Can arts and culture survive without plastic? Do bioplastics pose a threat to the preservation of artworks? Should we be looking towards new materials for future conservation? 

For many, plastic is a cursed word - a pollutant that can’t degrade fast enough. But for art conservators, it’s a cherished component, responsible for conserving a collection of significant works. Artworks comprised of plastic have been produced and displayed in museum collections since the early-twentieth-century, however, these works are deteriorating at an alarming rate, much to the dismay of conservators. 

This event will explore our complex relationship with plastic decomposition and the major role it plays in conserving works of art. It will also look at recent developments in plastic manufacturing taking into consideration environmental concerns and the production of biodegradable plastics with a potentially negative effect on the long term stability of plastic works within museum collections. 


Brenda Keneghan studied for a Masters Degree in Chemistry at University College Cork and her Ph.D. in Materials Science at Queen Mary, University of London. She worked for several years in academic research before joining the Conservation Department of the Victoria & Albert Museum where she has been responsible for the preservation of objects made from plastic for over 25 years. Brenda has undertaken condition surveys of the objects made from plastic among the various collections of the museum and also for other institutions e.g. English Heritage. She organised the conferences “Plastics – Looking at the Future and Learning from the Past” and “How Green is My Plastic?” at the V&A and led the Museum’s input in the EU funded project – ‘PopArt’ dealing with the preservation of plastic objects in collections. She has also supervised Ph.D. students and interns in the area of plastics in heritage collections.

Malcolm Collum is the Engen Conservation Chair at the Smithsonian, National Air and Space Museum and has been the Chief Conservator since 2008. He has a B.A. from the University of Minnesota and an M.A. and Certificate of Advanced Study in Art Conservation from Buffalo State College. Further studies were conducted at the National Museum of Science and Industry, London, England and at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  In 1996, Collum took a position at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village where he became Senior Conservator, specializing in the conservation of technological collections. In his current position at the National Air and Space Museum, he manages the Conservation Unit, working with curators and restoration specialists to devise appropriate preservation methodologies for aerospace artifacts. His goal is to highlight the benefits of technical analysis, conservation research, and innovative treatment methodologies by incorporating this work into the more traditional realms of restoration.

  • Date: 
  • Time: 
  • Where: Paccar Theatre
  • Price: FREE
  • Register Now

What’s On