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George Eastman Museum receives $340,615 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Grant funding will support the creation of a more sustainable environment for the museum’s rare collection of nitrate-based films

Rochester, N.Y., September 20, 2019—The George Eastman Museum has received a grant award of $340,615 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Division of Preservation and Access, Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections program for its Protecting Nitrate Film Heritage project. Grant funding will support the creation of a reliable, safe, and sustainable environment for the museum’s renowned and extremely fragile collection of 35mm nitrate-based film materials housed at the Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center in Chili, New York.

“The George Eastman Museum is committed to the stewardship and preservation of our world-class collections of cinema and photography,” said Bruce Barnes, PhD, Ron and Donna Fielding Director, George Eastman Museum. “The substantial grant award from the National Endowment for the Humanities will allow us to continue our vital mission of preservation of our museum’s artistically and historically important collection of nitrate-based materials for the benefit of scholars, researchers, cinephiles, and the general public.”

The Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center is the repository of 24,000 reels of 35mm nitrate-based motion picture prints and negatives (dating from 1893 to 1951), 40,000 nitrate photographic print negatives, and 25,000 frame clippings from nitrate-based film prints. Among the classic works preserved at the center are the original camera negatives for the silent feature The Big Parade (King Vidor, 1925) and the original Technicolor camera negatives for The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Gone with the Wind (1939), both directed by Victor Fleming. Photographic negatives, dating from 1900 to 1950, include works by Lewis W. Hine, Edward Steichen, Alvin Langdon Coburn, and Nickolas Muray, and objects from the collections of Alden Scott Boyer and Louis Walton Sipley.

“The collection of nitrate prints and negatives is one of the treasures of our museum,” said Peter Bagrov, PhD, Curator in Charge, Moving Image Department, George Eastman Museum. “In many collecting institutions, nitrate films were destroyed after duplication to safety stock. The Eastman Museum did such an excellent job in protecting the nitrate elements that some of them are not only used for preservation today but are still projectable. That is why the museum can offer such an exquisite celebration of film as the Nitrate Picture Show, an annual festival that is unique in the world.”

The $340,615 grant award from NEH will provide essential financial support for this significant project that has a total estimated cost of $730,000. Project activities will include the purchase of a backup generator, installation of an energy recovery system within the climate control system, and passive building enhancements to increase energy efficiency. These improvements will be accompanied by a necessary upgrade of electrical power delivery to the Conservation Center to avoid adverse effects from brownouts.

“Our work in the field of film protection could never be finished, as our goal is not only to preserve the motion pictures but to conserve the original elements as well,” added Bagrov. “This project will create a more favorable, more resilient, and safer environment for our collection, keeping it viable for future generations.”

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