BACC owes its existence to the meeting of two minds—those of Henry Gardiner and George Stout. Henry Gardiner, who served as director of the San Diego Museum of Art from 1969 to 1979, guided the institution through a period of significant expansion of the collections. George Stout (1897–1978) was a pioneer in the field of conservation in the United States, particularly in his application of scientific techniques to art restoration. In 1973, Stout was appointed visiting director of the Timken Art Gallery (now the Timken Museum of Art), with a clear mandate to focus his attentions upon conservation issues.
During the 1970s, the San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA) underwent a period of reassessment of collections in response to the significant growth of its holdings over the previous decades. Like other museums across the United States, SDMA was becoming increasingly aware of conservation needs and the reality that these needs were not being met. Only the largest American museums boasted sufficient conservation resources. In response to this situation, the National Conservation Advisory Council (NCAC), charged with assessing the nation’s conservation needs and formulating solutions, was established in 1973.
In November 1973, Henry Gardiner, increasingly concerned about SDMA’s expanding needs, sought the counsel of George Stout, who was in residence at the Timken. Stout was well aware that cooperative conservation centers were being formed in the United States to meet regional needs. Together, Gardiner and Stout developed a plan to establish in San Diego a conservation center that would deliver a range of high-quality, cost-effective conservation treatment, consulting, and education programs to SDMA, the Timken, and a future consortium of museums.
High on their priority list was the hiring in 1974 of Richard Buck to direct the center. An important leader in the field of conservation, Buck was experienced in establishing regional centers. With Buck’s arrival in San Diego, the Balboa Conservation Center (BCC) became a reality, with operations located in facilities provided by SDMA. In March 1975 the center was incorporated as a private, nonprofit organization and renamed the Balboa Art Conservation Center. Six years later, BACC moved into its own home in Balboa Park’s Casa de Balboa.
Today, BACC is a well-established center that provides conservation services to the SDMA, Timken, and seventeen other member museums, as well as numerous nonmember museums and private collectors. BACC operates a conservation internship program in addition to education and outreach initiatives to museums and historical societies throughout the western region.