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AAHC Forum: Conservation Assessment Program Helps Revitalize the I.P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium

April 18, 2013

This post is a part of the AAHC Forum. In the coming months we will invite current and past grantees to contribute their project experiences via blog posts on our UpNext Blog and then ask you to respond through the AAHC Virtual Forum. We hope you will add your voice and share your needs and opinions so that AAHC can continue to help African American museums thrive. Please visit the AAHC forum to continue the conversation.

By Ellen Zisholtz
Director, I.P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium

Heritage Preservation’s Conservation Assessment Program (CAP), supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, was key to the growth and development of the I.P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium at South Carolina State University.

In order to understand the true significance of the CAP award, it is necessary to go back to the fall of 2005 when the university made a commitment to saving the museum’s collections and restoring its facility, which had been closed for several years. When  I was hired as director the museum had mold in the walls, garbage on the floors, and collections in disarray. We put some of the collections into offsite storage while the museum was cleaned up and repaired. We used federal Title III education funds to purchase moveable storage equipment, and the museum became a repository for the James Brown Collection. The first exhibition opened in February 2007, just after the CAP grant application was submitted.

We were extremely fortunate in the selection of our CAP consultant. I requested a list of approved consultants and called several in the area. When I spoke with Michael Trinkley at the Chicora Foundation, I knew that I had the right consultant. Since then, Mike and Debi Hacker, the two CAP consultants, have become increasingly important members of the Stanback family.

The primary goals of our preservation survey were as follows:

  1. To evaluate the museum structure and environment as they relate to the preservation needs of the collection
  2. To appraise our storage conditions, handling procedures, and exhibition practices
  3. To assess the general condition of the collections and recommend guidelines for providing remedial or protective treatment that will lengthen its useful life
  4. To recommend strategies for solidifying and strengthening the museum’s preservation program

The consultation involved about 9.5 hours of onsite evaluation and discussion with staff and university personnel who are key to preservation issues. The consultants made many suggestions that resulted in improved preservation of collections. They focused on prospective preservation or environmental conservation and recommended steps that can be taken to prevent or slow deterioration.

A preliminary draft of the report was submitted to the Stanback for consultation before the completed CAP report was submitted. This was very helpful because we were able to clarify some issues for the consultant and remedy some simple problems immediately. This resulted in a report that helped us to focus our planning and to generate other support. The entire process was a learning experience for museum staff and students.

Several positive results followed the CAP survey:

  1. The report suggested the need for a registrar, a position that was later funded through an IMLS grant.
  2. A collections policy was developed.
  3. Conservation and preservation workshops were created in the museum with assistance from Debi Hacker, who has taught classes at the museum since the CAP assessment.
  4. Initially, Debi Hacker was funded partially by an IMLS grant to work as a conservation consultant.  Since the end of that grant, she has continued to be funded by state funds.
  5. Collections have been registered and some catalogued.
  6. Staff training in conservation and preservation has been ongoing.
  7. Our lighting system was improved by replacing bulbs with Halogen-IR (infrared) coating. This reduces UV and the amount of heat generated.
  8. The planetarium was automated to eliminate fire hazards with state funds that were leveraged as a result of the CAP survey.
  9. The museum is putting together a plan to resolve environmental condition issues,  including addressing HVAC problems, with the assistance of the Freelon Group.

Since the CAP survey, Debi Hacker has become an ongoing conservation consultant at the Stanback. She has trained museum students and staff and worked with them to clean, register and preserve objects. Debi’s conservation workshops are a favorite with museum students and interns.

Museum Grants for African American History and Culture
Museum Grants for African American History and Culture