ECPN Interviews: Electronic Media Conservation with Christine Frohnert

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.


Christine Frohnert and Reinhard Bek [Photo: Reinhard Bek]
Christine Frohnert and Reinhard Bek [Photo: Reinhard Bek]
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?

Christine Frohnert [Photo: Marlies Peller]
Christine Frohnert [Photo: Marlies Peller]
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.

Cathode Ray Tube monitor [Photo: Marlies Peller
Cathode Ray Tube monitor [Photo: Marlies Peller]
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?

Cathode Ray Tube monitor [Photo: Christine Frohnert]
Cathode Ray Tube monitor [Photo: Christine Frohnert]
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.



ECPN Interviews: Electronic Media Conservation with Yasmin Dessem

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.

Yasmin Dessem (left) and Allie Whalen (right) cleaning and relubricating a Betacam deck. [Photo: Walter Urie]
Yasmin Dessem (left) and Allie Whalen (right) cleaning and relubricating a Betacam deck. [Photo: Walter Urie]
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.

Lacquer disc cleaning and transfer workshop at the Instituto de Historia de Cuba in Havana, Cuba [Photo: Yasmin Dessem]
Lacquer disc cleaning and transfer workshop at the Instituto de Historia de Cuba in Havana, Cuba [Photo: Yasmin Dessem]
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.

Perforation repair of 16 mm film [Photo: Yasmin Dessem]
Perforation repair of 16 mm film [Photo: Yasmin Dessem]
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.

Climate Change Blog Post 2: Sustainability in light of disaster

In light of this year’s conference theme, Practical Philosophy or Making Conservation Work, the Sustainability Committee would like to highlight how something as intangible as climate change directly affects the practical side of conservation.
This is 2 of 3 in the series of blog posts that explores this relationship. In this one we offer a case study of how climate change affected one institution.

Climate change may seem like an esoteric topic to the average conservator until it hits close to home. In the summer of 2012, parts of the American Midwest experienced drought conditions. Extreme heat, coupled with severe cold the previous winter, led to pavement shifting and subsequent water main breaks. In fact, in the greater Kansas City area, dozens of water main breaks occurred daily at the peak of the summer of 2012.
On August 1, 2012, Lawrence, Kansas, experienced near record high heat. That morning, when staff entered the Murphy Art and Architecture Library at the University of Kansas (KU), located below grade on the first floor of the university art museum, water was rushing in from the ceiling. The art museum was situated halfway down a steep hill, and a water main break in the road above led to water entering the building and traveling down to the library. The force of the water inundated the 14,000 square foot space, covering the floor with many inches of water in short time, and drenching the library stacks with water on the way down.
Ceiling tiles and wet floor after a water main break in the University of Kansas art library. Courtesy University of Kansas Libraries.

Ceiling tiles and dirty water remain after the water from the ceiling stopped. Image: University of Kansas Libraries

Luckily, the University of Kansas Libraries had a disaster plan in place and quickly came up with a recovery plan. Nearly one-hundred volunteers helped remove wet books from the space on the day of the disaster and package them for transport from the library. The combined staff contribution was 279 work hours on the day of the disaster, and subsequent work on further days added many additional hours of staff labor.
Boxing wet books for removal to an off-site drying facility. Courtesy University of Kansas Libraries.

Books packed in boxes for removal to the disaster recovery company. Image: University of Kansas Libraries

The Collections Emergency Response Team worked with university leaders to contract with a disaster recovery company that vacuum-freeze-dried over 17,000 volumes. While better than 97% of the volumes were recovered, thanks to significant planning and training before the event, the toll on the conservation lab was still significant. In fact, between the disaster in August and the following February, the staff in the Stannard Conservation Laboratory focused almost entirely on treatment of materials recovered from the disaster. All but the most urgent outside treatment requests were put on hold.
Industrial dehumidification equipment.

