Minnesota Local History

Minnesota Local History Blog.

Minnesota Local History Blog.

Advice and help with building history capacity.

The Minnesota Historical Society’s Local History Services helps Minnesotans preserve and share their history. This blog is a resource of best practices on the wide variety of museum, preservation, conservation, funding, and non-profit management topics. We’re here to help.

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Conditions Assessment: What is it? Why is it necessary?

By: Tamsin Himes | June 24, 2020
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

What is a Conditions Assessment? 

A conditions assessment is a report that details the present state of a building. It identifies the different elements, assesses their condition, and gives advice about proper treatment. It is comprehensive but non-invasive. It focuses on historically important areas. 

Why is it important? 

  • In the process of historic preservation efforts, a conditions assessment is not the most exciting step, but it is one of the most important. It provides the base for careful and appropriate preservation work. Relevant historical information, architectural details, and professional advice give valuable guidance for moving forward. 
  • If an organization is working through the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grant program, a conditions assessment is the first step in this process. It becomes the foundation for all further Legacy Grant projects. 

Who should I hire to complete a Conditions Assessment?

  • Architects hired to complete a conditions assessment must be qualified historic architects. This means they must meet the qualification standards set by the Secretary of Interior. They must have both experience and training in dealing with historic structures. You can find the standards here.
  • Qualified historic architects will be able to provide a historical recap of the building, detail architectural elements, and provide a list of work priorities. A historical recap gives context for historic features and treatment recommendations. Details of architectural elements give clarity about the age and significance of the building. A list of work priorities (or “treatment recommendations”) provides a roadmap for other preservation projects. 

When is a Conditions Assessment necessary? 

  • Ideally, any historic building should have a current conditions assessment. Even buildings with no obvious issues benefit from an up-to-date, professional report. Architects often identify potential trouble spots early on. This gives owners the chance to prevent future damage. 
  • A conditions assessment is essential before beginning any project involving a historic building. In this case, it serves two purposes: 1. protecting the building from harmful work and 2. Focusing resources on the most necessary work. As mentioned before, it also provides a roadmap for planning a long-term preservation strategy. 

Any questions about conditions assessments? Contact Tamsin Himes at tamsin.himes@mnhs.org

Tips for Caring for Street Art

By: Megan Narvey | Conservation | June 15, 2020

What is street art?

Street art is a cultural and artistic expression that has been created or installed in a public space. When there is prior permission and planning, it is often referred to as public art. Sometimes street art is considered vandalism, but other times it is embraced and valued by the neighborhood.

Street art can take a number of forms, including paintings, sculpture, posters, or even yarnbombing. Murals are paintings that have been created on walls and other architectural spaces, and are not portable. Street art paintings can also be applied on fabric or plywood boards.

Three images showing different types of street art in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Different kinds of street art seen in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Why is street art difficult to preserve?

Street art is usually not intended to last forever. A mural that is created after careful planning, using the most stable materials, and receiving regular maintenance, might have a lifespan of 20-30 years. Conservation and maintenance over time costs money, and it’s very rare for there to be long-term financial support for street art. Additionally, it’s often unclear whose responsibility it is to care for street art. Typically, the intellectual property belongs to the artist while the physical work might be owned by the building owner where the artwork was installed. Ideally, the decision to preserve street art should be agreed upon by the artist, building owner, and neighborhood. 

Here are the most typical problems with preserving street art: 

  • Materials used in its creation were not designed or tested for longevity
  • Misguided attempts to preserve might cause more damage
  • Vandalism
  • Exposure to weather, light, and pollution
  • No funding for maintenance or conservation treatment
  • Artist is unknown
  • Removing street art to preserve in more ideal conditions, such as in a gallery or museum, can strip the artwork of its context and identity, preserving the material but not the meaning 

Recommendations for preserving existing street art

Document the mural with high resolution photographs. Try to record the artist’s identity and the types of paints and other materials used. Add this documentation to a local street art register if possible (examples: George Floyd & Anti-Racist Street Art, Chicago Mural Registry). 

Regularly assess the condition of the street art using a condition report form such as this version provided by the Canadian Conservation Institute: Outdoor Mural Condition Report Form. Conducting an annual inspection will allow possible issues to be addressed before they cause irreparable damage.

Encourage artists to become familiar with best practices for creating street art in order to choose materials and locations that will naturally enhance preservation - for example, avoiding south-facing walls where light damage and heat damage from the sun will be more intense, and choosing paints with light-resistant pigments. 

