Economic Sustainability

Economic sustainability refers to operating in a resource efficient manner that supports social and environmental health. Given that governments have played a leading role in funding cultural heritage preservation in Australia, an awareness of and engagement in discussions about funding, investment and ‘value’ more broadly is a critical. There are a range of methodologies to evaluate the tangible and intangible economics of cultural heritage (or cultural capital). For example, cultural preservation economics may focus on the cost-benefit of treatments or collection preservation practices within a given reporting period or across the life-cycle of the object or collection as whole. It may include the value of a collection item at a point in time or the supplementary values that preservation of collection material brings such as new knowledge and research, publications, increased visitation etc. It may also include non-use values such as existence value, option value and bequest value. These complex value interactions are analogous to the economics applied to environmental sustainability (Throsby, 2017).

Arts and culture infrastructure varies widely across Australia. It has been noted that ‘traditional approaches to planning, delivering and maintaining arts and cultural institutions and programs do not always respond to local needs, requiring new approaches to improve access and quality for local communities and visitors.’ (AIA, 119). In addition, there is a lack of data to identify service gaps to enable more consistent methods, that are sensitive to variations in cultural facilities and assets across different communities, for calculating and comparing collection care costs as part of broader strategic planning activities (AIA, 441)

Expenditure in cultural heritage preservation is lower in Australia than other OECD (ANA, 5) with government funding highest at the the state level. National and State audits of public collecting institutions indicate that these collections have sound collection management practices with conservation support and storage generally well-managed. Their common concern is limited storage. In contrast, a significant number of local collections are in very poor conditions without adequate investment (NSW Parliament, 246). The aim of ensuring economic sustainability for collection preservation programs requires not only sound resource planning and management practices but more equitable access to preservation resources and support.

The following section outlines a range of tools to help evaluate and prioritise preservation activities and treatments, identifies low cost treatment alternatives and emphasises advocacy as a vehicle for strengthening arts funding. (ML May 2020)

Reading list

• Australian Academy of the Humanities, 2019 A New Approach.

• Australian Infrastructure Audit, 2019 6. Social Infrastructure – Arts and Culture

• Bell, N, Cassar, M & Strlič, M 2018, ‘Evidence for Informed Preservation Planning and Advocacy: A Synoptic View’, Studies in Conservation vol. 63, sup. 1, pp. 8-14.

Promotes an improved and integrated approach to data capture to demonstrate the value of preservation services to institutions and ensure a sustainable future. The cultural, economic, social and environmental value of conservation can be likened to the four ‘pillars of sustainability’.

• Cassar, M 1998, ‘Cost/benefits appraisals for collection care : a practical guide.’ Museums and Galleries Commission

• Department of Communications and the Arts 2018, Impact of our National Cultural Institutions 2017-18, Australian Government, viewed 24 January 2019,

• Dillon, C, Lindsay, W, Taylor, J, Fouseki, K, Bell, N & Strlic, M 2013, ‘Collections demography: stakeholders’ views on the lifetime of collections’, in Ashley-Smith, J, Burmester, A & M Eibl (eds), Climate for Collections: Standards and Uncertainties, pp. 45-58.

Describes how a model of ‘expected collection lifetime’ needs to take the variables of resources, significance, use and material change into account. Discusses a public engagement project to begin conversations about the lifetime of collections through the VALUE (Value and Lifetime User Engagement) questionnaire. Results from the questionnaire can be used to inform modelling of collection change.

• Sloggett, R. 2016 ‘A National conservation policy for a New Millennium – Building Opportunity, Extending Capacity and Securing Integration in Cultural Materials Conservation’ in AICCM Bulletin Vol. 36 Issue 2 pp. 79-87

• Simmons, J.E. 2015 ‘Collection care and management: History, theory, and practice’ in Museum Practice: Part 2 Resources

• Throsby, D. 2017 ‘Heritage Economics: Coming to Terms with Value and Valuation in Values in Heritage Management

• Throsby, D 2017, ‘Culturally sustainable development: theoretical concept or practical policy instrument?’ in International Journal of Cultural Policy Vol. 23 issues 2. pp. 133-147

1. Planning and assessments (Preservation Needs Assessments and Significance Assessments)

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Reading list

Bell, N, Cassar, M & Strlič, M 2018, ‘Evidence for Informed Preservation Planning and Advocacy: A Synoptic View’, Studies in Conservation vol. 63, sup. 1, pp. 8-14.

Promotes an improved and integrated approach to data capture to demonstrate the value of preservation services to institutions and ensure a sustainable future. The cultural, economic, social and environmental value of conservation can be likened to the four ‘pillars of sustainability’.

2. Risk Assessments

The modern concept of risk management began in the mid-twentieth century, within insurance and financial circles. Its use expanded into health and safety, epidemiology, agricultural security and many other areas and is now a major governance tool used by private businesses and public organisations world-wide.

