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Lauri Vaher, Risk Management and Cultural Heritage, e-conservation Journal 3, 2015, pp. XX
Available online 6 July 2015

Risk Management and Cultural Heritage

Review by Lauri Vaher

December 1-3, 2014
Vår Gård, Saltsjöbaden, Stockholm, Sweden

In early December 2014 a group of over 180 cultural heritage professionals from different countries gathered for a three-day conference in the historic village of Saltsjöbaden just outside Stockholm, Sweden. The aim was to highlight that risk management is not about just dealing with catastrophic, rare events, but as much the management of slow degrading processes as well as the commitment to measure the consequences. How can we in the heritage sector identify, manage and prevent various types of threats that can cause us to lose something that we see as valuable and important? The focus of risk management is value - what is it you risk losing?

Invited speakers from Brazil, England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, USA and Sweden shared their experiences in the field of risk management, value perception and preventive conservation. This broad mixture gave the participants the opportunity to get an overview of current models, methods, case studies and tools designed for risk management of cultural heritage.
The conference was organised by a team from the Swedish National Heritage Board, the University of Gothenburg, Disent AB, and Konserveringsateljé Syd AB. The conference was supported by the National Heritage Board research and development fund.

During both days at Saltsjöbaden, the talks were organised into two sessions: the morning sessions focused on methods and models for risk management; whereas, the afternoons presented some topics through case studies. During the third and final day of the conference participants had the opportunity to choose between five practical workshops held at different venues in Stockholm.

Left to right:
Figure 1. Welcome and opening words by one of the organisers Prof Elizabeth Peacock, University of Gothenburg. Photo by Lauri Vaher
Figure 2. The conference audience at the venue in Vår Gård. On the stage are Prof Elizabeth Peacock from University of Gothenburg (left) and Prof Adrian Heritage from University of Applied Sciences Cologne (right). Photo by Lauri Vaher
Figure 3. "Perception exercise" during the Vibration workshop. Photo by Anna Henningsson.

Day 1

The conference was opened by Lars Amréus, the Director General of the Swedish National Heritage Board. In the following welcoming speech, Elizabeth E. Peacock, Professor of Conservation at the University of Gothenburg introduced the conference topic Risk Management and Cultural Heritage and reminded us that risk management is nothing new. She stressed the need to develop strategic plans to help us understand when and where resources invested in our cultural heritage have greatest effect.

The opening talk of the conference highlighted the interaction of risk management and values. Dr. Bill Wei, a Senior Conservation Scientist at the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE), captured in an excellent interactive talk, the topic Risk Management, Value and Perception. Through examples, Dr. Wei stressed that values are highly subjective to our own perception, and that methodologies help but do not make the decisions for us. Risk management is a complex process dealing with many factors and the well-established methods need to mature. With great enthusiasm, Dr. Wei illustrated this with examples from Swedish built heritage and some of the works of Swedish painter Carl Larsson. This opened up our minds and ushered in the morning’s series of topical talks.

Dr. Agnes Brokerhof, also a Senior Conservation Scientist at the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, spoke about Risk Assessment for Cultural Heritage – Methods and Tools. She reminded us of the fact that we are managing not only physical heritage, but also values - values that are increasing with time and meaning or significance in their cultural context. We learn from the past and look to the future. Value is the universal cultural common denominator of our collections. The hard part is weighing the value and expressing the loss of value or parts of value in numbers. In the past few years, the Netherlands cultural heritage experts have worked extensively with museometry (that is, collections and numbers), with the aim to improve the recording of quantitative and qualitative data on the national collections. The composition of collections has been divided into nucleus, valuables and trash to help get a better overview of the collections. In the discussion following Dr. Brokerhof’s talk, a question related to value was posed. For many decades the general view on value among Swedish conservators has been strongly influenced by Hanna Jedrzejewska and her Ethics in Conservation [1].The following question was raised: “Value has been almost a taboo topic for us in Sweden. How can we give objects different weights on value scale when we have learned to treat every object with exactly the same respect?” Truly so, as conservators we need to treat every object with the same care and love, but we also need to acknowledge that objects do have different values, weights, and importance in our collections. Therefore, the nucleus and valuables hold a different potential risk for the whole collection if such individual objects would disappear.

