Assessing Paintings During a Pandemic: How the NEH Has Bolstered BACC’s Ability to Connect Virtually with Clients
Last summer BACC was approached by a museum in Salt Lake City, Utah, about the possibility of conserving a selection of paintings by an American painter for an exhibition. The work was housed in the museum’s collections storage in Utah, posing an interesting logistics challenge for BACC’s art conservators who needed to do an initial assessment of the paintings in order to draft a treatment plan but were limited by travel and access restrictions due to the current global pandemic.
BACC has a long history of working with clients throughout the Western region (everywhere from Washington to Arizona) and doing so has required the need for travel and transport. During a global pandemic, however, how does BACC continue to support institutions like this and their collections safely and securely? The solution: our newly developed Virtual Pre-Examination Program or “VPEP.”
The Virtual Pre-Examination Program was developed with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities as an innovative way to connect with clients during the pandemic. Like arts and cultural institutions all over the world, this connection (or lack thereof) was a major concern, and for art conservators so much of their work is, of course, hands-on. And, while conservators have often asked for information and photos from long distance clients in the past,the NEH Cares Act funding gave BACC the ability to build on previous ideas and greatly improve, formalize, and find efficiencies in the virtual exam process.
The first component of VPEP is a photography “how-to” guide. BACC staff developed this to share with cultural institutions. It outlines, in great detail, what clients need to send BACC in order to best tell the story of the art object that needs to be conserved. In essence, the guide gives insight to what an art conservator is looking for on a piece by instructing collections managers, curators, or other staff in exactly what to look for and how to take the photos.
The second component of VPEP is a photo kit that can be sent to institutions, as needed. This kit includes items such as magnifying lenses that work with cell phone cameras, soft rulers to use to get a sense of dimension of either the object or the damage on an object, and photography lights to improve visuals.
“VPEP is a great example of the measures being put in place by institutions world-wide to help us function during the pandemic, that will shift the way we collaborate and operate long after,” Leticia Gomez Franco, BACC’s Executive Director, notes. “VPEP in theory is genius, but seeing it in practice has been especially rewarding. Using VPEP, the team at the museum in Utah was able to provide us all the information and images we needed to draft a treatment plan. This was accepted and the works were transported to BACC for conservation, allowing both the institution and BACC to make use of this ‘down-time’ to focus on collections care and prepare for reopenings.”
While BACC continues to navigate the new norms and new economy of art conservation during a pandemic, being able to pivot quickly and safely adapt to the challenges brought on by COVID-19 has already provided BACC with a more sustainable and forward-looking future
The Balboa Art Conservation Center (BACC), the western region’s premier and only nonprofit art conservation center, is thrilled to announce that it has hired cultural heritage champion and experienced arts administrator Leticia Gomez Franco as its next Executive Director. She will start in early December.
“I am incredibly honored and humbled to lead BACC as its new Executive Director and committed to the possibilities in this new position,” Gomez Franco said. “Conservation centers play a pivotal role in ensuring the objects that make up our historical cultural inheritance survive the times. Let us dare to reimagine our role as more than caretakers of objects, but also of the stories they keep, the societies they represent, and the people they exclude. Let this be the moment we shift — along with the world — into the uncharted territory of inclusivity. As the leading conservation center in the west, the small but mighty team at BACC is ready to engage communities, demystify the field of conservation, stimulate dialogue, and usher the work into a more inclusive framework.”
A seasoned arts professional with deep roots in the San Diego community, Gomez Franco’s commitment to preserving culture, as well as her hands-on experience with exhibitions, artists, and communities, were some of the elements that the hiring committee of BACC’s Board of Trustees found most engaging. Her background in reimagining spaces, decentralizing narratives, and engaging collective knowledge makes her uniquely positioned to expand on programs like those BACC has recently launched to engage with the broader community. Not surprisingly, RISE San Diego nominated her for a 2020 Inclusive Leadership In Action (ILIA) Award in the “culture shifter” category and the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures has awarded Gomez Franco two fellowships: one for advocacy in 2019 and another for leadership in 2015.
BACC’s Board President, Karen Coutts, said, “Leticia Gomez Franco’s background and perspective are an excellent complement to the expertise of our world-class conservators. With Leticia at the helm we are reaffirming the importance of the work we do every day in conservation and preservation while moving to diversify our audiences and expand our work to new communities.”
