Home Arts Arts and heritage groups must ‘act now’ to protect culture from climate change, report says

Arts and heritage groups must ‘act now’ to protect culture from climate change, report says

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As deadly floods swept through Kentucky in the summer of 2022, water breached the warehouse and archival vault of Appalshop, an Appalachian history and culture center established in 1969 in Whitesburg, over 200 miles east of Louisville. The cost of salvaging the AV material is expected to exceed $6 million as volunteers and specialists continue to work to clean up and digitize the damaged collections.

Cultural preservation experts say disasters and disaster recoveries like this will only increase in number as the climate crisis deepens, meaning institutions need to be better equipped to respond. In a new report title Held in trust, led by the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation (FAIC) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), more than 150 experts from various fields contribute conclusions on how to make cultural heritage conservation more resilient for a daunting future . The over 200-page document examines pressing issues such as diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the field, as well as ethical issues in conservation. But its authors identify climate change as the most significant threat.

Held in trust provides direction and inspiration to seize the opportunities before us and act now, before more cultural heritage is lost to the climate crisis and other threats,” said Lissa Rosenthal-Yoffe, executive director of the FAIC and the American Institute for Conservation. in a report. “We call on all who care about the preservation and protection of our irreplaceable cultural heritage to take the next steps with us.”

The project is the result of four years of collaboration between the FAIC and the NEH and involved several thematic committees whose members ranged from restorers from the Seattle Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York to curators from Fisk University and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle. Each group describes specific actions that individuals and institutions in the field of conservation can implement in the short and long term.

An important step they urge cultural heritage sites to take is the creation of an emergency action plan for natural disasters such as wildfires, earthquakes and heat waves. Plans should detail the actions that staff should take before, during and after the disaster. Other immediate needs include carrying out an assessment of potential heat stress risks among staff and health and safety assessments around the hazards of new technologies.

“The climate crisis will set the priorities for sites and collections to be protected,” the report says. “Some of the unknowns related to climate change are how our buildings and their environments will respond and the already changing ecological ranges of pests.” Mold growth, its authors note, will be a major problem resulting from increased disasters – and one that will affect not only objects but also the health of staff if mismanaged.

Another critical challenge facing the field of preservation is the environmental cost of the methods and tools used to safeguard objects. For example, HVAC systems designed for careful temperature control require the combustion of fossil fuels, and some materials used to maintain collections can be toxic.

The report recommends developing greener approaches to the processing, research, display, storage and transportation of materials, with the aim of addressing sustainable development goals set by the United Nations. These could include piloting cooperative data storage options that would have less environmental impact. The report’s authors also note that thinking about sustainable environmental conservation “provides an excellent avenue for including traditional indigenous knowledge systems as valuable sources of scientific knowledge.”

The FAIC has already started building resources to help cultural institutions take more steps towards climate action. The foundation plans to launch a website later this year that features interactive maps showing how weather-related climate hazards have impacted historic sites in the past and how they might impact in the future. The platform will also include guided activities and other educational tools to help users learn more about climate resilience. These user-friendly and relatively accessible resources are intended to empower historic sites of different scales to care for cultural heritage in ways that might traditionally be overlooked in the professional field.

The report “seeks to explore a vision of what the future of conservation might look like,” said NEH President Shelly C. Lowe, “work that is important not only to the field but also to our collective humanity. and our ability not only to preserve objects, but to tell the stories that unite us”.

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