Preventive Conservation

Preventive conservation is a holistic practice of actions taken to slow or minimize deterioration to collections. It is a care strategy that requires the consideration of an artwork’s environment—the temperature, humidity levels, light levels, and possible chemical pollutants that surround the object on a daily basis. Preventive conservation also involves balancing the preservation of the collection with the need for engaging programming throughout the museum campus. Many artworks in the collection could be kept more chemically stable by placing them in a cold storage room in the dark—but this would keep the public from being able to study and enjoy them! Finding ways to minimize risks to artwork safety and stability while simultaneously helping to provide access to the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection is the job of the preventive conservator. 

Preventive conservation is a team effort. At the CMA, colleagues from conservation, collections management, design, security, and facilities all work together to make sure that the artworks housed at the CMA remain safe and stable so they can be enjoyed by the visiting public. Together, this team works to maintain the 592,000-square-foot CMA campus. The preventive conservator keeps a special focus on art holding spaces, including 51 galleries, 9 conservation laboratories, and 8 storage rooms. The temperature, humidity, and light levels are monitored in these spaces 24 hours a day, and they are routinely cleaned and inspected for pests. Accelerated corrosion testing is performed on materials that will be in proximity to artworks, such as display case components, to ensure they will not produce volatile chemicals that could damage art objects. Hidden compartments beneath the displays are filled with desiccants, such as silica gel, to stabilize humidity and scavengers, such as granulated charcoal, to adsorb volatile chemicals that could tarnish metals.

WKYC Growing Stem: Microclimates and Masterpieces

     (opens in new tab)Learn More about Preventive Conservation

    Caring for Your Collection

    Interested in learning how to care for your treasured items at home?  The American Institute for Conservation has several resources detailing the basics of caring for your own collection.

    Preventive and objects conservators examining a Greek vase in the objects conservation lab

    Preventive and objects conservators examining a Greek vase in the objects conservation lab