Modelling and Communicating Loss of Value in Risk Assessment for Cultural Heritage was the topic of the following presentation by José Luiz Pedersoli Jr., an independent consultant and scientist at Scienta Pro Cultura in Brazil. Pedersoli’s talk introduced us to the “Value Pie” tool, which helps to identify the largest risks and how to use available resources to greatest effect. The “Value Pie” is a pedagogical tool that graphically visualises the value of the different components in a collection or a building. In other words, a Value Pie is a tool to identify the biggest risks and help identify in a more objective way what to prioritise for greatest effect. Many museums have unfortunately worked with narrow aspects of the overall risks. Using a value pie helps to break down the risk into manageable items. By using it, we look at all the heritage institutions in one country and ask to what extent these institutions represent that nation and its values? In other words, what is the contribution of each province to the overall sum of cultural heritage values in that country?

The next speaker, Dr. Thomas Warscheid, a geo-microbiologist at LWB Bioconsult in Germany talked about Biodeterioration in Cultural Heritage – Risk Assessment for Sustainable Preservation. Long-term efficacy in the conservation of historical artefacts is mainly dependent on profound interdisciplinary assessment of the prevailing risk factors and the consequent formulation of conservation strategies.

In archives, the impact of microorganisms to the biodeterioration of paper, parchment, leather and textiles is mainly determined by the availability of water/moisture due to the building physics and climate control. He promotes a multidisciplinary approach in the evaluation of risk related to biodeterioration in different case studies of inorganic porous materials, such as the Terracota Army and Ankor Wat Temple, but also for climate control in the caves at Lascaux. These case studies show us the need, as we often forget, to always look at the whole system and not only at the visibly causes/damages and treat them. We need to work together and think together in a multidisciplinary team for acting and, for example, cleaning the stone and plaster surfaces.

The next speaker, Prof. Stefan Simon, the Director of the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage at Yale University (USA), talked about How to Translate Artefact Conditions into Numbers – Measured Data and Other Observations. The guiding question for his presentation was how do objects respond to environmental changes? Some of the tools accessible for measuring artefact conditions are for example, Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), Ultrasonic pulse velocity and Micro Fading Tester (MFT), also considered non-destructive tests. The important point was that values measured today should be readable, understood, comparable and possible to re-measure in the next generation. Sustainable conservation is not a protocol, but rather a process. It is a dialogue between all the participants. An interesting practical solution of an outcome of such a dialogue was illustrated in an intriguing case study of the secondary mounting system built for the transport of the Bust of Nefertiti in Neue's Museum in Berlin. By using vibration insulators in the 4m high display case, consolidation amplitudes of vibrations can be evened out - a solution with many possible applications.
The following presentation, Strengthening Capacity for Disaster Risk Management – The ICCROM Approach, was given by Aparna Tandon, project specialist and course leader in the Collections Unit at International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) in Rome, Italy. Some of the today’s global challenges are international destruction of cultural heritage, ethno-religious conflicts, complex emergencies, inadequate aid, and interaction between conflicts and natural disasters. Ms. Tandon, who is actively designing and teaching cultural heritage management, works with the question of building capacity for something that is unexpected. Coordination, collaboration and multidisciplinary approach were named as the basis for strengthening capacity for disaster risk management. For example, when is the right time to intervene? Is it possible to safeguard cultural heritage while humanitarian aid and security operations are underway? How can we ensure that cultural recovery becomes a force for stabilisation and rebuilding in a better way? ICCROM´s training initiatives on Disaster Risk Management and First Aid to Cultural Heritage seek to promote better integration of cultural heritage in wider disaster risk management policies and plans.

Adrian Heritage, Professor of Wall Paintings and Architectural Decoration Conservation at the Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences (CICS), Cologne University of Applied Sciences, Germany, presented a provocative talk Conservation Treatment – A Risk Factor. The talk highlighted the risk associated with conservation treatments we undertake. The challenge to the conservator’s community is to acknowledge the uncertainty of conservation decisions. When treatments are carried out, there is a risk of distorting the chemical signature of the objects surface, and the time document will be lost, altered or rewritten. Even the most basic cleaning can actually harm an object. There are multitudes of examples of how conservators spend large amount of their time dealing with complications arising from previous treatments. Many conservation treatments are not reversible and sometimes even not re-treatable. Treatment is a risk and an opportunity at the same time. How do we see conservation treatments in relation to the risk? We are concerned about risk because it has the potential to bring about change in the things we value. Shouldn’t we consider the risk of losing value caused by conservation treatments as the 11th agent of deterioration in addition to the 10 described by Michalski [2]. Prof. Heritage’s talk raised this highly important question that is seldom discussed; and showed an inspiring alternative solution to a classical cleaning – using ambient lighting to “clean” wall paintings with different colour temperatures.