Coatings can be applied to protect the paint layer and to make it easier to remove graffiti. Coatings should be durable, permeable, reversible, and compatible with the artwork, so that they can be removed later without damaging the paint layer. Always test a coating in a small area before applying overall. Depending on a number of conditions, a clear coating can become cloudy, yellow, or begin to chip and flake. Don’t apply impermeable and irreversible coatings (such as polyurethane), as these will cause more damage over time. Find more advice on coatings here

Don’t attempt to preserve the artwork by covering it with glass or Plexiglass. This will trap moisture and dirt and speed up deterioration. It will also alter the appearance of the artwork, and make it more difficult to see. 

Use overhangs and gutters to redirect water away from the artwork. 

Maintain street art by sweeping around it, cutting back nearby plant growth, keeping gutters clean, and promptly removing graffiti or vandalism. You can install signage nearby with contact information for reporting graffiti or vandalism. 

If the mural is washed, it should be done as gently as possible without detergents and with minimal water pressure. Test a small area before cleaning overall. 

Try to obtain the permission of the artist, building owner, and neighborhood before moving street art to a protected location for preservation purposes. Document the original location and context as much as possible beforehand, and keep these records associated with the artwork. 

Further Reading

Best Practices for Creating Street Art

“Conservation guidelines for outdoor murals”. Canadian Conservation Institute. (2017) https://www.canada.ca/en/conservation-institute/services/care-objects/fine-art/conservation-guidelines-outdoor-murals.html

“Mural Creation Best Practices”. Rescue Public Murals. (n.d.) https://www.culturalheritage.org/docs/default-source/resources/mural-creation-best-practices-full-document.pdf?sfvrsn=4

Williams, B. “Techniques of Community Murals” Community Public Art Guide. (n.d.) http://www.cpag.net/guide/2/2_pages/2_1.htm


Di Giacomo, G. “Top Tips in Street Art Conservation”. Street Art Today. (2018) https://streetart.today/2018/07/24/top-tips-in-street-art-conservation/

Garcia, R. “Ephemerality, Values and New Models: an Approach to Graffiti and Street Art Conservation” Plowden & Smith. (2019) https://www.plowden-smith.com/ephemerality-values-and-new-models-an-approach-to-graffiti-and-street-art-conservation/

García Gayo, E. “Street Art Conservation: The drift of abandonment” SAUC Journal Vol 1 No 1. (2015) http://urbancreativity.org/uploads/1/0/7/2/10727553/gayo_journal2015_v1_n1.pdf

Hoagland, S. “Art or Awful: The Conservation of Graffiti”. National Trust for Historic Preservation: Preservation Leadership Forum. (2019) https://forum.savingplaces.org/blogs/special-contributor/2019/05/30/art-or-awful-the-conservation-of-graffiti

Rainer, L. “The Conservation of Outdoor Contemporary Murals”. The Getty Conservation Institute Newsletter, Volume 18, No. 2. (2003)  https://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/newsletters/18_2/feature.html

Santabárbara, C. “Street art conservation: beyond mural restoration” Opus n.s. n. 2. (2018) https://www.academia.edu/38624223/Street_art_conservation_beyond_mural_restoration_Conservazione_della_street_art_oltre_il_restauro_murale?auto=download

Smith McNally, R. and Hsu, L. “Conservation of Contemporary Public Art”. Conservation Perspectives: the GCI Newsletter. (2012) https://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/newsletters/27_2/public_art.html

Museums Allowed to Reopen, with Restrictions, on June 10

By: Todd Mahon | Preservation & Facilities | June 9, 2020
Neon Green Open Sign

On Friday, June 5, it was announced that museums can reopen on June 10. Guidelines from the state are found on the Department of Employment and Economic Development’s website

The document can be used to adapt the COVID-19 Preparedness Plan template and instructions. Museums are required to have this completed business preparedness plan. It is not required to be submitted to Department of Labor and Industry for approval but needs to be made available upon request.

