Whether it is the collection of a museum or library, or the props, costumes, historical organizational records and business records of a theatre or performing arts center, preserving your key business records and your most important historical materials is something that everyone in your organization should consider.

Preservation is the set of activities an arts or cultural organization undertakes to maintain its collection in a useable format and condition for as long as it is needed.

Preservation includes disaster preparedness, but you also want to think about heat and humidity levels in your building 24/7/365. What is the security for your facility and materials? How are materials stored?

As you can see, these issues touch all levels in your organization. Key to include in preservation planning are members of institutional administration, collections care professionals such as archivists or curators, facilities and operations staff that control the building, public-facing staff that work with your audience and community, and Board members, who are stewarding the institution long-term. But everyone on staff needs to think about preserving important organizational materials.

Having a disaster plan, and thinking about the long-term storage of your most important materials, as well as backups of those materials in original form or in the cloud are important components of starting a preservation program at your organization. Making sure everyone on staff considers preserving your organization history and business records as part of their responsibility will go a long way in long-term preservation. Earlier in this section we discussed utilizing media and storage materials that last; we also need to think about creating a “comfortable and safe environment” for your key records and collections.

Low humidity (preferably between 30-40%, but no higher than 55% at any point, because mold can set in) is of high importance.

Lower, cooler, stable temperatures, from 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit, is also important for the longevity of your most important records.

Keeping collections out of direct sunlight and avoiding intense mechanical lighting is also important.

And, regular air circulation keeps dust, dirt, and mold spores from settling on collections and beginning to do damage.

The materials on which we print or record our organization’s business and history all degrade, for different reasons, and at varying speeds. With digital formats and magnetic media, it may be more difficult to see damage than with books, photographs, costumes, and props. Almost all of the components used in making these media and objects are made of raw materials that will degrade.

You may hear the term “archival” used for paper and storage materials. But what you want to look for are materials that are permanent and durable, and meet preservation standards. You’ll want to use permanent papers and storage materials, and also consider storing items in areas with low heat, humidity, and light, and in safe enclosures, on steel, not wooden shelves, where they will not be damaged.

Keep materials four inches off the floor if possible, so that water from minor leaks will not damage them. And, if you must exhibit materials, don’t leave them in areas with high light levels for a long time.

As an artist, your work is your greatest asset. While losing tools, materials, and supplies is devastating, your artwork is irreplaceable. Take measures now to help you preserve your work before an emergency.

Never store your work near windows, doors, vents, or ceiling fans. Protect works from above and below by raising them above floor level and covering them both above and below with heavy plastic.

Store three-dimensional works on padded metal shelving, placing the heaviest works at the bottom levels, but elevated from the floor.

Secure all shelving to the wall and/or floor.

Secure any works on displays with museum wax or museum gel.

Raise large works from the floor by placing them on pallets or low display pedestals.

Consider storing paintings in vertical storage bins with barriers between artworks, preferably with acid-free materials.

Place artwork on pallets wrapped in scrap carpeting and heavy plastic secured with waterproof tape.

If you must stack works, place corrugated cardboard barriers between artwork and stack work front-to-front and back-to-back. It is best not to stack unframed work this way.

You’re reconstructing your building after a disaster, or you may just be renovating or making an addition to your facility. No matter what the case is, there is a much greater threat of a disaster that will affect your collection or facility during renovation and construction than almost any other time.

You may have people in your building who are not familiar with it, and are using equipment like blowtorches, cranes, and other systems that are not usually being utilized in your building, and have a higher chance of causing problems. Make sure that construction contractors in your building are following the same safety and preparedness standards that staff usually follow.

Protect your collections materials from dust by utilizing plastic sheeting. Make sure your security protocols and systems are working. Regularly walk through your collection storage areas near construction. And check with your insurance representatives about any temporary changes needed on your policy during construction or renovation.

Since you probably cannot afford the space, time, and money to consider preserving everything your organization generates, here are some things to consider preserving:

Business Records and Materials
  • Patron and Donor Records
  • Financial Records
  • Personnel Records
  • Ticket Sales Information
  • Important Correspondence
Organizational History
  • Playbills and Programs
  • Photographs, Negatives, and Scrapbooks
  • Audio and Video Recordings
  • Posters and Fliers
  • Books and Manuscripts related to your Organization
  • Props – especially Legacy Props used year after year
  • Costumes and Textiles