Though ‘risk’ tends to have a negative connotation—the assumption that something can be lost— taking a risk can also bring rewards. Risk management aims to minimise unwanted outcomes and to maximise beneficial ones.

Risk management took hold in within the conservation profession in the 1990s, though there were earlier uses, particularly as a component of disaster preparedness. Early influential publications include Robert Waller’s 1994 paper Conservation risk assessment: A strategy for managing resources for preventive conservation and Jonathan Ashley-Smith’s book Risk Assessment for Object Conservation (1999). More recently the field has come to focus on related issues such as value (e.g. what tangible elements of cultural material affect its intangible values or meaning), decision-making, subjectivity and bias, and managing uncertainty.

Risk assessments usually consider both the effects (impact) of a scenario and the likelihood (or probability) that it will occur. Qualitative or quantitative scoring methods can be used, in order to rank and prioritise risks for further attention. Qualitative frameworks use textual descriptions—for example, an event may be rare, likely or almost certain, and its effects minimal, severe or catastrophic. Quantitative frameworks use numerical data to establish priorities—e.g. documented incident rates, mathematical estimates of probability etc—and are expressed as ratios or percentages. They may also be accompanied by mathematical confidence ratings.

There are many ways of conducting a risk assessment. The IEC 2009 standard for risk assessment techniques (IEC/ISO 31010:2009) lists about 30 different methods, ranging from checklists, interviews, and brainstorming to decision trees, the SWIFT (structured ‘what if’) technique and cost/benefit analysis.

Determining the context and purpose of a risk assessment is a vital first step. To make an assessment as useful as possible, it is necessary to first define the project scope (what is to be assessed), the timeframe (both the timeframe over which the risks occur and the time you have to complete the work) and what kind of results you need (e.g. broad priorities to inform yearly resource planning, or detailed estimates for funding applications). These factors may all influence which risk management approach is chosen.

Risk management is intended to be an iterative process of risk identification, assessment, treatment (e.g. mitigation) and review. It works best when multiple viewpoints are brought together. In conservation there is a strong cross-disciplinary focus—i.e. it is not just something done by conservators, but a collaborative process that should bring together conservators, collection managers, curators, facility managers, registration and database management teams, and anyone else with relevant expertise or experience.

Two risk assessment models have come to dominate the conservation profession—the Cultural Property Risk Analysis Model (CPRAM), developed by Dr Rob Waller, and the ABC method, developed by ICCROM and Stefan Michalski of the Canadian Conservation Institute. Both use the concept of the ‘ten agents of deterioration’ as a framework for organising risk scenarios (see Canadian Conservation Institute, 2013). Both focus on the effects of physical change on collection value. CPRAM is designed for long-term collection-wide planning (using a planning horizon of 100 years) and is suited for larger or more complex organisations. The ABC method developed by the Canadian Conservation Institute and ICCROM (see Michalski & Pedersoli, 2016) is intended to be used over a wider variety of situations, from single risk analysis to long-term planning.

Qualitative matrices are often developed in-house for project management and for analysis of treatment paths, such as those used by the British Library Conservation team to manage projects such as the outward loan of the Lindisfarne Gospels and to choose the most appropriate mounting method for the Library’s copy of Magna Carta (Rogerson & Garside, 2017).

Other methods have been developed to more quickly identify priority collection care issues, which may then be subjected to more detailed risk analyses—such as the ‘Quiskscan’ approach developed by Brokerhof and Bülow (2016).

Risk management techniques are employed by a number of collecting organisations in Australia, particularly for treatments, surveys and project planning. The National Museum of Australia (2012) incorporates the principles of their enterprise-wide risk management approach into its Collection care and preservation policy, which also includes useful collection-based consequence descriptions. Museums Victoria uses the CPRAM approach for collection management and planning (e.g. see McCubbin et al, 2014).

The Australian and New Zealand Standard for risk management, first published in 1995, was incorporated into the ISO Standard for risk management in 2009 (ISO 31000:2009) and has been influential in the development of international models, including those used in conservation. (A Cannon, June 2019)


Ashley-Smith, Jonathan. 1999. Risk Assessment for Object Conservation. Oxford: ButterworthHeinemann.

Standards Australia and Standards New Zealand. 1995. AS/NZS 4360-1995 – Risk Management.

Brokerhof, Agnes and Anna Bülow, 2016. The Quiskscan—A Quick Risk Scan to Identify Values and Hazards in a Collection. Journal of the Institute of Conservation 39:1. 18–29.

Canadian Conservation Institute, 2013. Agents of Deterioration. The Government of Canada.