The Key Requirements:

  • Have adopted and implemented a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan 
  • Limit occupancy capacity to no more than 25% not to exceed 250 persons 
  • Ensure social distancing and a minimum of 6 feet between persons 
  • Strongly encourage masks for workers and customers

Worker Protections And Protocols For All Workplaces 

  1. Ensure sick workers stay home
  2. Social distancing – Workers must be at least six-feet apart 
  3. Worker hygiene and source controls
  4. Workplace building and ventilation protocols
  5. Workplace cleaning and disinfection protocols
  6. Drop-off, pick-up, and delivery practices and protocols
  7. Communications and training practices and protocol 
  8. What patrons can do to minimize the transmission
  9. Additional protections and protocol for receiving/ exchanging payment
  10. Additional protections and protocol for managing occupancy 
  11. Additional protections and protocol for arrival and assignment 
  12. Additional protections and protocol to limit face-to-face interaction
  13. Additional protections and protocol for distancing and barriers
  14. Additional protections and protocol for concessions
  15. Additional protections and protocol for exiting 
  16. Additional protections and protocol for sanitation and hygiene

Here are some of the key findings in some of these sections. This summary should not take the place of reading and understanding the full document. 

  1. Ensure sick workers stay home
    • Establish health screening protocols for workers at the start of each shift (e.g. health screening survey, taking temperature). 
  2. Social distancing – Workers must be at least six-feet apart 
    • Workers who are able to work from home must work from home.
    • Evaluate traffic patterns, choke-points, consider one-way traffic flow, etc.
  3. Worker hygiene and source controls
    • Ensure that workers regularly wash their hands.
    • Provide recommended protective supplies (face-coverings, gloves, disinfectant, guards, etc).
    • Post “Hand-washing” and “Cover your coughs” signs
    • If touching something (door handle, button, etc) is needed to open a bathroom door, provide a station with paper towels and a waste bin stationed nearby.
  4. Workplace building and ventilation protocols (Ventilation System Start-up)
    • Consult the Center for Disease Control guidance for re-opening buildings after prolonged shutdowns.
    • Increase the outdoor air-percentage to increase dilution of contaminants, and eliminate recirculating, whenever possible, while maintaining indoor air-conditions.
    • Continuously maximize fresh-air into the workplace, and eliminate air recirculation. 
    • Maintain relative humidity levels of RH 40-60% 
    • Keep systems running 24/7.
    • Add a flush cycle to the controls of the HVAC system, and run HVAC systems for 2-hours before and after occupancy.
  5. Workplace cleaning and disinfection protocols
  6. Communications and training practices and protocol 
    • All workers must be trained on procedures, practices, and protocols.
  1. What patrons can do to minimize the transmission
    • Advise them to conduct a self-check prior to arrival.
      1. Have them review a screening survey. 
    • Have patrons wear a face covering unless not recommended for health or physical ability reasons. 
  2. Additional protections and protocol for receiving/ exchanging payment
    • Use contactless payment whenever possible.
    • When contactless payment is not available ensure six of distance.
    • Install physical barriers between staff and patrons.
  3. Additional protections and protocol for managing occupancy
    • Venues must defer to the occupant capacities as established by applicable state or local authorities.
    • Stagger reservation times.
    • Post signage at entrance.
    • If using reservations, send protocols to visitors before arrival.
  1. Additional protections and protocol to limit face-to-face interaction
    • Evaluate all face-to-face activities.
    • Staff should always use masks when working with a patron.
    • Avoid performance-related demonstrations between staff and patrons that conflict with social distancing. 
  2. Additional protections and protocol for distancing and barriers
    • Space, configuration and flow of the establishment should be evaluated to allow for physical distancing of 6-feet by all workers and patrons.
  1. Additional protections and protocol for sanitation and hygiene 
    • Schedule reservations for longer than their typical duration to minimize the congregation of patrons waiting, allow for social distancing during arrival and departure, and provide for ample time for sanitation and air-circulation.
    • Provide hand sanitizer at the entrance, point of purchase, and prominent locations for customers

Historic Building Window Protection

By: Tamsin Himes | June 8, 2020
Royalty-free stock photo.

Installing window protection is important for historic buildings that may be in danger of vandalism.  This can be difficult to do in a sensitive way while still providing the protection your building needs. Given that every building is unique, there are different methods that would be better or worse for your particular building depending on its situation and material. Take the time to assess what kind of boarding-up technique is best before beginning. As you secure your building, be careful how you are securing plywood coverings to historic material. As with any situation, minimally invasive methods are preferable. For example, if forced to secure directly to the building, opt for using screws, not nails. Fasten to mortar instead of masonry, brick, or terracotta. 