The next talk was given by Dr. Christoph Franzen, a conservation scientist from Institut für Diagnostik und Konservierung an Denkmalen in Sachsen un Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany. Dr. Franzen showed us in a practical-related presentation Monitoring – A Tool to Predict and Mitigate Stone Risks in Cultural Heritage field tests, the effect and benefits of regular monitoring for a suitably maintained approach.

A large part of the built and artistic heritage is made out of natural stone due to the durability of the material. The importance of a monitoring strategy is to detect degradation in materials at an early stage and mitigate the loss by preventive restoration actions. A new approach in Northern-Germany protestant churches has showed that regular maintenance, for example every 5th year, is to be preferred over large restoration projects every 25th year. Regular monitoring and smaller maintenance work saves not only on resources but also benefits the cultural heritage itself in the long-term. Instead of regular large restoration every 30-50 year, regular inspection, in a combination of simple field tests, enables a more sustainable and economical preservation.

Day one was rounded off by Tor Broström, Professor in Cultural Heritage Protection at Uppsala University, Gotland Campus. In his presentation Cultural Heritage and Climate Change – Results from the Project Climate for Culture, Prof. Broström sketched the results of the EU-project Climate for Culture as having developed a methodology for assessing the risks of cultural heritage as a result of global climate change. The project has been collecting, analysing, and systematising data on climate change over the past five years. How is the heritage affected by climate change? What can we do to prevent injuries? What will it cost if we do nothing? In other words, what are the risks we are facing in 10, 20, 50 or a hundred years? As global climate change is linked directly to indoor climate change and energy use, precautions have to be undertaken and planned for in advance. It is clear that method must support decision-making, management and also work on the policy level. So the real question is how to deal with the uncertainty and the long-term perspective? Lastly, Dr. Broström described a pilot project launched on Gotland, Sweden, that is investigating how adaptive ventilation fuelled by solar energy can elevate and improve the indoor climate of Gotland’s churches.

Day 2

Olle Häggström, Professor of Mathematical Statistics at Chalmers and the University of Gothenburg talked about "What are the Biggest Risks?". This brought attention to the fact that in the assessment of the risks that are relevant and that individuals and society need to consider, is a risk that we overlook some of them that have the most serious consequences - consequences for humanity's very existence and opportunities for future prosperity. The reasons for this are psychological and epistemological. In his presentation Dr. Häggström outlined both the benefit of exploring undiscovered areas of human experience as well as gave some concrete examples of the risks we might face when doing so. According to Häggström, the biggest risks come from us. If something has never happened, this does not mean it cannot happen. Therefore, we need to manage all the large risks stemming from ourselves and from new technologies.

Omar Harrami from the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) held a talk on Risk and Vulnerability Analyses. Omar Harrami works with questions of preparedness/readiness and risk management for MSB. According to Mr. Harrami, accidents and crisis have no limits. Accidents – whether they are fires, pandemics, chemical spill, power blackout or floods – happen even if we do not wish them to happen.

The next speaker was Anna Henningson, from Disent AB, a private company in heritage science, who talked about A Model for Risk Management of Architecturally Integrated Art - Experience from Infrastructure Project. This talk gave us insight into how a five-year collaboration with the Swedish Transport Administration, Disent AB, and the Church of Sweden led to developing a model to identify and mitigate the risks related to immovable art in buildings during tunnelling work in Stockholm.

As there were over 400 items in five different building that had to have their risk related to the tunnelling assessed and mitigated, a model had to be developed. The values and goals of the project were: 1) the architecturally integrated art should not be influenced (by tunnelling work or by any treatment related to it, as for example conservation treatments); and, 2) fact-based decisions had to be transparent, traceable and reproducible. What was done or not, must be retraceable. The model is built up of three steps: 1) Identification of the risk related to the immoveable art and planed building activities; 2) Assessment of the risks by answering questions such as: what the object means, are there any weaknesses in the construction, and which levels of vibration will reach the art in the buildings; and, 3) Risk mitigation through methodical control and either direct or indirect measurements of the objects.

Dr. Tessa Luger, a senior researcher at the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands presented – “Everything of Value is Defenceless– Value Assessment as a First Step in Risk Management. We as heritage professionals and as a society at large preserve our heritage because we find it valuable enough to pass on to future generations. When things have no value, there is no risk. What is at stake? Heritage is unique and irreplaceable. The central question is how does value assessment help to avoid the loss of value? Dr. Tessa Luger presented examples and experience from work with Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed guidelines “Assessing Museum Collections”. Value assessment helps you to get to know your collection better; make informed decisions in collection management; tell a better story about your museum; win support from stakeholders; and encourage working together as a team.

