Living in the great and unpredictable state of New York can sometimes be a challenge for its year-round residents. Each season brings on a different extreme: heat, cold, inclement weather…you name it, New Yorkers have seen it. But how can cultural institutions prepare for the worst? What resources are there for museums to learn how to protect and preserve their collections?
That’s where the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) comes in. This November, in partnership with New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), MANY will be hosting a “Risk Management for Collections” workshop with the RCE at the Oneida County History Center in Utica, NY.
We talked to Renate van Leijen, Advisor of Safe Heritage at the RCE, and Bart Ankersmit, Ph.D., Senior Researcher at the RCE and mastermind behind the program, to learn more about “Risk Management for Collections,” the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, and why the Dutch are coming back to New York.
Here are five things you need to know before you join us in Utica on November 13.
1. The program is an extension of Dr. Ankersmit’s previous work.
After finishing his Doctorate in Inorganic Chemistry, Dr. Ankersmit started working at the RCE – then known as the Central Laboratory for Objects of Art and Science – in 1996. He initially worked on the preventative conservation of silver artifacts, but after four years, his interests shifted to risk management. In 2009, Ankersmit published new climate guidelines for Dutch Museums, in which, he says, “a decision-making process is presented that combines the value of the building and the objects with climate risks to find an optimum mitigation strategy.” At the end of 2016, Ankersmit and his colleague, Marc Stappers, published an English translation of the guidelines: Managing Indoor Climate Risks.
Over the past few years, Ankersmit has developed a risk management tool through several workshops in close collaboration with the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) and the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI). This internationally cooperative work is what led to the publishing of the “Risk Management for Collections” workbook, which will be distributed at the November workshop.
2. We may not be able to avoid natural disasters, but we can still prepare for them.
“Preparedness is really an important issue,” says Ankersmit. “Because we as heritage professionals can’t avoid a flooding of rivers, [it is our job] to ensure that water does not threaten the collection.” Ankersmit and van Leijen say that disaster preparedness for a museum’s collections is a lot like making an emergency plan for other disasters. They suggest that museum professionals write up emergency response instructions and stay in close contact with emergency responders in their towns. “Make sure that they know you have vulnerable heritage [collections],” they say.
3. Attendees will learn a lot in just one day.
Although the “Risk Management for Collections” workshop is only a one-day training program, Ankersmit and van Leijen say participants will leave with new knowledge about how to prepare for the unexpected. Through the program, attendees will learn more about the relationship between cultural values, susceptibility, and exposure that make up many of the risks posed to collections. Ankersmit and van Leijen will also explain two of the tools that make up the Risk Management approach: the QuickScan and ABC Method and introduce participants to the “10 agents of deterioration.”
4. New York State has strong ties to the Netherlands.
Time for a brief history lesson! After several thousand years of being inhabited by tribes of Algonquian and Iroquoian Native Americans, what is now known as New York State was visited by Henry Hudson, an English navigator sailing for the Dutch East India Company in 1609. Before the colony was seized by the British in 1664, who renamed it New York, the Dutch built Fort Nassau in what is now present-day Albany, settled New Amsterdam (present-day Manhattan), and parts of the Hudson Valley, and established the colony of New Netherland.
What does this have to do with Risk Management for Collections, though? The State Historic Site system consists of 35 sites owned and operated by the OPRHP – six of these sites, five of which are in the Hudson Valley, are connected to the Dutch’s heritage in New York State. “This valuable training opportunity will allow the OPRHP to share this newly acquired knowledge with all of the many historic sites and museums connected to Dutch heritage in the Hudson River Valley Corridor of New York, raising the capacity of many institutions,” Ankersmit and van Leijen say.
5. This program is valuable to anyone and everyone working in museums.
This workshop will teach attendees how to apply value- and risk-based decision-making to achieve sustainable conservation and preservation action plans for their collections. “Participants will be shown how to look at hazards and risks in an integral way,” Ankersmit and van Leijen say. “We need to step outside our comfort zones and think about processes or events that can take place that were not yet seen as relevant risks.”
The Risk Management for Collections workshop will be held at the Oneida County History Center on November 13, 2018, from 9:00am to 3:30pm. All attendees are invited to join MANY for a reception at 4:30 following the workshop. Register today; space is limited!
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Dr. Bart Ankersmit is a Senior Researcher at the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands in Amsterdam (RCE). After receiving his Doctorate in Inorganic Chemistry, Ankersmit started working at the RCE in 1996. His work began with a four-year EU project on the preventive conservation of silver artifacts and has shifted to managing risks to collections. In 2009, Ankersmit published the new climate guidelines for Dutch museums, Managing Indoor Climate Risks, in which a decision-making process was presented that balances the value of the building and the objects with climate risks to find an optimal mitigation strategy. An updated and translated version was released in 2016.
Renate van Leijen is the Advisor of Safe Heritage at the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands in Amsterdam (RCE). The Safe Heritage program at the RCE focuses on risk and crisis management, emergency planning, incident registration, and collection assistance with special attention given to awareness and prevention. They share information, develop products and services with and for the heritage managers, heritage advisors, and directors.
About the RCE: The Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed) is part of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The RCE helps other parties to get the best out of cultural heritage. They are closely involved in listing, preserving, sustainably developing and providing access to the most valuable heritage in their country. They are the link between policymakers, academics and practitioners. They provide advice, knowledge and information, and perform certain statutory duties.
Words by Sarah Heikkinen.