NMDC Response to the Museums Association Consultation: Sustainability and Museums

September 2008

NMDC's response to the Museum Association's consultation on sustainability focuses on environmental sustainability and, in particular, environmental conditions for collections and loans.

NMDC believes imaginative new solutions are needed to resolve the dichotomy between long-term collections care and expensive environmental conditions. This issue requires not just national, but international cooperation. Sir Nicholas Serota raised this issue with international colleagues at a meeting of the Bizot Group of international art museum directors in May. Following this, NMDC has convened a group of conservators from across its membership to begin initial work on a project to develop international consensus on the need for standards for care of collections that are sustainable in the long term. The group will meet for the first time in early September. They will develop plans to work with a wider group of international conservators with a view to presenting a full proposal for consideration by international art museums directors in 2009.

NMDC's consultation response key points:

  • Discussion of conditions must go in tandem with a consideration of what museum collections are for, and how long they should last.
  • Care of our collections should be expressed in a way that does not assume air-conditioning or any other current solutions. The results of air-conditioning have been effective, but in depending on the one solution that could be implemented in the latter half of the twentieth century we have lost sight of the original debate. In the meantime that solution has become more expensive to implement and maintain and in future will become even more so.
  • There are less energy intensive alternatives to air conditioning systems. For example, if air change is kept to a minimum, as it was and is in traditional stores, relative humidity and temperature remain naturally stable. Most objects have much simpler requirements and some, for example ceramics, are tolerant of most conditions. Where objects are genuinely vulnerable, cupboards, cases or paintings under glass can easily and cheaply be locally conditioned, for example by using silica gel.
  • Guidelines or standards should be developed to underpin imaginative solutions for future new buildings and operations. In the meantime we have to consider the running costs of existing air-conditioning systems. With this in mind, some NMDC members are devising workable solutions involving broader annual parameters for relative humidity and temperature.
  • Discussions on new guidelines should include all the stakeholders who collectively share responsibility for display, use and care of collections, as well as having a responsibility for the wider environment.

Read the full NMDC response.

More details on the MA's consultation can be found on the MA website.