At Museum Victoria, exhibitions are one of the main ways the public access our collections. We accept some level of damage from sources such as light, pests, and physical handling, leading to loss in the value of our collection items. We use various strategies to minimise loss – for example, showcase design, lighting level and duration control, and regular monitoring of environmental and physical conditions.
However, we wanted to know more about how much damage we can expect over time, and to identify any sources of unnecessary loss. To achieve this we conducted collection risk assessments for each of our three exhibition venues, using a method based on the Cultural Property Risk Assessment Model (CPRAM) to identify, characterise, and estimate the magnitude of risks.
Not surprisingly, our results showed that cumulative light exposure was by far the highest risk to collections on display. However, other results were less intuitive. Water leaks and pest infestations make up a large percentage of our incident reports but ranked very low in terms of overall expected loss to the collection. Loss due to seismic activity ranked higher than expected, given the popular perception that seismic activity need not concern those living in the Melbourne region.
The assessments also highlighted which object populations are more likely to suffer damage. Plastic materials, fluid-preserved specimens, objects on open display and objects on very long-term display were found to be most at risk.
The results of our assessments will feed into our exhibition design and maintenance program, in which cost-benefit arguments will also factor. Additionally, they will inform future analysis and research projects that will enable our risk estimates to become increasingly realistic and precise in subsequent assessments.
Alice Cannon trained in paper and photographic conservation and holds a Master of Arts by Research from the University of Melbourne. She has worked in the conservation profession for over 20 years, including many years at both Artlab Australia and The State Library of Victoria, and is a professional member of AICCM. She is currently Manager, Integrated Collection Processes at Museum Victoria, a role concerned with collection risk management.
Museum Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne, Victoria 3001, (03) 8341 7395 email@example.com
Robert Waller is President and Senior Risk Analyst with Protect Heritage Corp., a firm dedicated to helping institutions and organizations improve heritage management. His career includes 33 years with the Canadian Museum of Nature. He holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Property Risk Analysis from Göteborg University. Robert Waller has taught, lectured, and served as a consultant at museums and universities throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and Australasia. He is professionally accredited by CAPC, a Professional Associate of the AIC, and a fellow of IIC.