Gomez Franco most recently served as the Senior Arts and Culture Funding Manager of the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture where she administered over $11 million in grants for community arts organizations, reenvisioned programming guidelines and, in the last few months, made dynamic shifts to administrative processes in response to the global health crisis. She was instrumental in forging long-term systemic change to ensure the City serves and responds to all of its diverse communities. A fan of the literary arts, Gomez Franco was behind the launch of the City's first Poet Laureate program, as well.
Before joining the City of San Diego, Gomez Franco served as Director of Programs and Lead Curator for the New Americans Museum, an institution dedicated to preserving and presenting the immigrant experience, and established The Front: A Collaborative of Art, Culture, Design and Urbanism as a formal art gallery and leading binational laboratory of creative thought in the world's most trafficked border region, San Ysidro/Tijuana. As an accomplished curator she has developed more than forty exhibitions at various museums and galleries. Her independently curated work has elicited nationwide press and attention, as well.
Gomez Franco holds a master’s degree in Curatorial Theory from the Liberal Arts and Sciences program of San Diego State University, and a bachelor’s in English and Chicana/o Studies from the University of California, Berkeley.
BACC is one of the first art conservation centers that was established in the United States and Leticia Gomez Franco’s hire is another step in the organization’s transition to a new business and leadership model as supported by the Mellon Foundation’s Comprehensive Organizational Health Initiative. BACC’s previous Executive Director, Janet Ruggles, retired at the end of 2019 after 37 years of dedicated service to the Center.
For more information, or to request images or an interview, please email Staci Golar.
In early 2019 Staci Golar joined BACC as its first staff member in development and marketing, a hire made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Comprehensive Organizational Health Initiative grant given “to help support change and growth capital.”
Golar has spent her career almost entirely in the arts, having held positions at the Museum of International Folk Art, SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market, the Institute of American Indian Arts, the International Folk Art Alliance, and others. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Art and a Master’s in Arts Administration.
Here she shares some insights on what it’s like to work at BACC.
A documentary that tells the story of one of BACC's founders, George Leslie Stout, is part of the official selection of films at the Arkhaios Cultural Heritage and Archaeology Film Festival.
Directed by Kevin Kelley and produced by Marie Wilkes, Stout Hearted: George Stout and the Guardians of Art, can be watched as part of the festivals's FREE online festivities between now and October 11.
Stout Hearted tells the story of George L. Stout, an art student from Winterset, Iowa, who became the leader of the Monuments Men during World War II. This group, a military special forces unit, was assigned the mission of retrieving stolen art from the Nazis. The film also explores Stout's pioneering efforts in the areas of art conservation which elevated the discipline into the world of modern science.
In the 70s, Stout was serving as the visiting director at the Timken Museum of Art when he noticed a growing need to establish a conservation center for the San Diego area’s growing cultural heritage. He teamed up with Henry Gardiner, then director of the San Diego Art Museum, to develop a plan for the center and in March 1975 BACC was incorporated as a private, nonprofit organization.
BACC conservators were called out of the lab this July to carry out a conservation treatment on an early 20th-century relief mural by a well-known San Diego Impressionist painter. Although the mural is undated it is likely more than 100 years old. Remarkably, it still survives in its San Diego home.
The piece features a tranquil desert scene that was first sculpted in relief on the wall, and then later painted in earth tones with splashes of bright color. When coupled with the beautiful craftsman architectural features of the room, the California Impressionist mural instantly transports one back to the San Diego of the early 20th century.
The BACC team stabilized some local areas of cracking plaster on the mural, gently and safely dusted the piece, and inpainted a few small, scattered plaster and paint losses throughout the room to visually reintegrate them into the greater composition. Now the mural is both structurally stable and visually refreshed. It is complete, once again.
Considering its age, the fact that the mural was found in such good condition is a testament to the generations of careful stewards who have owned the house since its creation. This, of course, includes the current owners of the house, who admirably prioritized the preservation of the mural so that it will continue to live on. This project reveals how it's not only institutions like museums that preserve local art and heritage for future generations, but it's individuals within our community, as well.