Session 6: Sustainability

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The keyword for session six was sustainability. Because of the current global environmental crisis, my mind links this word strongly with the environment and little else. However, throughout this session, the many meanings of the word sustainability were illustrated through diverse and captivating projects.

First, Patricia Miller presented on environmental and financial sustainability within the context of a climate control system in an historic house museum. The retrofit geothermal climate system was implemented at The Breakers, a mansion in Rhode Island, USA, to control extreme fluctuations in temperature and humidity. Not only was this impressive update non-intrusive to the collection and cooperative with the historic infrastructure, but it meets clean energy goals. Additionally, this change has been a money saver and an opportunity for interpretation about historic and modern climate control. In the Q&A after the session, Miller confirmed that the collection objects were not even disturbed during this transition, as the existing ductwork and registers could be used with the new geothermal system; the installation was isolated to the grounds and basement. I am struck by how perfect the solution seems for this specific historic building.

Next, Francesca Guiducci spoke about community and continuity sustainability within the context of an archaeological dig in Dangeil, Sudan. Since the year 2000, conservators have travelled to this remote site to assess and preserve the fragile structures. The sustainability of the project depends on the training of local craftspeople and workers to continue these tasks, as the harsh desert weather damages the structures so often, the sheer amount of structural work is overwhelming for a small team. Employing locally allows for the sustained physical stability of the site while the economic sustainability of the community is enhanced by the purchase of supplies, which is done locally as much as possible. In this way, the physical and economic stability of the village and the site are linked, and the continuity of the project can continue even when events like a global pandemic prevent outside conservators from traveling to the site.

I am impressed by the amount of work that has been conducted to preserve the historic site of Dangeil, including large projects like the building of a drainage system to protect the fragile bricks from the torrential rain and a shelter built to cover the most vulnerable structures. These infrastructure projects and ongoing maintenance have been very collaborative with community members. Guiducci continued, however, that much more work is necessary. They would like to see improved accessibility and interpretation of the site; it is open to community members but this engagement could be more active. Later in the Q&A, they responded to a question about accessibility, noting that 3D imaging and photogrammetry have been utilized to document the site; this visual information and other contributions can be used both locally and globally to educate people on the site of Dangeil. Sustaining the relationships within the organizations but also with craftspeople and workers in the Dangeil community ensures the survival of the site.

Third, Isobel Griffin and Jacqueline Ridge brought financial, environmental, and social sustainability together in a study of collection spaces. They sought out to explore the pros and cons of repurposing or building spaces, thinking about the needs of a collection and the needs of the people the collection serves. They posed excellent points about costs and environmental impact of both construction and maintenance for the life of the building, whether old or new. Space considerations including location, accessibility, pathways, fire and flood risks, and ease of use were thoroughly investigated. What I loved about this study was that the accessibility of use, or the social sustainability, was seen as paramount. In the Q&A section, this idea was coined a “legacy benefit,” the work to ensure the investment in a space continues to serve people now and in the future.

In all of these thoughtful presentations, the common thread was the work to ensure cultural heritage sites and collections survive multiple challenges in order to allow meaningful interaction with the community, now and later. During the Q&A section, all of the authors pointed to publications and interpretation plans as ways to continue to connect and grow their initiatives. By engaging the local and global communities with these important projects, sustainability can truly be achieved.

Author Byline:

Stephanie Guidera is a third year Graduate Fellow in Art Conservation at SUNY Buffalo State College