The objective of this complex GCI project is to develop appropriate preventive conservation technologies for museums in hot and humid climates, in combination with practical environmental management strategies that encompass museum collections and the buildings that house them.
An essential step in the establishment of a museum's environmental management strategy is an assessment of the factors affecting the preservation and care of its collections. Such an assessment should focus on the museum's physical environment and its organizational structure. This GCI project includes the development of a conservation assessment methodology that can assist museums to identify and analyze their environmental needs.
In 1990 the GCI first developed an assessment strategy—intended for museums in the United States—in collaboration with the National Institute for Conservation (presently Heritage Preservation). Although this methodology has been widely used in the United States, museums in nontemperate climates and with different economic realities required an assessment model that reflected their particular situations and problems. Therefore, a new assessment model was crafted by Kathleen Dardes of the GCI and two architect-engineers, Michael Henry of the firm Watson & Henry and Sam Harris of Kieren, Timberlake & Harris.
In August 1998, this new model was field-tested at the Museum of Sacred Art in San Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. There were many reasons to select a museum in Brazil. The largest tropical country in South America, Brazil has a well-established professional conservation infrastructure, many important museums, and a highly motivated private institution, the Vitae Foundation, whose program includes supporting the preservation of Brazil's museum collections and material cultural heritage. Without a "standard" by which to compare museums, requests received by the Vitae for grants related to preventive conservation have been hard to evaluate. Thus, the use of assessments to determine museums' environmental needs, along with the implementation of the resulting recommendations, are goals that the Vitae Foundation shares with the GCI.
In the August field test, Kathleen Dardes and James Druzik of the GCI and consultant Michael Henry worked with Vitae-sponsored Brazilian conservators, museologists, conservation scientists, architects, and engineers to try out the new assessment strategy on the Museum of Sacred Art, an institution that matched most of the criteria for a test site and one with an administration committed to the evaluation effort and willing to implement recommended changes. The museum, part of the Federal University of Bahia, is housed in a converted 17th-century Carmelite convent and contains a fine collection of silver artifacts and polychrome wood religious sculpture.
The consensus of the Brazilian participants following the field test was that the process worked well and could be replicated at other institutions. The field test clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of the conservation assessment model, both in terms of its usefulness to a museum and its ease of use for novice assessors. The results obtained in Brazil will serve as a contribution not only to the Brazilian material cultural heritage but also to collections in other regions of the world facing similar conditions.
The development of a museum conservation assessment strategy is only part of the Collections in Hot and Humid Environments project. Future updates will describe the GCI's scientific work addressing mold growth, insect infestation, protection of metals, and monitoring techniques.