Volume 6, Number 1, Jan. 1984, pp.9-11. (originally published in the Newsletter of the Balboa Art Conservation Center, Volume 5, Number 1, January 1984)

National Institute Update


WAAC is one of 54 institutions which are members of the Council of the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property (NIC). Teri Oikawa-Picante and James Druzik were representatives for WAAC during the past year. Other west coast representatives who are WAAC members are Pieter Meyers, representing the American Institute for Conservation (AIC); Gary Wade Alden and Betty Engel, representing the Balboa Art Conservation Center; Elisabeth Cornu and Anita Noennig, Bay Area Conservation Guild; Barbara Roberts and Patricia Tuttle, J. Paul Getty Museum; William Leisher and James Greaves, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Mary Wood Lee, Pacific Regional Conservation Center; James Bernstein and Inge-Lise Eckmann, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

NIC was created in April 1982 as the successor to the former National Conservation Advisory Council (NCAC) which had been formed in 1973. The executive director is David A. Shute. The council chairman is Arthur Beale. Gary Wade Alden attended the 12 October 1983 annual meeting of NIC in Washington, D.C. on behalf of WAAC and the Balboa Art Conservation Center.

The two major functions of the National Institute are to serve as a national forum for conservation in the United States and to provide information clearinghouse services. These functions are defined by NIC projects in areas of education, information and scientific research in support of conservation. The NIC envisions its role as a coordinator of projects with national importance and an initiator of programs and services where no other capability exists at present. It is carrying forward work begun under the auspices of NCAC and is in the process of defining future objectives. Progress is gradual, however, as funding to underwrite projects and services is obtained. The NIC wishes to avoid competition for limited funding resources which are already committed to other conservation programs and concentrate on projects which do not duplicate other efforts. Most NIC projects are organized through Special Committees, whose work is summarized below.

The Committee on Anthropological Conservation, established in 1981 and chaired by Bettina Raphael, organized a symposium on anthropological conservation in October 1983. This meeting will produce a state-of-the-art report on this discipline which is being prepared for publication. Another project for the committee will be to develop a suggested curriculum for graduate-level training in anthropological conservation.

The Committee on Architectural Conservation, established in 1977 and chaired by Elliott Carroll, is assisting in the development of two pilot training programs in architectural conservation at Columbia University and at the University of Florida.

The Committee on Libraries and Archives, chaired by Paul Banks, is working with the Library of Congress and the National Archives to develop environmental standards for the storage of paper-based library and archival materials. The literature search is complete and the standards will be professionally reviewed under the American National Standards Institute process.

The Education and Training Committee, chaired by Jim Bernstein, was disbanded following the publication in May 1983 of a brochure Careers in Conservation of Cultural Property, which is available from NIC. This committee's work is continued by the Bibliography Committee.

The Bibliography Committee, chaired by Jim Bernstein, is developing a basic reference bibliography for the conservation of cultural property. It will be a basic shelflist organized by subject. A draft of the list has been revised for further review.

The Committee on Compatible Relative Humidity, chaired by Hugh Miller, is interested in determining compatible relative humidity standards for buildings and their contents by investigating three areas: necessary environmental conditions for a variety of objects; performance of existing environmental controls, especially in historic structures; and performance of the building fabric as affected by these systems, particularly the problems caused by moisture. These standards will permit professionals who are responsible for buildings which house cultural collections to identify environmental conflicts. The project will be implemented when funding is obtained.

The Committee on Health Hazards, chaired by Terry Weisser, continues work begun under the former Committee on Scientific Support for Conservation of Cultural Property, chaired by Robert Feller, which was disbanded in May 1983 after publication of a report from the study committee. The results of a questionnaire on the chemicals used in conservation are being assessed to develop information on measures which would reduce the danger of exposure to these toxic materials.

The Committee on Priorities for Scientific Research is a new offshoot from the Committee on Scientific Support. It will develop research priorities primarily in support of museum conservation.

The Committee on the Conservation Needs of Historic Properties, chaired by Elliott Carroll, was once a subcommittee of the Quantification Committee, chaired by Ann Hitchcock, which was disbanded in May 1983. The original committee planned studies in five areas, but difficulties revealed by the historic buildings survey have necessitated a revision of plans. The new committee is continuing the project to quantify the conservation needs of historic buildings and is preparing a report based on survey results for 500 properties. Other quantification committees will be established as other discipline studies are funded.

The NIC considers the problem of acid precipitation to be an appropriate area for long-term study, possibly in coordination with an interagency study by the National Park Service on outdoor sculpture at 25 parks. It is likely that the Environmental Protection Agency will become involved. A committee may be formed on this subject.

Museum Assessment. If and when funding can be obtained to support an assistance program for cultural institutions, emphasizing smaller institutions that do not have access to conservation advice, the Council of the NIC agreed that such a program, similar to that conducted by the American Association of Museums (AAM), would provide an urgently needed service.

Cooperative Projects. The NIC, AIC and AAM are developing joint projects to produce a national conservation policy for museums. This work would lead to recommendations for the Congress.

NIC, working with AAM, has been partly responsible for a Conservation Initiative within the appropriation for the Institute of Museum Services (IMS). $3 million has been allocated to IMS during fiscal 1984 for museum conservation projects. The NCAC and NIC have helped to make a case for this pressing need. NIC will continue to nurture growing Congressional interest in and concern for the well-being of museum objects and materials.

Public Lectures. NIC will continue to generate and disseminate information to conservation professionals and for advocacy purposes. One felt need for advocacy is education of the public. This will involve media development, organization of public presentations and exhibitions, and the development of a lecture series. NIC is sponsoring six public lectures on museum conservation in 1984 to be held at museums in six geographic regions corresponding to the divisions on the AAM membership. Publicity will be directed not just to the museum staff and board of trustees but to the public.

Training Programs. NIC is under contract from the J. Paul Getty Trust to study the three fine arts, graduate level conservation training programs in the United States in order to recommend to the Trust ways in which the Getty Conservation Institute might augment and assist the programs. Each program will be given an independent evaluation with suggestions for possible change. Questionnaires are being distributed to program graduates, employers, supervisors of interns, museum directors and curators.

NIC projects are furthered by its participation at meetings of other organizations such as the AIC, AAM, APT (Association for Preservation Technology) and the Getty Conservation Institute. The NIC has been dependent on considerable volunteer support. It has also received funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Museum Act, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the Giles W. and Elise G. Mead Foundation. The cash disbursement for fiscal year 1983 has been $103,123.22.

This article has been reprinted from the Newsletter of the Balboa Art Conservation Center, Volume 5, Number 1, January 1984.

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