You just learned about the Conservation Assessment Program (CAP) from a colleague, from a session at a museum association meeting, or possibly even from the Small Museums Toolkit. It sounds like a great way to receive conservation advice for your museum, and you can't wait to apply! But is it the right time?
Although Heritage Preservation strives to make the CAP assessment process as easy and effortless as possible, museum staff should know that CAP assessments require a time investment. The entire CAP timeframe spans 12-18 months, start to finish. From interviewing assessors, to supervising the site visit, to reviewing the final report, the museum has work to do towards their CAP, and should ensure that the person in charge of the CAP at the museum has ample time to do this work.
The Small Museums Toolkit, Book 1: Leadership, Mission, and Governance, chapter 1 has some good advice about appropriate times to embark on a CAP assessment. Here's a short list of times NOT to attempt a CAP:
1. When the curator or director position is about to turn over. Nothing disrupts an assessment more than having it started by one staff member and finished by another.
2. Before the museum is open and offering regular services to the public. Per CAP's eligibility requirements, assessments can only be granted to museums that were open for at least 90 days in the preceding year.
3. If the museum has a staff of one or two people, don't apply for CAP when major events are about to occur in the lives of one of the staff members. Whether you're finally having that knee surgery, helping plan a child's (or your own) wedding, or your dog is having major health problems, these life events can (and have) understandably diverted small museum staff members' attention away from their CAP assessment. This can lead to delayed site visits, reports being reviewed and returned to assessors late, and ultimately a final report that is disjointed, out-of-date, and unhelpful to the museum.
The CAP staff hopes that all eligible small museums in the U.S. will at some point apply for CAP. To make sure that the assessment is as impactful and helpful as possible, apply for CAP when both you and your institution are the most ready for it.
Sara Gonzales is the Coordinator of the Conservation Assessment Program at Heritage Preservation. A graduate of the Museum Studies program at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, she has been the collections manager of a number of small museums in the suburbs of Chicago. Her previous publications include issues of CAPabilities, CAP’s bi-annual newsletter, and articles about CAP in the American Association of Museums’ Museum and the American Association for State and Local History’s History News magazines.