USA: How D.C.’s museums are working to protect their collections from more heat and flooding

Source(s)
DCist

By Matt Blitz

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Catastrophic weather events are undoubtedly posing immeasurable risks to museums and cultural institutions in the D.C. region and across the globe. But it isn’t just the longer-lasting hurricanes or the more extreme rainstorms that threaten to destroy the most important of our cultural treasures. It’s the everyday realities of climate change.

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According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, there are about 120 museums in D.C. alone. There are many more in the surrounding Virginia and Maryland suburbs. The museums differ in size and drastically in content, from space history to bonsai trees, but they all house invaluable collections, artifacts, and archives. And climate change is providing tough new challenges for all of them on how to best care and preserve these treasures for generations to come.

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In anticipation of incidents like flooding, the [Preparedness and Response in Collections Emergencies] team holds workshops and trainings for everyone who works at Smithsonian facilities. This training includes a workshop focused on wet salvage where they teach staff how certain materials react to water and how to handle them when they are wet. They even do an actual hands-on mock exercise. “Stunt double objects are floating in little pools,” says [Samantha] Snell [a collections management specialist at the Smithsonian and chair of the Preparedness and Response in Collections Emergencies team.] “And they learn how to document them, extract them from the water, and start triage.” In the winter, they do a fire recovery workshop where they recreate a collection storage space and, yes, light it on fire.

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In order for museums to enact emergency preparations and day-to-day adaptations, there first has to be the acknowledgement that climate change is real, impactful, and needs to be dealt with urgently. This isn’t always the case, according to John Dichtl, president and CEO of the American Association for State and Local History, who says that museums need to make dealing with climate change, both the big weather events and day-to-day impact associated with it, a priority. When an institution isn’t located along a coastline or a flood-prone area, it can be tough to get the attention the subject deserves. Dichtl says that it comes down to competing for attention and resources.

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