Industrial dehumidification equipment used to dry out the space. Image: University of Kansas Libraries

The damage to the library building was extensive, and the library was closed for over a month. Because the space had to be rebuilt from the ground up, 26,000 volumes not affected by the water main break still had to be moved from the space. Drywall was cut up to 24 inches from the floor to prevent mold growth, so books on wall-mounted shelves had to be removed. Likewise, soggy carpet had to be discarded, requiring that books on bottom shelves in freestanding shelving ranges be relocated. Staff volunteered 212 hours of their time to help place these books on trucks, and hired contractors moved them to a location across campus. Although in an ideal world the collections would not have been returned to a basement-grade location, space restrictions necessitated reusing the existing library.
Rebuilding compact shelving after a disaster. Courtesy University of Kansas Libraries.

Rebuilding compact shelving from scratch. Image: University of Kansas Libraries

In this one, but fairly typical, example, the resources that went into recovering the collections and library space were extensive: nearly five hundred hours of staff time were diverted from other projects to remove books from the space and six months of conservation staff time were focused almost exclusively on recovery of collections. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this experience is that extreme heat and cold may occur in future years and such a disaster could possibly be repeated. Certainly there are extensive references available to aid us in preparing for a likely disaster, but do we have adequate training to respond to the often very large events that result from climate change? Are we prepared to reserve the resources—financial, personnel, supplies—that such disaster may take? How can we sustain our collections without taxing limited resources?
Email us at or post a comment below.

Climate Change Blog Post 1 – Water, Water Everywhere

In light of this year’s conference theme, Practical Philosophy or Making Conservation Work, the Sustainability Committee would like to highlight how something as intangible as climate change directly affects the practical side of conservation.
This is 1 of 3 in the series of blog posts that explores this relationship. In this one we ask the question “how has climate change affected conservators in the work they do?”


Climate change affects everyone, including conservators. For the past few years I’ve been researching sustainability and conservation. Making sustainability seem relevant on a practical level is one of the most challenging parts about convincing others to change their habits.
Much like damage to artifacts due to improper handling or prolonged light exposure, the consequences of climate change becomes more apparent once you see what you’ve been avoiding, the worst-case scenarios. What specific events have already happened where extreme weather and climate change negatively affected how conservators care for art and cultural heritage? Since this year’s conference is held in tropical Miami, this post focuses on weather-related water damage and how it affects conservators and the work they do.
It’s no surprise that floods, storms, and hurricanes have adversely affected many cultural institutions. While many storage facilities raise their lowest shelves a few inches off the ground, take into account the following examples as a cautionary tale of what could happen, even to the most prepared institution.
Photos of water-damaged artifacts at the National Guard Militia Museum.  Photo source: Ashley Peskoe | NJ Advance Media for

Photos of water-damaged artifacts at the National Guard Militia Museum.
Photo source: Ashley Peskoe | NJ Advance Media for

The National Guard Militia Museum in New Jersey experienced severe flood damage during Hurricane Sandy when five feet of water got into their collections storage site. The damage was extensive and difficult to assess. How do you assign value to irreplaceable photographs and handwritten letters? When the “conservation treatment for each large flag would cost between $20,000 to $30,000” how do you prioritize it over other objects? What about the “465 oral history interviews from veterans dating back to World War II, which got wet in the storm”? After the hurricane even the records of these oral histories “were glued to the floor,” said assistant curator Carol Fowler.
The flooded National September 11 Memorial Museum, 2012. Photo Source: Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company.

The flooded National September 11 Memorial Museum, 2012.
Photo Source: Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company.

At the same time the National September 11 Memorial Museum, then still under construction, was “filled with at least seven feet of water during the [Hurricane Sandy] storm.” The flooding had nearly immersed two fire trucks, while the symbolic last column, the steel cross, and the survivor’s stairway were all also partially submerged. And this damage happened after years of conservation and climate controlled storage.
The hurricane damaged Lone Star Flight Museum. Photo Source: Property of the Experimental Aircraft Association.

The hurricane damaged Lone Star Flight Museum.
Photo Source: Property of the Experimental Aircraft Association.

