Museums preserve the historical identity of a population, a region or an epoch by collecting, conserving, researching and mediating artistic and cultural objects. In order to do this, the ambient conditions for the storage and presentation of the objects have to be perfectly matched to the characteristics of the objects themselves. Factors which might endanger a collection have to be identified in advance and avoided (or at least minimised over the longer term) by taking a comprehensive look at the environmental factors acting upon a collection and then prudently defining what the best environment would be.
Preventative conservation aims to define the actions which need to be taken in advance to avoid damage to objects of artistic or cultural value over longer periods. This ideally takes place by intelligently regulating the environmental conditions. Manipulating pieces of the collection by applying conservation substances or doing restoration work is to be avoided.
Environmental factors which are detrimental to collection pieces are primarily climatic parameters such as temperature, relative humidity, lighting and airborne pollution. These can cause damage ranging from an altered appearance (faded textile colours due to exposure to strong light, for example) through to the complete destruction of a material, as can be observed when lead objects are exposed to organic acids.
Although museums are generally aware of these challenges, a practical and efficient implementation of preventative conservation measures is often difficult and gives rise to further unanswered questions among those responsible. The aesthetics of the exhibition often seem incompatible with the conservation requirements and there is often little money for scientific analysis and personnel (especially in the case of smaller exhibitions). Museums are therefore often faced with the costs of retrospectively correcting poorly planned exhibitions to account for conservation requirements. Criteria for preventative conservation and specific environmental parameters which are derived from research work are also often not examined regarding their practical application.
A two-year research project funded by the German Federal Environmental Foundation (Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt - DBU) accompanies two museums which are planning conversion and building work with the aim of clearly defining preventative conservation and practically implementing it while taking into account aesthetic and architectural requirements and budget restrictions.
Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (German Federal Environmental Foundation)