Cannon, A and Waller, R 2017 ‘Illuminating intuition with evidence: assessing collection risks within Museums Victoria’s exhibitions‘ in AICCM Bulletin Vo. 38. Issue 1 pp. 25-35

ISO 31000:2009 and ISO 31000:2018 – Risk management. Geneva: International Organisation for Standardization.

IEC/ISO 31010:2009 – Risk management – Risk assessment techniques. Geneva: International Organisation for Standardization.

McCubbin, M, A Cannon, C Carter, D Henry, H Privett, N Ladas, D Leggett, R Leveson, M Raberts, L Stedman, and R Waller. 2014. Improving risk assessment methods in a complex setting: Museum Victoria’s collection risk assessment. In ICOM-CC 17th Triennial Conference Preprints, Melbourne, 15–19 September 2014, ed. J. Bridgland, art. 1505, 8 pp. Paris: International Council of Museums.

Michalski, Stefan and José Luiz Pedersoli Jr. 2016. The ABC Method: a risk management approach to the preservation of cultural heritage. Government of Canada, Canadian Conservation Institute, and ICCROM. Available at

National Museum Australia, 2012. Collection Care and Preservation Policy. Available at

Rogerson, Cordelia and Paul Garside. 2017. Increasing the profile and influence of conservation—an unexpected benefit of risk assessments. Journal of the Institute of Conservation 40:1, 34-48.

Waller, Robert. 1994. ‘Conservation risk assessment: A strategy for managing resources for preventive conservation. Preprints of the Contributions to the Ottawa Congress, 12 ‑ 16 September 1994, Preventive Conservation: Practice, Theory and Research. London: IIC. A. Roy and P. Smith (Eds.). Available at or

Waller, Robert. 2003. Cultural Property Risk Analysis Model: Development and Application to Preventive Conservation at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Göteborg Studies in Conservation 13. Göteborg: Göteborg Acta Universitatis. Available at

Case Studies

Melbourne Museums have adopted CPRAM

3. Off-the-shelf innovations

Innovation generally refers to developing new, or creating more effective processes, products and ideas. Within the a sustainable conservation context, this includes developing and evaluating effective treatment methods and collection preservation practices that meet the sustainability agenda or response to local context, for example limited access to materials or constrained budgets.

Many Australian case studies demonstrate ingenuity and resourcefulness in modifying locally-available and inexpensive materials for preservation treatments whilst others are evaluating the efficacy and wider social and cultural benefits of basic housekeeping practices. (ML May 2020)

Member case studies

Bell, J Newnham, M & Nel, P 2017, ‘Tea: An Alternative Adsorbent for the Preservation of Cellulose Triacetate Film’, AICCM Bulletin, vol. 38, no. 2, pp. 103-113.

Tea is proposed as an accessible low-cost absorbent for use in the preservation of cellulose triacetate film.

5. Advocacy for arts funding

Provision for funding for collections, and their conservation and preservation, is enabled by a wide range of sources, both public – through Federal, state and local governments – and private funding streams. Depending on the nature of the collection, funding may be linked to specific policies in arts and culture, heritage, the built environment, or other areas.

Funding for the arts is a recurrent issue taken up by different advocacy groups. A particular focus for advocacy in recent years has been in relation to the Commonwealth Budget decisions on funding the Arts. In this context, the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) has called for increases to Australia Council funding to make up for funding cuts to the sector since 2014.

Advocating for conservation, the AICCM has responded to calls from governments with submissions to discussion papers for the National Cultural Policy; the Australian Heritage Strategy; the NSW Inquiry into Museums and Galleries; and the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories inquiry into Canberra’s national institutions, among others. (AM March 2020)

Recommended Reading

• Australian Museums and Galleries Association (AMaGA) 2019, Commonwealth Arts Department disappears, Australian Museums and Galleries Association, West Deakin, Australian Capital Territory.

• Department of Communications and the Arts 1994, Creative nation: Commonwealth cultural policy, Department of Communications and the Arts, Canberra.

• Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport 2013, Creative Australia, Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport, Canberra.

• Heritage Collections Council (HCC) 1998, National Conservation and Preservation Policy and Strategy: Australia’s Heritage Collections, Commonwealth of Australia on behalf of the HCC, Canberra.

• Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories 2019, Telling Australia’s story – and why it’s important: Report on the inquiry into Canberra’s national institutions.

• Meyrick, J & Barnett, T 2017, ‘Culture without “world”: Australian cultural policy in the age of stupid’, Cultural Trends, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 107-124.

• Sloggett, R 2015, ‘A National Conservation Policy for a New Millennium – Building Opportunity, Extending Capacity and Securing Integration in Cultural Materials Conservation’, AICCM Bulletin, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 79-87.

• Throsby, D 2018, Arts, Politics, Money: Revisiting Australia’s cultural policy, Platform Paper 55.