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Exhibit Planning with Conservation Needs

Starting at the Beginning

When a thousand different things have to come together to create a successful exhibit, the stress can be overwhelming. There are resources out there that can walk you through the process of creating an exhibit, but few will help you also focus on the conservation aspect of the items on display. We want to help you integrate conservation successfully into your exhibit. As always, the best place to start is at the beginning.

The Basics

Start Early.

By making the commitment to preserve objects on display in your exhibit, you can prevent damage to objects caused by improperly designed and poorly fabricated exhibit spaces.

Plan Ahead.

Allow you and your team ample time so you can do things right: developing and reviewing technical designs, case prototypes, testing of proposed materials, safe handling, exhibit mount making, and installation of objects. You'll also need to consider the costs of addressing issues such as conservation treatment or special casework.

Find the Balance.

Incorporating conservation into an exhibit is all about balance. Solutions will need to be appropriate for the specific exhibit circumstances while balancing other exhibit requirements.


Choosing Your Team

Cooperation is Key!

Selecting team members that are willing to work cooperatively within the exhibit team is essential. Searches for balanced and appropriate solutions require compromise. Each member will also need to take responsibility for understanding basic conservation issues.

Look for Experience.

Design staff or firms should have experience working with exhibit conservators.

Have Clear Expectations.

Develop drawings and specifications that clearly map out the intended conservation features required for your space. Oversee production to ensure that the conservation components are built to the required specifications. 

Hiring an Exhibit Conservator


A conservator should be selected that is qualified in the specialty of exhibit conservation. In some instances, a part-time consultant is sufficient.

Did We Say "Start Early" Already?

Include the exhibit conservator from the earliest stages and throughout the exhibit planning, design, fabrication, and the installation process.

Set Required Criteria.

The conservator should set the conservation criteria, participate in planning and design meetings, review conservation-related decisions, and assess prototypes and exhibit work after installation. 


Selecting Objects for Your Exhibit


Choose appropriate objects for display with a conservator to determine if objects are stable enough for exhibition and what the consequences of exhibiting them may be.


Limit the quantity of objects to what can be accommodated safely within the exhibit space.


Consider the aesthetics of each object. Incomplete, deteriorated or dirty objects may require extensive conservation treatment.

Object Rotation

Consider rotating fragile objects, substituting alternate objects or using reproductions throughout the life of the exhibit. If you're interested in demonstrating an object's function, use a reproduction.

Allocate Time & Resources

Make sure you allow for enough time and resources to safely prepare, mount, install or replicate objects.


Assess Each Object

Assessment & Establish Conservation Criteria

Assess and establish each object's current condition, likely exhibit environment and current conservation research. All of this should be included in a written assessment completed with the exhibit conservator. 

Find the Right Balance. 

Incorporate that conservation criteria into the exhibit design. The designer, conservator, curator and other team members need to work cooperatively to ensure practical display methods that preserve the objects.


Managing the Exhibit Collection


ANYONE handling an object during the exhibit process needs to be trained on handling objects. 

Safe & Secure

Dedicate a clean and secure place for temporary storage of objects during the development, construction and installation.

Condition & Treatment

A conservator should document each object's condition and provide a treatment recommendation for those items that require treatment before being exhibited.

Create a Complete List 

A complete list of objects should include the accession or catalog number. Photographs of objects and marked floor plans make it easy to locate objects for security and condition checks. 

Careful Photography

Protect objects when photographing them. Limit each item's total exposure to light and be careful to avoid overheating an item with studio lights. Always make sure an object is properly supported during photography.  

Adapted from A set of conservation guidelines for exhibitions by Toby Raphael and Martin Burke

For further reading:

National Parks Service's Center for Interpretive Media.