Early in the lockdown phase we were asked to provide schedules of work and plans to help museums and libraries assess, check, preserve and protect their collections whilst working only with skeleton staff and with buildings closed to the public and ancillary staff. This involved bespoke checklists for listed buildings, health and safety advice for working alone, and revising disaster plans taking into account social distancing and furloughed staff.
Hard on the heels of that was re-allocation of budgets from planned works and exhibitions to essential and emergency work only. Suddenly we were thinking about protecting collections, some very large, using significantly reduced budgets. Sadly it is a known truth amongst conservators that a few years after budgets are cut, especially to buildings maintenance, a rise in mould and pest-affected collections occur. Planning now, against lower quality environments, with less monitoring, air-conditioning or cleaning, can protect collections from higher recovery costs later.
From discussions with clients and conservators it seems that designing high-quality but low-cost exhibitions which are safe for visitors, staff and the objects is going to be an important challenge. This is definitely achievable once the government set parameters for larger gatherings, and of course designing a high quality digital element is more important than ever. There remains a difficult issue facing institutions; working with volunteer groups, many of whom are in the vulnerable part of society. The task of simply cleaning collections could become much more difficult and expensive.
Building in revenue streams to collections, exhibitions and conservation projects will be vital in bolstering the care of collections and improving their accessibility. Whether that is through internal fundraising, external grant applications or creating an income from an iconic or commercial element of a collection, many projects won't lift off without a more holistic approach. We are looking closely at the requirements of the major grant holders as they re-prioritise funding post-Covid19, to make sure potential projects can attract funding for conservation.
As we come out of the lockdown some institutions are already planning their re-opening procedures, notably The National Archives, click here. There is a lot to think about, but there is a wealth of shared experience out there, which means pitfalls can be avoided and solutions found, even on very lean budgets.