Talking sustainability in San Francisco

30 05 2014

Talking sustainability in San Francisco

This week, the city of San Francisco is hosting the American Institute of Conservation’s 42nd Annual Meeting, and this year with 1,212 delegates, it is the largest conservation conference organised in the US. The theme of the meeting, is ‘Conscientious Conservation: Sustainable Choices in Collection Care’, and during the four days sees over 200 presentations, workshops and roundtable discussions on topics ranging from LED lighting, to the use of lime based grouts for the conservation of historic masonry, and from the dilemmas posed by collecting Digital Video Art, to the Conservation of a 17th century convent in downtown Lima, Peru.

My own paper – part of the opening session on day one, was the perfect place to promote the work of the Whitworth’s collection care team and in particular the sustainable elements of our building project; titled, ‘Being a Gallery in a Park: Balancing Sustainability, Access and Collection Care’, it sat neatly amongst other presentations, including ‘Sustainable Collections Care on a Budget – a New Museum Store for Bolton, UK’ from conservation colleague, Pierrette Squires, ‘Precaution, Proof and Pragmatism: 150 years of expert debate on the Museum Environment’, and one that felt very familiar, ‘ A LEED primer for Conservators, Or, What Should I Do When the Architect Proposes Introducing Daylight in Our New Galleries?’

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At the end of day one, the general consensus was that there had been some excellent presentations – many of a usefully practical nature, and well orchestrated opportunities for networking, including great hospitality at a reception at the de Young Museum situated in the beautiful Golden Gate Park.

Exquisitely clean, calm, light and airy paper conservation lab at the Legion of Honor Art Museum

Exquisitely clean, calm, light and airy paper conservation lab at the Legion of Honor Art Museum

In addition to the conference, I joined a tour earlier in the week to the de Young and Legion of Honor – both part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The tours took us into the galleries, but also behind the scenes to the objects, paintings, textiles and paper conservation laboratories – this was a great opportunity to talk to colleagues and compare notes on conservation materials, equipment and treatments.

I’ve also done a spot of benchmarking for the Manchester Museum in the Naturalist Center at the California Academy of Sciences, and since sustainability is the main theme of the conference, I’ve also been checking out examples of good practice – see the photos below:

The huge green roof on the California Academy of Sciences

The huge green roof on the California Academy of Sciences

60,000 photovoltaic cells in the roof canopy supply energy as well as shielding the building from the sun

60,000 photovoltaic cells in the roof canopy supply energy as well as shielding the building from the sun

Beautifully explained waste management options on the recycling bins!

Beautifully explained waste management options on the recycling bins!

Publicly displayed building energy information at the Exploratorium

Publicly displayed building energy information at the Exploratorium

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A satisfying bit of recycling

8 02 2014

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Soon after the Whitworth’s collections were designated as having national significance in the 1990s, the Gallery secured two tranches of funding from the Designation Challenge Fund to rehouse large parts of the collections across the three disciplines of fine art, textiles and wallpapers, in new, specially designed mobile storage units.  

Each of the separate units were designed to meet the needs of the collections housed within them, whether they were boxed watercolours, hanging textiles, or wallpaper rolls; they were a combination of shelving units, drawers, and suspension rods, and at the time the result of new thinking around the dual needs of collection care and accessibility.  The mobiles were located on the first floor of the Gallery within the study rooms and until recently served us well.

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During our discussions with storage companies last year, it became clear that in terms of both cost and efficiency of design, it would not make sense to try and incorporate the existing units into our new storage zone, and so with heavy hearts we set about dismantling and storing them (see first photo) with the hope that new homes could be found for the units, all of which remained in excellent condition.

With uncanny timing, conversations were underway just down the road at the Manchester Museum as to what improvements could be made to existing storage with just a very small amount of money.  With some staff working across both institutions it didn’t take much to add two and two together, and happily a large percentage of the mobile units are currently being installed at the Museum – this includes library shelving in a small archive room, mobiles in a transit room used primarily for exhibition preparation and in the Herbarium, and plans for static units in other collection stores – the Museum has only had to foot the installation costs, while the Gallery is delighted to see this satisfying bit of recycling.

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There are still some more sections of the mobile units in need of a good home – we would like these to go to a museum, gallery or archive, so if you are interested please contact me and we could look at what is achievable (nicola.walker@manchester.ac.uk).