From the President's Desk, December-January 2023 "News in Conservation", Issue 93

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IIC President Julian Bickersteth (image courtesy of the author)

By Julian Bickersteth

I was pleased to be able to represent IIC and speak at the recent International Climate Control Conference that was delivered online at the beginning of December. IIC has been at the forefront of discussions on environmental conditions in collecting institutions and the impact they have on energy use and subsequent carbon emissions for some years. In 2014 we developed with ICOM-CC the IIC/ICOM-CC Declaration on Environmental Guidelines, which have continued to be a key reference and starting point for climate control decisions with organisations like AICCM using the declaration to develop a set of environmental guidelines in 2018 (updated in 2022) suited to their local climates. The 2014 Declaration came at a time when there was a major focus on this issue within the cultural sector with a variety of organisations producing guidelines including AIC and Bizot. Whilst the issue has continued to be discussed over the ensuing eight years, formally readdressing this issue in the light of the climate crisis by way of this conference was overdue. The conference was organised by Gallery Climate Coalition and Ki Culture with Caitlin Southwick hosting sessions, and we applaud her and the Gallery Climate Coalition in conceiving this conference and their energy in bringing it together.

As part of the preparation of the 2014 Declaration, IIC undertook a survey which canvased of a wide range of issues on appropriate climate controls for collections and the factors that impact on them. Two fundamental questions stood out:

1. What are the quantifiable savings in energy use achieved by widening environmental parameters?

2. What levels and fluctuations of temperature and RH can artworks and objects be exposed to with no or minimal risk of damage?

We identified that the conservation profession needs to work towards the following:

· Transparency regarding the reality of current environmental conditions in museums and galleries around the world
· Wider discussion between conservators and building managers in a non-judgemental way
· Further research into the effects of environmental change on artworks and objects, their tolerance for change and the risk of damage
· Greater documentation of data on damage caused by environmental conditions and the sharing and dissemination of this information

Fundamentally our planet is now undeniably in crisis. The climate is changing, highlighted by the many extreme events of the last few years as well as recent statistics showing we are on the brink of at least five major climate tipping points. Critically our emissions reduction is too slow, and despite some encouraging signs out of COP27, there is still no credible pathway to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We all acknowledge that until we reach close to net zero emissions, the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere will continue to rise and warm the planet. Unfortunately, the main driver for change within museums in most of Europe and North America remains tied to economic benefits.

The 2014 IIC/ICOM-CC Declaration on environmental guidelines partly came about as a result of conservators wanting to retake the reigns on establishing appropriate climate conditions—guidelines which had been largely influenced by organisations such as Bizot who were seen, rightly or wrongly, as driving an agenda to facilitate easier loan arrangements for art works. It was a time when there was not only a level of distrust between conservators, building managers and directors, but even between conservators themselves. Eight years on, it is clear that the relationship between conservators and building managers is generally more cohesive with a joint ambition to achieve better results. IIC’s view is that we need conservators, registrars, facility managers and directors all in the same room working together to reach consensus. If it was important in 2014, how much more vital, in these times of climate emergency, is it now? IIC sees leadership as critical, and we are determined to do all we can to lead and support our profession to adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects on cultural heritage.

Unfortunately, I must finish on a sad note. IIC is a close-knit family with a secretariat whose output always amazes members when they realise how small it is. The sudden loss from that family of Kate Smith has been devastating and keenly felt, and we join with her family in mourning. A tribute to Kate by NiC’s editor Sharra Grow is provided in this issue.

With my best wishes for 2023,

Julian Bickersteth
IIC President

(Please find the Traditional and Simplified Chinese translations below)