Similarly in 2008 Hurricane Ike devastated the Lone Star Flight Museum “with 6 to 8 feet of saltwater.” While some of the planes were flown out in time, “all the aircraft that remained behind sustained some degree of damage [while] the restored Jeeps and other vehicles were under water.[…] The briny brew corroded their metal frames and engines and soaked their wooden ribs.” Not only planes were damaged but small artifacts as well – “Bits and pieces of various displays — flags, uniforms, photographs — were recovered from the muck. Most were not.” Even their repair shop, with specialty tools and equipment for aircraft repair was “all gone,” meaning immediate conservation work was severely limited. To make a bad situation worse, “the museum had no flood insurance, [so] it will depend heavily on donations to recover.” Larry Gregory, the museum’s president, stated “right now we’ve got to devote all our resources to staying in business,” so routine conservation and maintenance took a back seat to long-term recovery.
The flooded exterior of the River and Rowing Museum. Photo Source: from the 2014 article “Weather forces museums to close” by Simon Stephens.

The flooded exterior of the River and Rowing Museum.
Photo Source: from the 2014 article “Weather forces museums to close” by Simon Stephens.

Even annual flooding can be unpredictable. Last year the River and Rowing Museum, the Spelthorne Museum, the Brocklands Museum, and the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, all in different parts of England, had to temporarily close due to rising flood waters. Catherine Yoxall, marketing manager of the River and Rowing Museum, said that while the museum was lucky since it is purposely built on stilts, “our problem is that we are unable to get anywhere near the building and it simply wouldn’t be safe to expect our staff to try to get in.”
Photos of the 2008 Iowa flood during the recovery process (left and center) and during the flood itself (right).  Photo Source: © 2015 National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.

Photos of the 2008 Iowa flood during the recovery process (left, center) and during the flood itself (right).
Photo Source: © 2015 National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.

In 2008 the Iowa Flood flooded the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library with 10 feet of water causing between eight and eleven million dollars worth of damage to five museum-owned buildings, including 20-25% of their collection. This included “6,000 volumes [of books and] one thousand sixty-seven flood-damaged artifacts.” And the damage occurred after many days of flood preparation where much of their collection was taken off site or moved to a higher floor within the building. All told the museum will need to be rebuilt, costing an additional $25 million.
Left: Collapsed roof at the Huronia Museum. Photo Source: Submitted photo/Bryan Piitz. Right: Water damage sustained by a rug at the Huronia Museum. Photo Source: Jenni Dunning.

Left: Collapsed roof at the Huronia Museum. Photo Source: Submitted photo/Bryan Piitz.
Right: Water damage sustained by a rug at the Huronia Museum. Photo Source: Jenni Dunning.

Even run of the mill thunderstorms can cause incredible damage. The Hurnonia Museum, a local history museum in Midland, Ontario, had survived two back-to-back thunderstorms in August 2014. Since “the entire floor of the museum was covered in an inch of water,” it fared relatively well in comparison to the museums previously mentioned, except for the 19th century rug that was on the floor as well as other low to the ground objects. This is especially troubling because the small museum had a new roof installed just a few months prior after a leak had caused its ceiling to collapse. And with their modest budget they were just hoping “to earn what we earned (last year) or better,” which after closures and emergency costs they could not do.
Conservation as a profession is a balance between the practical and the theoretical knowledge. Climate change and its effects should be directly tied to emergency preparedness and preventive conservation,  and thus to our professional ethics and mandate in that our goal is to care for objects in perpetuity. The practical side of our ethical decision-making is often understated, if even mentioned at all. Perhaps this is because there is no tangible, immediate reward to disaster prevention, or perhaps it is because the process is cumulative and ongoing. In either case it is none the less part of the foundation of what we do as conservation professionals.
When thinking about climate change and conservation, we can take Huronia Museum executive director Nahanni Born’s words to heart, “when you take (an artifact) in, you promise to take care of it forever.” How have you and your organization been negatively affected by climate change? What have you done to mitigate this? What actions can you take, large or small, to have a positive, cumulative effect to mitigate climate change’s effect on your work?
Email us at sustainability@conservation-us.orgor write in the comments.

Get Ready for San Francisco with the Sustainability Committee: Come see us!

