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A Brief History of
Heritage Preservation

1970s and 1980s: the Beginning

Arthur Beale, Emeritus Chair of the Department of Conservation and Collections Management, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Throughout the nineteen seventies many national, governmental, professional, and private not-for-profit organizations and individuals worked in a rather uncoordinated way to develop a national strategy for the conservation and documentation of collections in the United States. Attempting to bring some order to this process, a national organization developed and helped shape a number of action initiatives as they evolved. In the nineteen seventies this organization was called the National Conservation Advisory Council. It became the National Institute for Conservation in 1981 and renamed itself Heritage Preservation in the nineteen nineties.


Much of the federal and private foundation grant funding available today for the conservation of collections evolved and grew as a direct result of the pioneering efforts to develop a national strategy. Like all funders, each of the organizations involved had a consistent primary premise to maximize the impact of its resources. The result over the past three decades has been a quantum leap forward in the care of the nationʼs collections. While individual program efforts have played a significant role in helping accomplish this success, the 1980ʼs Bay Foundation funded project to develop curriculum to train individuals in collections care and maintenance put in motion a whole new direction for the conservation profession whose potential is still far from being realized.

Note: This article originally appeared in Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals, Volume 2, Number 1, August 2005, pp. 11–28. Copyright © 2019 SAGE Publisher. Please see SAGE for reprints:

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