de Gevangepoort was that during construction periods there was also a rise in dust accumulation. The results confirmed a long held thought that visitors are one of the main sources of dust in museums.
Bill then talked briefly about the chemistry of dust. When the dust was analyzed it was found to contain salts, iron, chalk, sand, clay and concrete among other things. When the makeup of the dust was looked at, it was possible to notice trends, for example during the winter months, February in particular there was a noticeable rise in the amount of salts found. Looking at what the dust was comprised of could allow scientists to identify the source of the dust.
Bill pointed out that the idea of too much dust isn’t really something that is definable in terms of science. It’s more defined by people’s perception of it. Different surface types can be just as dusty as one another, but if the dust is more visible on one type of surface, say plexi, the viewer read’s that surface as being less clean.
In discussing an action plan for dust monitoring Bill said you have to determine why you are doing it, i.e. to see if your new HVAC system is producing better results, and it’s important to define “too much dust” as a difference in gloss.
The questions asked after Bill’s presentation included, how many/ what angle should a gloss measurement be taken, to which Bill answered one measurement at 85 degrees was sufficient. He was also asked how often one should be taking measurements. He said that three to four weeks at most will produce good results, if you measure too soon a change won’t be seen.
Bill’s presentation was informative and lively. He presented a system for testing dust accumulation that could easily be implemented and followed. Thanks to Bill for a great talk!
The last presentation of the Outreach to Allies Session at the AIC Annual Meeting 2012 was an interactive session organized by the Collection Care Network. The leadership team of the network designed it as a way to identify priorities and projects for the network. Imagine nine groups of 7 to 9 people sitting around tables discussing the content of nine different short videos. Each video presented a collection care challenge or question. The discussion aimed to suggest projects the Collection Care Network could develop that would provide tools to overcome the challenge or answer the question. Now imagine people engaged in conversation. This post covers some of the conversation at Table 3. Look for the other 8 posts if you would like to review all the discussions.
Table Three: The discussion at the table focused on how to provide more access to collection care information delivered in an efficient and effective way. As a professional beginning in the field I was interested in learning about the many resources and approaches that already exist and what my colleagues found best suited to the needs of the audience.
The video: Emma Westling, Touring Exhibits Coordinator for the Museum of Science, Boston outlined her duties at the Museum and her work touring exhibits to various venues. She wished to have access to previously developed training materials to educate and provide professional development for institutions that may not have dedicated collections professionals. She pointed out that staff could improve collection care for their own collections as well as for loaned objects in their care.
The discussion: Although we began by considering loan shows to institutions with staff that may have a limited knowledge about a particular type of object or material, the discussions moved to discussing the intended audience. From diverse backgrounds, they bring a range of expertise to preservation. They meet the daily challenges of finding sufficient time, money, and staff hours to carry out their work. In time are conversation transitioned into what were some of the best ways to engage and to meet the needs of this audience. We talked about how training for its own sake was a worthy goal, but when faced with the numerous demands competing for time and resources, a more strategic approach is required. Those who had developed on-line resources and presented programs and seminars found that successful programming hinges on delivering information at the moment individuals are looking for it. The challenge is using methods that get the right information to the intended audience at the right time.
The ideas for Collection Care Network projects:
Create a free and searchable on-line resource that organizes the collection care information and training available to the preservation community.
Develop a knowledge base on specialized topics with content provided by experts in that area.
Build a forum to foster interactivity.
The contributors:Moderator – Gretchen Guidess; Note Taker: Patti Dambaugh; Table participants: Kathy Francis, Kristen Laise, Chris McAfee, Kay Söderlund, Sarah Stauderman
The last presentation of the Outreach to Allies Session at the AIC Annual Meeting 2012 was an interactive session organized by the Collection Care Network. The leadership team of the network designed it as a way to identify priorities and projects for the network. Imagine nine groups of 7 to 9 people sitting around tables discussing the content of a nine different short videos. Each video presented a collection care challenge or question. The discussion aimed to suggest projects the Collection Care Network could develop that would provide tools to overcome the challenge or answer the question. Now imagine people engaged in conversation. So engaged they didn’t get up for food when asked to do so! So engaged they had to be asked a second time!! Now you have a very small idea of what the session was like. This particular post gives you more details about the discussion at Table 8. Look for the other 8 posts if you would like to review all the discussions.
