The Priority List for saving art collections
19 December 2023

What is a Priority List?

One of the most important and effective tools for the effective emergency management of an art collection is the creation of a priority list of the artworks to be saved. 

To understand its real usefulness, we must start from a fundamental concept: during an emergency, it is very rare to be able to save the entire collection preserved within a museum. Just think of the immense consistency of the museum, archival and library collections of the largest institutions in Italy: tens of thousands of works, documents and books of inestimable value are preserved within the exhibition areas and depots of museums, archives and libraries. In the event of serious disasters affecting these institutions, it is impossible to think of being able to protect and secure every single artefact stored within them. 

Furthermore, there is another important issue to consider: in the event of serious emergencies, such as floods, large fires, or earthquakes, the museum staff will be evacuated and will not be able to intervene personally to save the affected artworks. Only the Fire Brigade will be able to enter the affected areas to save people, then animals and, only when all living beings have been saved, they will be able to act on the objects and make them safe. Safeguarding works of art, therefore, is not a priority for the Fire Brigade who, if conditions make it mandatory, may decide not to evacuate the collection and not activate any procedure to safeguard them. However, in the event that they find themselves in a position to be able to act on the collection, museum operators will have to enable them to activate the right protection measures and concentrate on the actual priority works of the collection. For this reason, it is essential to draw up a priority list for saving the works of the collection in peacetime and share it with the local fire brigade so that they can use it in case of emergency. 

 The objectives of a priority list 

 First of all, as already mentioned above, the fundamental objective is to share the list of priority works to be saved with all the staff of the structure and with the emergency teams. All those who have a role in managing the emergency must be well informed about the artworks on which to concentrate their efforts. 

 Secondly, planning the artefacts to be saved allows an institution to significantly reduce intervention times in the event of an emergency. Having already planned which objects to evacuate and having already identified the procedures for their safety, operators can proceed promptly and remove the works from the affected environment as quickly as possible. 

 Another significant aspect to remember is the resources to be deployed to manage an emergency. Major disasters can require an enormous expenditure of resources for their management, both in terms of budget and in terms of energy and manpower of the team responsible. It is therefore important to proceed with operations by working as much as possible to optimize resources. 

Finally, creating a list of priorities allows you to think in detail about the best procedures to implement to safeguard the artworks affected by an emergency. Therefore, establishing a limited list of works allows us to think in detail about the methodologies for securing them and establishing the tasks and responsibilities of each actor involved.

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