AIC's 42nd Annual Meeting - 2014
This is the fourth in a series of posts by the Sustainability Committee in the run-up to the 2014 Annual Meeting, describing sustainability issues and initiatives in the city of San Francisco. The first blog post explained plastic bag and container laws. The second described the water crisis in California. The third post was about the California Academy of Sciences: The world’s greenest museum. Here, I will tell you about the activities the Sustainability Committee will be involved in during the conference.
1. We will be sharing a booth with the Health & Safety Committee. Stop by! We will have samples of sustainable materials and handouts on various topics relating to sustainability in conservation.
2. On Friday, May 30th from 1-2 PM, we will host a Sustainability Roundtable Discussion in the Hospitality Room: How Do We Support Meaningful Change in Our Cultural Institutions? It’s free! Come check it out. It will be a conversation about engaging decision-makers in museums, libraries, and archives on the topic of sustainability.  How do individuals rally interest, build momentum, and transition from well-meaning intentions to meaningful action in their cultural institutions at large? During this informal discussion, members of the sustainability committee along with facilitators Sarah Stauderman, Collections Care Manager at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, and Jia-Sun Tsang, Senior Paintings Conservator at the Smithsonian Institution will share real-life examples of the sustainability movement in cultural heritage. Bring your questions and ideas to share!
3. Some members of the committee have put together a poster for the poster session. The poster session will be divided into two venues. Our poster will be #46 in the SeaCliff Foyer: Life Cycle Assessments: Lighting, HVAC, Loans, and Treatments by Sarah Nunberg, Pamela Hatchfield, Dr. Matthew Eckelman, and the AIC Sustainability Committee. Check it out if these questions interest you: What is the environmental impact difference between LEDs and Halogen lamps? What aspects of a loan have the biggest environmental impact? How much energy does regularly shutting down, or coasting, the HVAC system save? Silanes vs B-72 in Acetone:Ethanol vs B-72 in Xylene: Which Has a Higher Human and Environmental Impact? The poster session runs from 10 AM Thursday through Friday evening. For those unable to see the poster in person, it will be available to download from the AIC website sometime in June.
4. At the CIPP Seminar on Wednesday from 1-5PM, two of our committee members will take part in a panel discussion on Greening your Business. AIC Sustainability Committee Chair Betsy Haude (Senior Paper Conservator, Library of Congress) will present an overview of the committee’s work and Sarah Nunberg (Objects Conservation Studio LLC, Brooklyn, NY) will speak on sustainable practices in the conservation studio.
5. Committee member Christian Hernandez has prepared a talk for the StashFlash Session on recycled materials and long-term storage. Christian will not be attending the conference, but is sending is PowerPoint.

Get Ready for San Francisco with the Sustainability Committee: The World's Greenest Museum

AIC's 42nd Annual Meeting - 2014
This is the third in a series of posts by the Sustainability Committee in the run-up to the 2014 Annual Meeting, describing sustainability issues and initiatives in the city of San Francisco. The first blog post explained plastic bag and container laws. The second blog post described the water crisis in California.
Did you know that the California Academy of Sciences, located in San Francisco, is the world’s greenest museum? It is also the largest public LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum-rated building in the world. Designed by architect Renzo Piano, it was built from recycled materials where possible, it has a green ‘living’ roof with six inches of soil for insulation and skylights that open to vent hot air, solar panels, radiant heating in the floors, and insulation made from recycled denim (yes, denim!).
The green roof is comprised of seven hillocks to pay homage to the landscape of San Francisco, and also to blend in with the setting of Golden Gate Park. It also has weather stations to provide data to the automated passive ventilation systems. The benefit of a living roof is absorption of moisture and carbon dioxide, and natural cooling of the building.  It was planted with native plants intended to survive well in the San Francisco climate. There has been some critique of that idea, because native plants may not be suited to a city environment, but any new idea takes a while to be perfected. Hopefully, green roofs will become more and more common within the next decade and difficulties will be smoothed out.  If you visit Golden Gate park, check out the building and see for yourself.
For more information on the LEED program and how it relates to preservation concerns take in the talk by architect Scott Schiamberg and conservator Rachael Arenstein at AIC’s Opening Session, May 29 10:50am – 11:10am  A LEED primer for conservators: or, what should I do when the architect proposes daylight in our new galleries?
I also recommend the de Young Museum, with its copper exterior that is intended to turn green over time to match the park setting, and the Japanese Tea Garden because it is beautiful.

