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George Eastman Museum completes environmental improvements to preserve its world-class photography and technology collections

$300,000 grant award from the National Endowment for the Humanities leverages support from local foundations and private donors to improve environmental conditions for museum’s collections

Rochester, N.Y., December 10, 2019—The George Eastman Museum recently completed a major upgrade to the crucial environmental conditions of its collection storage areas. The Environmental Improvements Implementation Project, at a total cost of $1,246,000, included the replacement and upgrade of 30-year-old systems that controlled the temperature and humidity for the photography vault, technology vault, and photography study center. The project was funded with a $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities; grants from the William and Sheila Konar Foundation, the ESL Charitable Foundation, and the Elaine P. and Richard U. Wilson Foundation; and generous contributions from several George Eastman Museum trustees and trustees emeriti.

In 2014, with support from an initial grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Eastman Museum engaged a team of experts to conduct a Comprehensive Environmental Assessment of the many areas within the museum’s facilities where collection objects are stored, exhibited, studied, conserved, or prepared for exhibition. The assessment identified and prioritized areas where the environmental conditions (temperature and humidity) should be better controlled. The museum’s photography and technology vaults were marked as the highest priorities for improvement, as many of the objects stored in these vaults (particularly photographs) are intrinsically unstable, and their chemical deterioration can be slowed through storage at a reduced temperature and appropriate relative humidity.

The Environmental Improvements Implementation Project, which began in late 2018 and was completed in spring 2019, has created stable environments of 52°F and 35% relative humidity (RH) in the photography vault and 60°F and 45% RH in the technology vault.

“The new equipment and ductwork that were installed have dramatically improved the preservation of our collection objects,” said Dr. Bruce Barnes, Ron and Donna Fielding Director, George Eastman Museum. “I consider this to be the most important project that we have undertaken during my seven-year tenure at the Eastman Museum, and we are grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities for helping us to initiate this project and dramatically improve the environments for our leading collections of photographs and photographic and cinematographic equipment.”

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