Cissela Génetay presented the The Swedish National Heritage Board Development Work About Assessing and Prioritising Cultural Heritage – to Assess and Choose Out of a Cultural-historical Perspective. The fundamental goal of this development project was to clarify the processes and the underlying attitudes of evaluation and prioritising out of a cultural-historical perspective. One of the first steps in this development work regarding value and prioritising was to outline a process: a) describing – what is there and what has happened? b) analysing – which values are there and how great they are?; c) planning – what is needed and what is possible?; and, d) decision – what to do and how to do it?

This platform is neither a key nor a model but an approach and a way to reflect around the questions of risk assessment, choice and priorities. It was mentioned that the evaluation process should be clear, transparent and traceable; and that routines for evaluation processes must be established. It is important that this approach is flexible and usable in various situations such as cultural-historical assessing of concepts for treatments and routines for inspection. The scheme of analysis presented brought to my attention that today’s values and priorities have consequences for the cultural heritage.

The next talk, Monetary Valuation of Cultural Heritage in a Large-Scale Landslide Risk Analysis – Experience from Göta River Investigation was presented by Tonje Grahn, PhD candidate at Karlstads University, Sweden. Her doctoral thesis focused on society´s exposure and vulnerability during natural catastrophes. Existence value, affection value, user value, pedagogical value, experience value, and economical value are a few examples of the different values. Cost-benefit analysis was an important part of the assessment process in the Göta River investigation. What would it cost to take action and what would be the benefit were the central questions in the analysis. Because of the unique clay ground, the risks for landslide are very real in the area that extends from Gothenburg to Vänersborg - an extensive area locally known as Göta älv. A part of the project was to assess the consequences of a possible landslide. For this a risk matrix was used. Besides the geographical and socio-economical tasks, valuation of cultural heritage was an integrated part of the project. Ms. Grahn was asked if she could help conservators to set monetary value on preventive conservation and cultural heritage. It is difficult to rank and to generalise in order to get the heritage into the cost-benefit analysis. Maybe a better method of analysis needs to be applied or developed, specifically tailored for the purpose. Another question posed after the presentation was: could a trademark be used as a base and a starting point to score and weigh the monetary values of tangible heritage? Another question raised was how cultural heritage has been assessed earlier (if at all) in connection with extreme weather or natural disasters in Sweden?

In between the lectures, Dr. Charlotta Hanner Nordstrand from the Conservation Department at the University of Gothenburg introduced the audience to the artwork at the conference venue Vår Gård. The walls of the auditorium were decorated with Isaac Grünewald’s paintings from the 1930´s. It should be noted here that Grünewald was one of Henry Matisse’s pupils. Among others one could find granite consoles by Axel Wallenberg (1898-1996), wrought iron staircase balustrade by Christer Sjögren (born 1929), fountain sculpture by Carl Milles (1875-1955), ceramic sculptures by Lena Larsson (1919-2000) and Stig Lindberg (1916-82), who started his successful career in the Gustavsberg porcelain factory. Other renowned artist represented at Vår Gård are painters Sven X:et Erixson (1899-1970), Albin Amelin (1902-1975), concretist Olle Baertling (1911-1981) and naturalist painter Oscar Bergman (1879-1963), textile artist Maj Bernmark (1932-91) and artist Hasse Alfredsson (born 1931). One can even find a biblical motive by Marc Chagall (1887-1985) and a 17th century stone mosaic picture in pietre dure technique by Francesco Montelaticci (1607-1661).

Henrik Ogstedt from Higab AB, presented The Long-Term Management of the Non-monetary Values of Real Estate. Henrik is an architectural conservator working at the estate company Higab AB. A number of years ago, the Gothenburg Museum of Art and Higab AB, the museum’s landlord, worked together to develop a safety manual for the Art Museum. This manual is a document that is updated annually. Furthermore, the work has now been launched for all of Gothenburg's cultural management organisations. Among other things Higab AB manages a number of buildings with special inventories that are an integral part of the buildings. Higab has now initiated a major review of valuation and risk assessment of their inventories. The idea is to find preventive risk management solutions. As a model project, they work with the Concert Hall and its contents. Preliminary work with the project description with the expected content and definitions is currently being carried out. Mr. Ogstedt presented a case study of “Högvakten”, an area of central Gothenburg where the buildings are sinking approximately 2mm every year due to the underlying clay ground. Twenty five different risk areas have been identified, and there is an urgent need to solidify and strengthen the foundations of all the buildings. What will happen to the building, when all the foundations are opened? It seems to be very invasive to move all the architecturally integrated works art in order to carry out the groundwork. But are there any real alternatives to the methods scheduled for use in that project? Could there be a preventive conservation solution as an alternative? Who takes the risks?

