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Subject: Conservation facilities and the public

Conservation facilities and the public

From: Katharine Untch <katyuntch>
Date: Thursday, August 9, 2001
I was asked once by my museum director whether I thought a lab
visible to the public would be a good idea.  I told her that on the
whole I did not think so.  These are the reasons I gave and I offer
them to anyone who is dealing with the same issue:

Productivity would drop.  It would take longer to complete
treatments in timely manner for exhibition deadlines, etc. Even if
the public is separated by a window, the conservator(s) would need
to be aware of their presence and alter their work flow accordingly.
More effort would need to be made on lab set up, neatness, and
processes to be sure they were appropriate for public viewing.  One
lab I know with a new public viewing window has placed posters and
displays against the glass in an effort to reduce public viewing as
they found it impractical to have public viewing on an ongoing
basis.

Stages of treatment require concentration that could be disrupted by
public viewing, potentially lowering the quality of the treatments.
Conservators work with chemicals, scalpels and specialized equipment
that require focus and concentration to use safely near valuable
works of art. Any distraction could pose a higher risk to the
artwork. Potential added stress to the conservator(s) could lower
morale. Imagine your own work space or office.  How would you feel
if the public were allowed to view you while you work all day?  How
would that affect your productivity and stress levels?

Could there be any liability issues if a member of the public tried
a treatment method at home, caused damage to a work of art and then
claimed that they learned it from observing the museum conservators?
On several occasions objects under purchase consideration come into
the conservation lab for examination and analysis.  The objects are
often left in the lab for a period of time and may need to be moved
about for examination purposes.  These objects need to be kept
confidential which can get very tricky if there were public viewing
access. Moving objects around because they are "sensitive" to public
viewing adds a greater risk to damage due to excess handling.

On the plus side, it would be beneficial for the public to see more
and learn more about conservation as this would help increase public
awareness.  This is a very important aspect of the conservation
profession and should be encouraged.  However, architecturally it
might be more pragmatic to design a lab that can accommodate
scheduled tours, rather than continual public viewing.  I've also
debated about an architectural plan that would allow only a small
room or portion of a lab to be accessible for public viewing.  The
challenge with that scenario is, depending on which projects come
into the lab, the use of the rooms can easily change.  The space may
be needed for some other purpose at any time that would not be
appropriate for public viewing.  Having a window curtained off at
certain times can create more tension with the public as they may
feel cheated out of access.  It may be better not to even offer the
window in the first place.

Of course, I requested a lab with good natural lighting, preferably
on an upper floor, easy access to art storage for large object
movement, and easy access for public tours.  We ended up with a lab
tucked away in the sub-basement of the museum!


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                  Conservation DistList Instance 15:16
                 Distributed: Thursday, August 9, 2001
                       Message Id: cdl-15-16-002
                                  ***
Received on Thursday, 9 August, 2001

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