Superstar architects excel at designing buildings that reflect a gallery’s or museum’s mission and aesthetic. But typically, they are not fine art risk management experts. Dramatic lighting, unusual building materials, and futuristic design can sometime lead to unintended risk exposures.
Recently, for example, a contemporary art museum’s collection suffered damage due to the building’s design and construction. The architecture allowed direct sunlight to hit the artwork, leading to significant damage including color fading and material deterioration. The museum had to close temporarily for remediation, costing millions. Sadly, these losses were avoidable.
If you’re planning new construction that will house fine art, here are vital topics to consider:
Address potential fine art risks early in the design process
Many factors can affect the safety of art — hallway width, sprinkler placement, loading dock configuration, and more. Evaluating architectural drawings for potential trouble spots is much less expensive than discovering a risk exposure after construction has started. Getting input on the 25% and 50% drawings prevents extensive rework later.
Fine art risk management specialists and insurance underwriters pay particular attention to the following areas:
- Environmental controls
- Temperature: An advanced HVAC system can maintain a stable temperature range of 64-72°F. This helps protect artwork from temperature-related damage and degradation.
- Humidity: Preserving a stable humidity range of 45-55% with a maximum variation of +/- 5% prevents warping, cracking, or mold growth in the artwork.
- Lighting: Using UV-filtered lighting can minimize fading, discoloration, and deterioration of artwork caused by light exposure.
- Air quality: Monitoring air quality can prevent the accumulation of harmful pollutants such as dust, smoke, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Unchecked, these pollutants can cause chemical reactions and damage to artwork.
- Pest control: Implementing a pest management program can avert damage caused by insects, rodents, and other animals.
- Backup generators
Backup generators are crucial for museums as they prevent rapid damage to art due to unstable environmental conditions during power outages. They ensure continuous environmental control, preserving and protecting collections.
- Loading dock and path-of-travel considerations
Optimizing loading dock and delivery zone locations is essential for safe and efficient artwork transportation. These zones require accessibility, security, and space. Consider topography carefully. Installing delivery zones in areas susceptible to overheating or flash flooding can have disastrous consequences. Additionally, features such as ramps, elevators, and wide corridors facilitate ease of movement and ensure specialists' safety when handling the pieces.
- Roofing factors
Incorporating large skylights can lead to light damage and raise building temperatures on hot days. Skylights also can cause condensation issues during winter months, with potential water leakage. Alternative roofing like green roof installation may be popular but has potential issues. Common challenges include weight, waterproofing difficulties, and leakage. These roofs require structural reinforcement and regular maintenance, and repairs can be challenging. Designing roofs based on the building's location and environmental conditions helps ensure year-round durability and correct drainage.
- Security, fire suppression, and water diversion
Placement of security cameras, sprinklers, plumbing, and dining facilities requires methodical planning. How do you ensure a kitchen fire stays separate from the exhibits and art storage? If a third-floor toilet overflows, where will the water go? If fire suppression sprinklers turn on, how do you prevent water damage to the art? Selecting optimal placements for all systems needs to happen early in the design process.
Evaluate budget tradeoffs through a risk management lens
Construction often involves budget adjustments throughout the project. Perhaps, materials or labor end up costing more than originally estimated. It’s vital to get input from a fine art risk management specialist before changing a building’s design or materials mid-project.
To save cost, some builders propose eliminating the backup generator altogether or moving it from an indoor to an outdoor location. These measures don’t work for fine art and can have significant insurance implications. The generator needs to be inside the building — to protect the art and to qualify for the best insurance rates and terms.
You don’t want a situation where a budget shortcut today leads to losses tomorrow.
Monitor the transition from builder’s risk to property insurance
Builder’s risk policies insure the hard and soft costs of a fine art building project until construction is complete. Once a building is finished, it is covered under the property insurance program.
Typically, issuance of a certificate of occupancy marks when builder’s risk ends and property insurance begins. Fine art construction projects may require a slower transition between the two types of policies.
Art is temperamental and requires careful acclimatization when moved from one location to another. A gallery or museum often assesses the new facility by installing a few works and evaluating the climate control systems. The move-in process may take place incrementally over a series of weeks and involves adjusting infrastructure to ensure a stable environment for the collection.
A generalist insurance broker may not be aware of the insurance implications of a phased moved-in. So, it's important to loop in a fine art risk management specialist to ensure you have the correct coverages in place as construction wraps up and occupancy begins.
Create the right blend of innovation and durability
Boards of fine art organizations often want unique, dramatic buildings, and many architects jump at opportunities to push boundaries. Decision makers need to balance risk taking with risk management — and creativity with practicality. You want your new building to last 200 years and the art inside to endure.
Those recycled mud bricks may not be the right material for your new facility. Involving a fine art risk management specialist from the outset helps you identify and mitigate exposures during the design phase. You save yourself from leaking roofs, too-small elevators that won’t fit your art, and loading docks that flood during heavy rains.
In addition to protecting your art, this risk management analysis helps with insurance cost containment before, during, and after construction, and into the future.
Want to learn more?
Find Blair on LinkedIn, here. Find Mary on LinkedIn, here.
Connect with the Risk Strategies Fine Art team at FineArt@Risk‐Strategies.com.
About the authors
Blair Wunderlich helps museums, galleries, and other fine art facilities identify the insurance and risk management considerations of construction projects. She tailors specialty coverages to protect fine art and the buildings that house it.
Mary Pontillo works extensively with museums and large private/foundation collections to provide risk management advice specific to facilities. She specializes in facility review in relation to potential fine art losses.