Jørgen Fastner, Head of the Conservation Laboratory, NTNU University Museum, Trondheim, Norway, talked about Risk Management in Connection with an Extensive Ground Work Project. His talk illustrated the risks and problems museums and historical buildings face in today´s dynamic and developing urban landscapes. In August 2014 construction and ground work began next door to the museum’s buildings, with heavy transport and vibrations a daily concern. This large construction project with sheet piling and excavating four floors below ground level was just 50 meters from the museum's climate controlled stores and large church art exhibition. How do we know, that vibrations generated in such a large-scale building project, will not damage the art in the museum? As the contractor could not guarantee that no damage would occur in the exhibition, the church art needed to be put in shock-resistant mounts and racking. This security work had to be done at the museum’s own costs.

As a result of this interesting talk I was left with several questions: 1) Who should carry out risk analysis - the contractor or the museum? 2) How do the different stakeholders perceive the questions of risk, value and consequences? 3) How can communication between the stakeholders be improved?

Day 3

The third day of the conference consisted of five practical workshops, in which the participants worked in smaller groups with practical exercises. The participants could choose between the following workshops:
•    Vibration Related Risks for Architecturally Integrated Works of Art
•    Risk-based Approach to Collections Care
•    Pests in Museum – What Do You Do?
•    The Value Pie: Assessing the Relative Value of Heritage Assets and Their Components for Risk Management Purpose
•    To reduce risks more broadly through technology

Reflections and Conclusions

These three days left me with a lot of thoughts as the fact that risk and values are more closely connected as it might seem at the first glance. The conference in general cast light on the consequences of the things we do and do not do. For me, it is clear the tools and models presented at the conference are not to be seen as strict rules but, rather, as guidelines, that should be carefully tailored for each specific case and project. Do we in Sweden need more cooperation and sharing of expertise between museums, international organisations, private companies and municipality? Such smart networking initiatives as this conference create opportunities for international knowledge transfer and experience exchange, initiating dialogue and discussions among all parties. My wish is that this sharing be further encouraged.

Limited resources and budgets for managing our heritage automatically result in a selective approach, as all risks cannot be addressed at the same time. This might mean even, that some important works need to be postponed, while other more urgent cases have to be taken care of. A metaphor of “risk forest” was used by several speakers. To create a greater effect, one needs to zoom in and chop the “tallest trees”, this will say the biggest risks. Adopting tools from other sectors and tailoring them for the needs of cultural heritage assessment is surely a possibility to innovate the heritage sphere today. I believe this conference played a catalytic role in new developments in cultural heritage assessing in Sweden, starting a new chain of relevant talks and discussions and application of the risk assessment tools presented at the conference. One of the participants, said in the end of the conference: “The end of this conference is not the end for these discussions. This is just the beginning of new developments and future collaboration.” Where does the road take us? What is the next step on the national level? Will these new ideas spread throughout the cultural heritage sectors on all levels and be integrated into the daily practise? An eye-opening fact is that many cultural heritage institutions are still working “blindly”. Though doing a great job managing our cultural heritage, many are unfortunately not conscious about the scope of risks they are to assess and, therefore, using their resources on eliminating some risks, while leaving other, often more critical risks unattended. There is a great risk that shortcomings in Swedish municipal organisations will lead to some poor decisions. To avoid that from happening, we need to spread and advocate the methods and tools among heritage managers, as well as, among curators and conservators. Sweden has a lot to learn from the Central-European countries that in many ways are the pace setters in this rapidly changing line of work with cultural heritage and risk management.

Cultural heritage has a voice and this voice carries the stories of the things done and undone to the objects of art. This conference was convincing in that critical thinking, interdisciplinary approach and applying tools for communicating value, help us to pass cultural heritage on to the future in a more respectful and successful way. The conference enriched me with new facts and information. Dr. Wei got me thinking about the philosophical questions about value, risk and subjectivity in a broader spectrum; and that when managing our museums and cultural heritage, we decide often more than we are aware of.

A quote from Martin Heidegger, presented in one of the talks, still reminds me of what is easy to forget: “The most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking”. Nevertheless, we do our best to learn from the past and look to the future.

The extended abstracts of all contributors and videos of several presentations are available online at
The direct link to video recordings of 14 presentations on Youtube is following

[1] H. Jedrzejewska, Ethics in Conservation, Kungl. konsthögskolan, Inst. för materialkunskap, Stockholm, 1976
[2] S. Michalski et al, A systematic approach to the conservation (care) of museum collections: with technical appendices, Canadian Conservation Institute, Ottawa, 1992

Lauri Vaher
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