Sustainable Museums part of team awarded National Endowment for the Humanities Research & Development Grant

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National Endowment for the Humanities awards research team with a two-year, $350,000 grant to create tools for museum professionals to protect their health and collections. It was one of four research grants awarded

Sarah Sutton, Courtesy of Salzburg Global Seminar

"We are thrilled that NEH supports our work. The materials that curators, conservators, and exhibit designers choose as they do their work to protect and share humanities collections matter to the people using them, the objects under care, and to the environment we are all part of."

Museums around the world purchase, use, and reuse a wide variety of materials every day. There are solvents for cleaning or repairing objects, foam for impact protection in shipping crates, and paint, labels and adhesives in exhibits. There is no single place where curators, preparators, conservators and exhibit designers can find information that helps them make conscious choices about the health and environmental impacts of their choices.

The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of
Historic and Artistic Works was awarded a grant for the team of Matthew Eckelman, Associate Professor and Associate Research Chair in Civil Engineering and Environment at Northeastern University, private conservator Sarah Nunberg of Brooklyn, NY, and cultural consultant Sarah Sutton of Sustainable Museums, to continue the research they began three years ago with a related planning grant. Now, this implementation grant gives them the support and a broader team to do their work.

Sutton says, "It is an honor to have support from NEH to do work we hope will help the entire field. The materials that curators, conservators, preparators and exhibit designers choose as they do their work to protect and share museum collections matter as much to the people using them as to the objects under care, and to the environment we are all part of."

This grant establishes a life cycle assessment (LCA) Tool and an LCA Library that give cultural heritage professionals access to information concerning the environmental impact and toxicity resulting from actions and materials used to conserve, maintain and exhibit cultural heritage objects.

Industries, public agencies, and researchers have begun to explore and quantify the potential environmental and human health impacts of their actions using LCA. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines LCA as “a compilation and evaluation of the inputs, outputs and the potential environmental impacts of a product system throughout its life cycle." (ISO 14040/4/67). This project follows the ISO standards for in-depth exploration of processes and materials for economic comparisons, human health indications, and environmental impact assessment.

The LCA tool (for individual materials) and LCA studies (for more complex systems of care) will help collection care professionals make informed choices that protect their own health and the health of the environment while continuing to preserve humanities collections. Informed choices will advance the field’s professionalism by identifying and spreading sustainable best practices in preservation and exhibition practices.

The cultural sector is exploring a variety of ways to reduce its impacts on the environment, including energy conservation, waste management, and public engagement. This project continues to advance the profession's commitment to sustainability.

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Sarah Sutton

Sarah Nunberg
Objects Conservation Studio
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