Sustainable Collections Committee (formerly the Environmental Guidelines Committee)
The background to the environmental levels that are the subject of review goes back to a defining moment shortly after the Second World War. The value of a stable environment for the long-term preservation of artworks and objects was increasingly being acknowledged at the time, it was the experience of London’s National Gallery that directly showed the importance of appropriate temperature and relative humidity levels. The Gallery’s collection had been stored in a mine in North Wales out of the way of the Blitz, and after seven years upon its return to London was found to be in the same condition as when first placed there.
The mine conditions were assessed and from there the so-called 20/50 norm (20 degrees Celsius and 50% or 55% relative humidity) was enshrined as the ideal display and storage environment. Over the years since, as building climate control systems have become more sophisticated, so has the demand for variations from this norm to be minimised. The tighter the parameters for the museum environment to fluctuate in, the more energy is consumed, and in days of plentiful cheap energy this was acceptable.
However as energy costs have dramatically increased, the need for tight parameters is being increasingly questioned, as indeed is whether the norm does actually provide the best preservation environment for all types of objects.
Developing a position, 2009–2018
The Environmental Guidelines Taskforce was established at the 2009 National Conference to look at international movements in changing environmental guidelines for cultural collections, and what this might mean for collections in Australia.
In March, 2014 AICCM announced that an interim position on environmental conditions for collection had been reached. In December, 2014 ICOM-CC and IIC published a joint statement, Declaration on Environmental Guidelines. The AICCM Interim Temperature and Relative Humidity Guidelines for storage and display conditions were included as one of three appendices to the declaration.
In December, 2018 AICCM National Council ratified an expanded version of the interim position and has endorsed Environmental Guidelines for Australian Cultural Heritage Collections.
The Environmental Guidelines Project, 2018
Within the museum industry sustainable and affordable collection management practices have emerged as a leading priority for collecting and lending organisations. In recognition of this ICOM-CC and IIC published in 2014 the joint statement, Declaration on Environmental Guidelines. The AICCM Interim Temperature and Relative Humidity Guidelines for storage and display conditions was included as one of three appendices, the other two authored by the Bizot Group and AIC. Three years on, the joint declaration and its pronouncements on environmental conditions were further discussed and debated at the 2017 ICOM-CC conference in Copenhagen. While this ongoing conversation within the profession reflects community interest, it also demonstrates the practical difficulties experienced by practitioners and the complexity of establishing environmental parameters suitable for a variety of mixed collections and museum activities.
AICCM is continuing to work to define a position for the profession in Australia and has commenced the Environmental Guidelines Project, led by a sub-group of the Sustainable Collections Committee.
AICCM aims to develop an Environmental Guidelines Resource for the care of collections that reflects Australian cultural heritage practices and the country’s diverse climate zones, through a process of industry consultation and collective involvement. The purpose of the AICCM Environmental Guidelines Project is to draw together a wealth of Australian research into a resource base that will guide practitioners in making decisions about the management of collection environments for their cultural heritage organisation and collections. This resource base will promote Australian research and provide a context for the interpretation of relevant international standards, guidelines and research.
- To survey current collection environment practices carried out by Australia’s major commonwealth and state collecting and lending institutions, and the wider community of smaller state and local collecting organisations.
- To develop a resource base that promotes national collection environment guidelines, including the Heritage Collections Council – Guidelines for Environmental Control in Cultural Institutions (2002) and the AICCM Interim Temperature and Relative Humidity Guidelines for storage and display conditions (2014), with reference to location and climatic conditions; organisational purpose, function and activities; buildings and building fabric; and implementation.
- To develop collaborative opportunities for Australian cultural heritage organisations, professionals and students to participate in the research and development of collection environment resources that are relevant and fit for purpose for a diverse range of cultural heritage organisations and activities.
- To seek endorsement from peak bodies such as the Council of Australian Art Museum Directors (CAAMD), Council of Australian Museum Directors (CAMD), Museums Galleries Australia (MGA), and the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) to promote cooperation during the project, and recognition of the AICCM Environmental Guidelines Resource following ratification by the AICCM Council.
A detailed project methodology has been described on the Environmental Guidelines wiki page, which members can log in and view here
2014 Joint Declaration on Environmental Guidelines
Heritage Collections Council Guidelines
Access the Heritage Collections Council’s Guidelines for Environmental Control in Cultural Institutions here. [PDF – 994 KB]
Need more information?
Email the Sustainable Collections Committee project coordinator here