Taking the art of conservation to a new level

The newly announced Yale Collection Study Center on West Campus is poised to become a world center for innovative research, pairing the treasures of Yale’s collections — from paintings and furniture to fossils and manuscripts — with advanced digital technology and new practices in conservation.

At over 400,000 square feet, the sheer size of the center will enable it to house an array of technological equipment and provide space for numerous collaborative projects, says Scott Strobel, vice president for West Campus Planning and Program Development.

“We expect the center will serve as headquarters for a wide range of interdisciplinary collaborations and collegial interactions,” says Strobel. “Yale has some of the most advanced digital equipment and best minds in the field of conservation. The hope is that there will be new programs of scholarly exchange, worldwide training programs, and extensive resources for digitization and collections management. It’s exciting to see this come together.”

The facility will house three major hubs: the Center for Conservation and Preservation (CCAP), Yale Digital Collections Center (YDC2), and the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (IPCH). Together, the three organizations will advance the work of conservation and preservation through new techniques and scientific approaches. Many of the research facilities at West Campus are being retrofitted for collections research and analysis. Scientific and technological experts from around the campus will be brought together to work on the University's vast museum and library collections.

Ian McClure, the Susan Morse Hilles Chief Conservator at the Yale University Art Gallery, was named the director of the  Center for Conservation and Preservation earlier in the year. Under his direction, the center will promote the study of the materials and preservation techniques of cultural artifacts, including the nature of deterioration of various materials and techniques to counteract the process. Along with Anikó Bezur, who was appointed the center’s director of scientific research last May, McClure hopes to deploy new techniques, such as microscopic analysis and forensics, on artwork to add to the knowledge of the underlying materials and composition. Next spring, the CCAP will expand dramatically with the move of the Art Conservation Research Center (currently at Carnegie Mellon University) — and three additional conservation scientists — to the campus. The CCAP will host the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage research fellows and two workshops in 2013.

The Yale Digital Collections Center, under the direction of Meg Bellinger, will develop the shared content infrastructure required to make Yale’s preeminent cultural heritage and natural history collections digitally accessible to the world. It will integrate the resources of the former Office of Digital Assets and Infrastructure (ODAI) into a comprehensive, centralized home for digitization, digital analysis, cross-disciplinary research, and collections management. Scheduled to open early next year, YDC2 will house a state-of-the-art shared imaging lab to allow the imaging of large-scale art and specimens using a range of sophisticated techniques, leveraging the collections activity and scientific resources of the West Campus. Through these digital platforms, YDC2 will enable a broader preservation of artifacts and materials, and the dissemination of information to a global audience — vastly increasing the capacity and usability of Yale’s natural history and cultural heritage collections for teaching and academic research.

The mission of the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, established last year with a transformational gift from Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin ’78, is to advance conservation science and its practice around the world. The University is currently conducting a search for the inaugural director of IPCH, who will report directly to Strobel. The director will develop a strategic plan for IPCH, and work closely with the two centers, museums, and galleries. Susan Gibbons is leading the search committee, which includes the directors of the Yale University Art Gallery, Yale Center for British Art, and Yale Peabody Museum, as well as a multidisciplinary group of faculty. It is expected that the search will be completed during this academic year. Click here to read the position description.

In addition, the Collection Study Center will provide “study-storage” space for portions of the collections of the Yale Art Gallery, Center for British Art, Peabody Museum, and the Collection of Musical Instruments.