Director clarifies conservation center’s role

To the Editor of The Advocate  - November 24, 2004

Because the current controversy over extending the town waterline has raised many questions (and rumors) about the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, we felt it time to clarify the center’s role: WACC’s mission and function, our relationship with the Clark Art Institute, and our role in the Clark’s current expansion plans.


A recent letter in The Advocate suggested that although legally a non-profit business, WACC does not necessarily seve as an educational facility. This is a misunderstanding of our mission.


WACC’s non-profit status is granted because over the past 27 years, our organization has provided cutting-edge, museum-quality conservation services to a hundred or more small museums and historic houses throughout New England and the East Coat, at break-even cost and with a great deal of pro bono work. Our services are sorely needed by many educational institutions that cannot afford to maintain expensive art laboratories on their own.  Our technical support for these institutions may not be instantly apparent to the townspeople; nevertheless it contributes to the larger educational, cultural and economic strength of Williamstown and the surrounding region.


Additionally, WACC offers undergraduate and graduate-level courses to Williams College students, and we offer internships for students in the recognized conservation Masters of Science degree programs.


WACC’s relationship with the Clark Art Institute also needs clarification. While the Clark is one of our 54 member museums, it is also our landlord. The Clark leadership recognizes the greater public function that we serve and has generously supported our work over the years by providing the unusual technical facilities a conservation laboratory requires.


The Clark’s commitment to WACC, to Williamstown, to the economic stability of the Berkshries and to the broader goals of art preservation is outstanding, so much so that they are willing to construct a beautiful new building tailored to our specialized needs.


However, the choice of site, architect, design and financing have been mainly decisions of the Clark, with input from the WACC. WACC is a small institution with liited capital: Our role (in both financing and design) is necessarily limited ot internal negotiations with our landlord.


As many townspeople know, the conservation center has struggled for years to resolve problems of insufficient space and moderniziation needs. The center’s building-expansion capital campaign, begun in 1997, has seen years of frustration and delay. Three complete designs have been developed and scuttle dand support grants acquired only to be forfeited, due to an unending series of planning obstacles.The frustration felt by all conservation staff because of these many setbacks has now been increased by rumors and misunderstandings about our role here in Williamstown.


In addition to the points raised above: We don’t produce toxic waste or continuous bad smells, and our mechanical systems are no lounder than that of any large building.


In addition, many staff are long-time, concerned citizens of Williamstown and have diverse opinons on the proposed waterline. We understand that if the townspeople vote no on the apprpriation, the new conservation center will be built on the Clark’s Stone Hill.


And like you, we plan to vote our own separate consciences at the proposed Dec. 2 meeting.


Thomas J. Branchick



The writer is director of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center



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