Get Ready for San Francisco with the Sustainability Committee: California Water Shortage

AIC's 42nd Annual Meeting - 2014This is the second in a series of blog posts by the Sustainability Committee in the run-up to the 2014 Annual Meeting, describing sustainability issues and initiatives in the city of San Francisco. (The first blog post, regarding plastic bag and container laws, can be read here.)
Over the last six months, we have been hearing about the water shortage in the state of California, and this post will attempt to answer: what is the cause, and how will it affect us when we are in San Francisco? According to the California Department of Water Resources; “There are many ways that drought can be defined. Some ways can be quantified, such as meteorological drought (period of below normal precipitation) or hydrologic drought (period of below average runoff), others are more qualitative in nature (shortage of water for a particular purpose). There is no universal definition of when a drought begins or ends. Drought is a gradual phenomenon.” The website also explains that cyclical droughts have been common in California since records have been kept. Paleo-climate research has shown that in the more distant past, California has experienced much more severe droughts than those in the recent centuries.
So, this is a normal cycle, but there are two major differences that make this drought more worrisome. The first is that many more people and industries are dependent on the water supply than ever before (38,332,521 people at last count, according to the Census Bureau). This article from Energy & Environment Publishing explains “The state’s population has shot to 38 million people today, compared with 22 million during the last record-breaking drought in 1977. Meanwhile, the state’s farms increased their revenue to $45 billion from $9.6 billion over the same time period. The earlier figure is in that year’s dollars.” Secondly, the just-released 2014 National Climate Assessment (see ‘Water’) predicts that droughts can be expected to intensify in the 21st century.
The governor declared a state of emergency on January 17th. This asked all Californians to reduce water use by 20%, brought contingency plans into effect, made financial assistance available for those most affected, and created a task force. The most notable effects of the water shortage state-wide have been: a predicted 7% loss of farmland and a corresponding increase in prices (not just in California, but worldwide), especially for avocados, tomatoes, almonds, lettuce, cotton, rice, melons, and peppers; drastic lowering of water reservoirs; loss of wetland habitat (many salmon will have to be trucked to spawning grounds this year); lowering of groundwater quality; and increased chance of wildfires.
Locally, San Francisco has not been feeling the effects as much as southern and western portions of the state. Already, city residents have an excellent record of conserving water, and the public utilities commission continues to encourage water-saving through voluntary initiatives.
What I predict we will notice while we are there is a parched landscape viewed through the airplane windows or on sightseeing forays into the surrounding region, higher than usual prices on produce, and lower levels in the surrounding bodies of water. The worst case scenario would be a concurrent wildfire in the region that affects air quality, flight schedules and/or camping plans.
The good news is that The Hyatt Regency San Francisco (the conference hotel) has a list of green practices that includes water saving features such as low-flow showerheads and toilets, aerated faucets, towel/sheet reuse, and drip irrigation.
Information Sources:
 California Drought Updates by the Association of Water Agencies
California Water Science Center
NBC News: California Drought
New York Times: California’s Thirsting Farmland
The Guardian: California’s Drought Portends High Prices for Cinco de Mayo Favourites

Get Ready for San Francisco with the Sustainability Committee: Plastic bags and Containers