Table eight: I was particularly pleased to be able to moderate the discussion at table eight as natural history collections have been a focus of my conservation career. While the materials that make up these collections are familiar to all conservators, the approach to their care and management varies from that for art, humanities, and technology collections. Archaeological collections are the only ones that rival those in natural sciences in terms of size. Holdings in a mid-sized natural history museum often number in the millions, if not tens of millions of specimens, plus their associated documentation, ranging from books and manuscripts to all types of photographic formats and digital media.
The video: The video presenter was Dr. Christopher Norris, Senior Collections Manager for Vertebrate Paleontology at the Peabody Museum of Natural History. Chris is also the President of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC). In his presentation, Chris noted that for natural history curators and collection managers, the biggest challenge is the size of the collections. “We have so many specimens, so many objects to deal with, that it’s very hard for us to make decisions about conserving those objects on the basis of individual object-based treatments; we have to focus in on preventive conservation. This, I think, is a very good area where SPNHC can work with the Collections Care Network at AIC to come up with some really creative solutions to our problems.” He suggested that this could be a two-way process in which SPNHC members, who have a great deal of experience in working with large collections, could tap into the conservation expertise of AIC and those in AIC that have had more experience in object-based treatments can begin to learn about and understand some of the conservation challenges that we face in natural history collections. He closed the video by commenting that he viewed this as a great opportunity for the two groups to work together and that SPNHC looks forward to working with the Collection Care Network.
The discussion:The discussion around table eight started with the ways all the recognized agents of deterioration impact natural history collections and how the impacts can vary among these collections. A number of questions were asked about the overall goals for collaboration—solutions to specific problems or simply greater understanding between the groups. This led to brainstorming about available resources and mechanisms to deliver these to a relatively new audience.
The ideas for Collection Care Network projects:
Given the range of materials in these collections, all expertise has applications. Would conservators answer questions in an open forum? The answer was decided positive, even though it was recognized that there were limits to the kind of information that can be shared effectively in this manner. A forum could foster a discussion model for information exchange.
Would be good to compile a list of resources that are currently available. There are many useful sites and freely available publications, but not all can be found easily. Possible topics include funding opportunities and risk assessment methodologies.
Use websites to help disseminate information. The planned AIC Storage of Technology, Arts, Science, and Humanities (STASH) project, which is based on a book published by SPNHC, will be a web-based resource with broad applicability and will involve a variety of organizations.
Might be able to use the Wiki format as a way to link to other sites and other information resources. Could post case studies or link to case studies, using a formats employed by other organizations (e.g., the Getty Conservation Institute), although it requires a great deal of work to create and maintain this type of site. AIC is a good group to tackle this and already has experience in creating Wikis.
In engaging other organizations, appreciate their standards and the ways they approach and use their collections. People enjoy talking about their collections and this can be an opening for dialog.
Conduct surveys to find out what people in various fields want/need to know.
View this as an opportunity to promote networking among mid-career professionals, pre-program interns, and museum studies students.
Create opportunities for conservators, collections managers, and curators to meet to exchange ideas. This might be done through joint meetings with representatives from other organizations, or possibly have special one-day joint sessions affiliated with annual meetings of both AIC and other organizations. Could begin with a half-day session with representatives from various groups as part of an upcoming AIC meeting. AIC could follow-up with sessions at the meetings of other organizations.
Highlight the Collection Care Network whenever AIC has a booth at another organization’s meetings.
Some of the richest and most useful sessions now held at AIC meetings are those in which an array of different perspectives are presented, including perspectives from outside conservation. We could use this format to encourage dialog across numerous fields. This would aid in introducing all of us to each other, bringing a range of organizations to the attention of the natural history field and simultaneously allowing conservator, mountmakers, registrars, etc. to share expertise among themselves as well as among colleagues in natural science disciplines.
The contributors:Moderator – Catharine Hawks; Note Taker – Ellen Promise; Table participants – Catherine Badot-Costello, Lisa Goldberg, Leslie Goldman, Kazuko Hioki, Andrea Knowlton, Katie Mullen, Betty Seifert, Bill Wei, Emily Williams.