This summer, I am living in Washington D.C. and working at the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute (MCI). During the first half of my internship, I worked on the First Aid for Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis (FAC) course. For the past five years, the course, initiated by ICCROM has been held in various locations around the world; for the last two in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution. This year, the course was held in Washington D.C. and included 21 professionals from 17 different countries.

The purpose of the FAC course is to provide participants with a five week immersive training that focuses on teaching a framework for minimizing damage to cultural heritage during complex emergencies through a combination of classroom workshops and live action emergency simulations. Experts from around the world came to teach the participants methods and tools for assessing damage, documenting and stabilizing structures and materials, salvaging and evacuating collections, and emergency conservation techniques.

Much of the course revolved around live action simulations in which the participants were required to work on a variety of sites and materials in the wake of a “disaster.” These simulations included a week of documenting and stabilizing mausoleums and monuments in Congressional Cemetery following an “earthquake,” packing and evacuating a museum collection from the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building during an “impending riot,” and salvaging collections and culturally sensitive objects following “major flooding.”

The final simulation was held at the Washington D.C. Fire and EMS training ground. For this simulation, participants were asked to salvage a museum collection that had been placed in storage following a recent “bombing.” In order to be successful, the participants had to negotiate access to the site with the military. Upon reaching the site, they found emergency responders and injured museum professionals. Once the wounded were rescued and evacuated from the site, the participants began to survey and formulate a plan that required collaboration with the military, negotiations with hostile indigenous community groups, and securing the site from the media and potential looters. In addition to the surveying and documentation, participants were required to repel into shipping containers, crawl on top of flipped cars, and dig through piles of building rubble in order to access the objects and artifacts.

Final simulation at the Washington DC Fire and EMS Training Academy

For the second half of my internship, I am working with many of the conservators at the
Museum Conservation Institute. These projects are ongoing and include: assisting Senior Objects Conservator Carol Grissom with marble consolidation on the Smithsonian American Art Museum using various stone conservation techniques including barium hydroxide and nanoline; mounting textiles with Senior Textiles Conservator Mary Ballard for the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; cleaning and consolidating two mid-17 th century colonial skeletons from the Avery’s rest site in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; using visible and UV light photography to document invertebrate collections for the upcoming Objects of Wonder exhibition at Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History with Preventive Conservator Becky Kaczkowski; creating and editing information to be used in heritage conservation programs at the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage in Iraq with Jessie Johnson, Head of Conservation.