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Spanish researcher seeking to visit UK museums this summer – Cultural Heritage at Risk: Compare methodologies and emergency management of museum collections

Pilar Montero is a professor in Preventive Conservation at the Complutense University in Madrid. Since 2014, Pilar has been working closely with the Reina Sofía, the Prado and the Spanish Ministry of Culture to develop and implement groundbreaking methodologies and guidelines for their respective collections emergency plans.

Pilar will be spending a couple of months travelling around the UK in July and August as part of her current fully-funded research project, with the aim of visiting museums and cultural institutions who may be interested in exchanging ideas, expertise and experience.

You can read further information below about Pilar’s research objectives.  If any UK museum, gallery or cultural organisation would be interested to meet with Pilar during her UK research visit this summer, please contact her directly at pilarmontero@ucm.es 

Title of research:
Cultural Heritage at Risk: Compare methodologies and emergency management of museum collections. between Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Spain) and museums in the United Kingdom.

Objectives:
• To share knowledge in relation to heritage at risk.
• To compare work methodologies in collection risk management.
• To better understand work methodologies for the development of instruments that serve to evaluate the significance of cultural heritage.

Research Project
This project is part of a broader investigation in relation to Risk Management and Emergencies in Cultural Heritage. Since 2014 the National Museum Reina Sofia has commissioned me to coordinate its Protection Plan of Collections in Emergency (Plan PROCOERS). I am also the Principle Investigator of a three-year collaborative research project named the Design and Implementation of a Model for the Risk Management of Contemporary Art Collections in case of Emergency: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (2016-2019).

This project is financed by the National Research Agency and is focused on the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS), which provides safe-keeping for a collection that is unique in the world, comprised of indispensable works of modern and contemporary Spanish art, as well as extraordinarily relevant artworks by international artists. The museum’s flagship artwork, the Guernica by Picasso, which has transcended generations, has become a world symbol of our most recent past, and a reference point for Spain’s political and cultural position worldwide. Conserving and transmitting this cultural heritage to future generations is not only a legal obligation, but also a moral one. Unfortunately, in the current socio-political and cultural context, no institution within this category is entirely safe from emergency situations, either anthropic (vandalism, theft, terrorism…) or natural disasters (circumstances worsened by climate change: floods, earthquakes…).

The aim of this project is to create a comprehensive model that is able to efficiently manage and protect the MNCARS collection in case an emergency might arise which affects the artworks.
With this purpose in mind, an innovative methodology of analysis and planning technology is being developed, along with an ensemble of means and dynamic technological methods able to store, manage, update, manipulate, recover, analyse, display and transfer special data (Geographic Information Systems, GIS, Building Information Modelling, BIM) and the characterisation of the collections in order to prevent and minimise the scope of vulnerabilities and obtain maximum protection, as well as to manage the whole operating process in case an emergency may arise and put forth a contingency plan for the artworks’ protection if needs be.

This project’s innovation lies, therefore, in the creation of a new analysis methodology which will allow us to implement geo-referencing technologies for the protection of artworks in the case of an emergency. Thus, we can see that the project is organised in two layers: the creation of an analysis model or methodological superstructure, and a second layer which would be the technological infrastructure. The outcome of the project will be the intersection of these two layers, which will give rise to a model of combined management (methodological and technological), which will be materialised in an application subject to be implemented at the institution, and to become a model reference in which other similar institutions may see themselves reflected.

The complexity of the project and its holistic approach requires a multidisciplinary research team like the one we have created (conservators, restorers, scientific conservators, architects, security manager), who know not only the collection but also the museum’s geospatial characteristics, as well as its facilities and the measures deployed by the museum in order to face anti-social acts or natural risks.

These aforementioned plans are complex constructions in which a wide range of issues related to cultural heritage are dealt with, ranging from the significance of the collection to legal, normative, constructive or security issues.

However, it is important to point out that emergencies in cultural heritage do not understand countries or borders and therefore it is important to share knowledge in order to improve our understanding of possible threats, whether natural or human-made disasters, in order to harmonise response mechanisms in the event of a catastrophe.

In this respect, my proposal would be to share the work carried out so far in the PROCOERS Plan with the aim of exchanging experiences, methodologies and knowledge with different museums in the United Kingdom interested in risk management and the protection of their collections in the event of emergencies.

ICOM UK