PREVENTIVE CONSERVATION AND THE EXHIBITION PROCESS: DEVELOPMENT OF EXHIBIT GUIDELINES AND STANDARDS FOR CONSERVATION
TOBY J. RAPHAEL
6 DEVELOPING THE GUIDELINES AND STANDARDS
To address this need a two-phase preventive conservation project was embarked upon: first, to create a preservation framework, Guidelines, and second, to provide a more prescriptive tool, Standards, to ensure that conservation be incorporated effectively in NPS exhibits. Another underlying goal was to develop a sense of shared responsibility for collection conservation, as preservation-friendly exhibits require a close, constructive working relationship between exhibit and conservation specialists.
The overall goal of phase one was to provide the specialists with the preservation information they need. Completed and published by NPS in 1999, Guidelines is summarized in the Appendix. This publication aims to:
- organize and give access to existing technical information
- facilitate access to recent developments in the field
- improve interdisciplinary communication
- share accumulated exhibit experience and lessons learned
- unify and consolidate preservation recommendations
- connect preservation theory to actual applications and products relevant to exhibits
The second phase of the project, the publication of Standards, is needed because the Guidelines do not include prescriptive or mandatory requirements. The standards are to play a different role, ensuring that:
- conservation concerns are addressed early in the process
- exhibits include conservators in the critical aspects of the exhibit timeline
- baseline considerations widely known in the field are incorporated
- responsibility for preservation is widely shared
- conservation criteria are established and are influential in exhibit design
- recommended practices and the alternative options are known
- appropriate levels of conservation response are considered
- buildable and maintainable designs are generated
- actual performance is acceptable
- solutions are found within budget and timetable
Standards and specifications exist for nearly every product and material found in NPS museums, but ironically, not for use of the museum exhibition collections on display. A set of properly developed standards, basic requirements and specifications to ensure responsible preservation practices, could give museum specialists a much-needed tool for:1) understanding preservation features and levels of performance that can be expected of museum exhibits; and, 2) providing criteria to judge compliance and acceptability. Such a document is increasingly being considered indispensable for our institution to meet its preservation mandate, and could serve other cultural institutions as well, by providing an important tool for creating preservation-responsible exhibits.
The drawbacks of using standards were appreciated. Standards can outlive their usefulness, restrict creativity, be difficult to enforce and difficult to measure. Conservation standards were needed that would allow for a degree of flexibility; therefore, the standards being written strive to affect the process by which exhibitions are created, not to standardize the end product.
Standards is being developed to address two aspects of museum exhibitions:
- Section 1. Conservation standards for developing museum exhibits
- Section 2. Conservation specifications for designing and constructing museum exhibit cases
Exhibit specialists have a national organization and it is the National Association for Museum Exhibitions (NAME) of the American Association of Museums. This organization has endorsed the NPS Conservation Standards project and anticipates that there will be many opportunities to benefit from the NPS research and findings through future publications, workshops and shared training programs.