$580K grant to boost Williamstown Art Conservation Center efforts

Montserrate Le Mense, conservator of paintings at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, touches up the early 19th-century French work "Portrait of Achille Deban de Laborde" by Alexandre-Jean Dubois-Drahonet.

WILLIAMSTOWN — The Williamstown Art Conservation Center has received a $580,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and plans to use the money to promote their work and improve how it repairs and conserves artworks.

Tom Branchick, director of the art conservation center, said the money is already in the bank. "We're very much working on Mellon's time frame with a specific financial schedule on when and how we handle these improvements," he said. "We're already in the process of hiring, so we're off and running."

The Williamstown Art Conservation Center is a nonprofit institution for the conservation and preservation of artworks and objects of cultural heritage. It is based at the Stone Hill Center at The Clark Art Institute with a smaller branch in Atlanta.

The nonprofit institution provides the highly technical and specialized practices of art conservancy in all areas of treatment and consultation for museums and other nonprofit organizations as well as private institutions, businesses, and individuals throughout New England and the Northeast.

Branchick said the grant will expand resources in the Atlanta Art Conservation Center, enhancing its role as the first regional art conservation center in the Southeast. The money will allow for greater integration of services and personnel between Atlanta and Williamstown and an upgrade in analytical capabilities in Atlanta.

For about two years, the two centers have been working on an evaluation and analysis of the business by the Nonprofit Finance Fund. The Mellon Foundation grant will fund the action items that the study recommends.

The Williamstown Art Conservation Center employs 17 people, Branchick said. The Atlanta Art Conservation Center has three employees.

The grant will allow more training and interaction between the two centers, he noted.

The award was made under the Mellon Foundation's Comprehensive Organizational Health Initiative, a multimillion dollar commitment to strengthen the organizational health of small and midsize arts institutions and regional conservation centers.

Much of the award will be dedicated to increasing services and staff at the Atlanta Art Conservation Center, established in 2001 as a partnership between the Williamstown Art Conservation Center and the High Museum of Art to serve member institutions and private clients throughout the Southeast. The grant will allow the Atlanta center to double its full-time staff of conservators, adding a paper conservator and objects conservator to its present roster of two paintings conservators. Expanded services will also include internships for young conservators at all stages of their training and workshops for museum professionals and contemporary artists.

In Williamstown, the funds will make possible the addition of a new technician position and the investment in upgraded equipment.

As an example, Branchick said the center will acquire an infrared heat pencil, which uses heat and light to aid in the removal of foreign substances from artworks. There will also be a new vacuum suction table, which allows for a different form of substance removal from works on paper.

Another portion of the grant will be used to expand publication of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center's magazine Art Conservator, the only periodical about art conservation written for a nontechnical audience.

"We are thrilled to receive such comprehensive support from the Mellon Foundation," said WACC director Tom Branchick. "This three-year grant will allow us to better serve our member institutions and the cultural patrimony they protect, and secure the future of art conservation in our two service regions for decades to come. It is a real shot in the arm."

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.