This is the first in a series of blog posts by the Sustainability Committee in the run-up to the 2014 Annual Meeting, describing sustainability issues and initiatives in the city of San Francisco.
Residents of Washington, DC, Boulder, Santa Fe, and a few other cities (including about 50 in the state of California) may be used to similar ordinances, but everyone else should be forewarned: when you make a purchase, the store can no longer provide a free bag to go along with it. For a 10 cent fee, you can purchase a ‘compliant’ bag to carry your goods in. Compliant bags are either:
* Compostable plastic bags labeled with a certification logo
* Paper bags labeled with 40% post-consumer recycled content
* Reusable checkout bags designed for at least 125 uses and washable
Why is this a good idea? Plastic bags clog sewers, pipes, and waterways. They mar the landscape. They photodegrade by breaking down to smaller fragments which readily soak up toxins, then contaminate soil and water. They are making a significant contribution to the plastic pollution of the oceans. Thousands of marine animals die each year from ingesting them. And, they are manufactured from petroleum, a resource that is both finite and dangerous to transport.
In addition, you will notice that your takeout food containers are a little different than what you may be used to. Containers are required to be compostable or recyclable. Styrofoam is a definite no-no. As the SF Environment (a city agency) site says: “Made from oil, polystyrene foam is non-renewable, non-biodegradable, and non-recyclable. Polystyrene foam food service ware ends up in landfills, waterways, or the ocean. It can break into pieces, which are often mistaken for food and ingested by marine animals, birds, and fish. Medical studies suggest that chemicals in polystyrene foam can cause cancer and leach into food or drinks.”
While we are there, you will still be able to purchase water in plastic bottles (although, please don’t; you can get it from the tap). But the city council has passed an ordinance prohibiting their sale in any public spaces that will go into full effect by 2018.
Laws like these can hopefully prevent what was witnessed by Jia-Sun Tsang, who works at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC: “On April 12, National Cherry Blossom Festival, thousands of tourists came through the Mall and left park workers 27 to 30 tons of trash to pick up.”
Many city councils are considering similar laws. Please contact your lawmakers and show your support. Refuse to patronize a restaurant (or staff cafeteria) that uses styrofoam. If you work at an institution, let the suppliers (or decision-makers) know that you prefer to chose products from vendors that use less packaging.
SF Environment: Plastic Bag Ordinance
Cities with Plastic Bag Bans
MSNBC: SF Bans Sale of Plastic Water Bottles
Examiner: SF Bans Sale of Plastic Water Bottles
SF Environment: Take-out Container Ordinance
Facts About the Plastic Bag Pandemic

Updates to Sustainable Practices on the AIC Wiki

The Sustainability Committee spent the month of February adding content to the Sustainable Practices section of the AIC wiki. We each choose a short project to work on, most of which involved adding information to the wiki from websites, articles, and books. What better way to highlight our new wiki content than to celebrate it in poetry? It is still possible to delve much deeper into these topics. We welcome your comments and feedback emailed to

Ode to Feburary

“Oh February, Oh ‘Wiki Month,’” cried this committee,
“How quickly you passed, like snow on the trees.”
“What’s changed?” You ask. “Quite a lot, I think!
There are new pages and content and at least one new link.”
We start with the past, we added our roots.
A brief history of sustainable institutions – Oh what a hoot!
Added are tables on green measurements
For water purifying lab instruments.
What about packing and shipping of art and supplies?
Consider recycled boxes or reused crates, before they fly!
How sustainable are your materials? How green are your treatments?
We’ve started a section but need your comments.
And solvents, green solvents, we cover those too,
With info on substitutions made just for you.
Think big, think bold, and make your lab green,
Or think about starting your own “Go Green!” team.
Contribute, we ask, please help us improve!
Its March and we’ve just gotten into a groove.
– Robin O’Hern and the Sustainability Committee

AIC's Committee on Sustainable Conservation Practice becomes Sustainability Committee

Why the re-branding?
When our committee was founded in 2010, we chose the name “Committee on Sustainable Conservation Practice” after much discussion and a vote. We soon noticed that people both inside and outside the committee would often get the name slightly wrong in postings, articles, and conversation. Common versions included “Committee for Sustainable Conservation Practices” and “Committee on Sustainability in Conservation Practice.”
At first, we thought that this was temporary; the name was new and would take time to get used to. But by the spring of 2013, it became clear that the confusion was proliferating each time the wrong name appeared on a website or article. Committee members would find it necessary to double-check the name (because even we were not certain we could remember it exactly), but had to be careful which site we used to double-check.
Since the name has not become effortless after 3 years, we decided the best thing to do is go with the name that most people find easier to use in conversation anyway, “Sustainability Committee.” (With an optional “the” at the beginning.)
Our email address remains the same: Contact us if you have a question, a story, or a tip related to sustainable issues in conservation.