Conveniently, the annual conference for the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums was held in Philadelphia this year. This was my first time attending a MAAM event but I figured, with my interest in museums and my future as a possible museum employee, that it would be a good idea to see what it’s all about. I volunteered to help at the check-in table in order to waive the registration fee, and met a really nice woman named Laura, who is finishing up her Master’s degree in Museum Studies at the Université de Neuchâtel in Switzerland; technically, she is interning “abroad” at the Franklin Institute, even though she is a U.S. citizen. I also met some great people over the business lunch, and came away with a free bag and other goodies from the exhibitors!

These are the talks that, I feel, were the most interesting…probably because they were the ones directly related to conservation:

A Green Revolution or Business as Usual – New Directions in Environmental Guidelines

Patty Silence, conservator at Colonial Williamsburg, and Steven Weintraub, founder of Art Preservation Services, spoke about preventive conservation in the form of environmental standards for museums that house collections. I linked both of them to descriptions of the talks they gave at AIC 2010 because I’m sure a lot of the content was the same. To summarize, environmental guidelines are really flexible, and specific to every collection. But because they’re not only driven by preservation, but also a human comfort factor and cost, conservators must create a minimum standard of best practice (i.e. RH of 50-60%).

There were a lot of graphs and charts involved, but the information was presented in a very accessible way. I would have loved to hear more about each conservator’s expertise–Patty on sustainability and Steven on lighting–but this overview was appropriate for the audience, and I’m sure there will be much more to come on the subject at AIC 2011.

Making Connections with Collections: Sharing the Results of Statewide Preservation Planning Projects

The panel was made up of Ingrid Bogel and Lee Price of the Conservation Center, Tom Clareson of Lyrasis, and Rebecca Buck of the Newark Museum. Together, the presenters described the details of preservation planning projects in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. Lee, Tom and Rebecca represented each of the three states, however, a lot of collaboration was done with the Conservation Center and Lyrasis in each case. The initiative began with a survey of collections throughout each state to assess basic preservation needs. From there, goals were created in order to apply for grants, and then plans for implementation when funding was received.

It was surprising to me the level of marketing skills involved in development in order to attract funders, especially when the needs of these institutions are so basic. I mean, if your state’s cultural heritage is falling apart, why do you need persuaded to save it? A lot of what these small libraries, archives and museums require is simply education on how to care for the collection. It seems easy enough, but for states like New Jersey, with only one museum conservator in employment, who does the educating? I hope the efforts of Lee, Tom and Rebecca will pay off in the near future.

Ask the Conservators!

At the end of the second day, the conservators from The Art Conservators Alliance presented on what conservation is and what they do as conservators in private practice, then answered specific questions from the audience. Their talk was a good companion to the previous two because it showed preventive conservation in the context of conservation as a whole, and how to arrange funding for projects. They also listed basic principles for conservators, such as the AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice, and the need for collaboration, outreach, research and training. There were some great slides of treatments and projects the conservators have done; I thought the organization of the presentation was so clear and concise that I actually used it as a model for my own talk last week!

Overall, the MAAM conference gave me plenty to take away and I look forward to next year’s meeting on museum sustainability!

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