Canadian Museum of Nature

R. Robert Waller

Nature's Chief of Conservation

Canadian Museum of Civilization

100 Laurier Street Gatineau, QC J8X 4H2 Canada

Commitment to Effective Preservation: A risk-based approach to the conservation of cultural property

The Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN), Canada''s national museum of natural history, is proud to have received a prestigious international award for its commitment to preservation. The award, given annually by The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and Heritage Preservation, was presented to CMN Chair at the 2003 conference of the Museum Trustee Association in New York City. The award recognized the CMN's continuing commitment to collection preservation. Also highlighted and important to its ongoing commitment to preservation, is the CMN's innovative riskmanagement approach to the conservation of natural history collections and the Museum's commitment to effectively sharing this expertise with others. This paper highlights the CMN's work on developing and applying risk-management based collection care and transferring this knowledge through workshops based on modern adult education techniques. Beginning in the late 1980's the Museum developed a risk-based means of planning for collection care. The method is now termed the Cultural Property Risk Analysis Method (CPRAM;Waller 2003). Comprehensive assessments of risks to the collections of the Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN) were completed in 1993 and 1998, as well as 2003. During the five years between the first two assessments, the CMN designed, constructed and moved into a purpose-built collection- holding institution (Figure 1). In addition, numerous collection management and conservation projects were undertaken to mitigate risks to collections. These activities have resulted in significant reductions in risk to collections and in improved understanding of remaining risks.
The basic steps involved in the CPRAM are: 1) define scope of the assessment, 2) divide the cultural property into units to assess, 3) identify specific risks, 4) quantify risks, 5) analyze and present results, 6) plan projects to mitigate high risks, 7) refine estimates of uncertain risks through research.
In 1993, CMN collections were dispersed among 12 leased warehouse spaces, some in inferior storage hardware. In the time between 1993 and 1998 assessments, the CMN designed, had built, and occupied a purpose-built collection housing building (Figure 1). At the same time, storage hardware was upgraded to modern museum standards. In addition, following the move, and before the 1998 risk assessment, a collection emergency preparedness plan was developed and disseminated. Training in emergency response procedures and methods was conducted. Over the period 1993-1998, Type 1 (rare and catastrophic) risks were the most reduced of the three types of risk.
It is also evident in Figure 2 that the totals of both type 2 (sporadic and severe) and type 3 (constant and gradual) risks are approximately two orders of magnitude (one hundred times) greater than the total of type 1 risks. Evidently, work to improve the building and to prepare for emergency response was effective in reducing risk. Current preventive conservation priorities are focused on reducing type 2 and 3 risks,particularly in fluid preserved collections, as this is where our most cost-effective risk reduction is possible.
The results of the risk assessment focus always-limited institutional resources on the most significant risks to collections. Conservation research is directed by an understanding of the importance of uncertainties in the evaluation of risks.
Because the CPRAM can be complex and challenging to learn and adopt, the CMN has developed interactive workshops to transfer the skills and knowledge needed for risk assessment and management to teams of collection care professionals in diverse cultural organizations and institutions (Figure 3).
Waller, R. Robert. 2003. Cultural Property Risk Analysis Model: Development and Application to Preventive Conservation at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Gouml;teborg Studies in Conservation 13, ISSN 0284- 6578; ISBN 91-7346-475-9 Gouml;teborg Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis;. xvi   189 p.p.