Here are a few tips and resources which may be helpful as you work to protect your building: 

  • Detailed instructions for window coverings on historic buildings are spelled out in this Preservation Brief. Look for the section titled “Mothballing.”
  • Be sure to add additional padding and protection if you are boarding up stained glass windows. This could be any kind of softer material between the glazing and the boards such as packing styrofoam, thick fabric, or packing blankets. 
  • If you’re wondering about what type of window covering or securing method is best for your building, this document provides an overview of different options with the pros, cons, and uses of each.
  • When boarding up a building, ensure that there is still ventilation throughout.
  • On some buildings, storm window panel clips may be the least invasive option. Check out this video about how they work. Storm window panel clips can be acquired at most larger hardware stores. 
  • These suggestions for temporary window covering solutions may also be helpful.

Window protection is a simple step that can save your building from irreparable damage. Regardless of whether or not your building is in danger at the moment, it's a good idea to take the time and effort now to prepare and plan ahead. This can be as simple as measuring your windows, finding out what kind of fixtures you need, looking over the instructions in the preservation briefs, and getting a few supplies. A little planning now can make a big difference in the future.

How Minnesota's History Network Initially Responded to COVID-19

By: Todd Mahon | Mission & Management | May 28, 2020

Survey Report found here.

Minnesota has a strong network of organizations that reach from border to border. The total number of organizations, agencies, and more is understood to be greater than 500. The network, like all aspects of social, civic, and economic life in Minnesota, has been strained by the COVID-19 pandemic and the public health measures put in place by a series of executive orders from the Office of Governor Tim Walz.

In an effort to better understand how the network was responding to this crisis and gauge their capacity and resilience, the Minnesota Historical Society’s Local History Services created a brief survey that asked about the respondents’ current status, their capacity to work from home, the barriers they faced to conduct their work, the financial impact of the pandemic and the restrictions caused by the public health measures, and their plans to address the situation.

This document provides a summary of the responses to the questions and provides further context by breaking down the responses by the size of the organization's budget and by the region of the state.

The survey responses confirm some things that we already knew. The network has a wide range of capacity levels. In general, that capacity is not very strongly associated with a particular region of the state. Organizations located in the metro region do not necessarily have capacity advantages over other regions of the state.

Among the easiest to read issues, regardless of budget size or region of the state, are the barriers associated with completing our work in a Work From Home (WFH) environment. Across the demographics of the survey there were discrepancies between having a Work From Home policy and having people working from home. Organizations are in an environment that they have not adequately created policies.

It’s likely not unique to this sector, but the survey responses also reveal a gap in the tools and resources needed to work from home. Less than half of the respondents indicated that their organizations provided a laptop or desktop computer to conduct work from home. The numbers decline even more so when asked about mobile devices, data plans, and internet access. On the individual side of the ledger, the staff was providing these tools at their own expense.

The responses to the questions about the coronavirus response indicate that early on steps were largely targeted to public-facing areas like public events. When asked about what steps they would likely take if the situation were to continue, the responses indicated steps that would have a more transformational impact on the structure of the organizations, including accessing reserve funds and changing staffing patterns.

The Paycheck Protection Program and How it Can Help Your Small Nonprofit Survive the Pandemic

By: Todd Mahon | Funding | April 8, 2020

Nonprofits of all sizes and missions are struggling to maintain their financial health as the COVID-19 pandemic is shutting doors across the country. Congress has provided some relief for the small nonprofit community through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, otherwise known as the CARES Act. The PPP is administered by the Small Business Association (SBA). It provides forgivable loans to eligible organizations, including 501c3 nonprofit organizations. 


  • Includes 501(c)(3) nonprofits and 501(c)(19) nonprofits (veterans organizations)
  • Small nonprofits (500 or fewer employees)

What the Funds Can Be Used For

  • Payroll (and benefits), interest on mortgage, rent, utilities, and prior debt
  • Expenses incurred between February 15 and June 30, 2020

How Much Can Be Applied For

  • The average monthly payroll for the previous 12 months, multiplied by 2.5 -OR- $10 million---whichever is smaller.

What “Forgivable” Means

  • Forgiveness is available for the portion of the loan used for the following expenses during the covered period (8 weeks from origination)
    • Payroll costs (as defined above)
    • Interest on mortgage incurred before February 15, 2020
    • Rent obligation incurred before February 15, 2020 and
    • Utilities (electric, gas, water, transportation, phone, internet) for service that began before February 15, 2020

How to Apply

Resources and Links

The MInnesota Historical Soceity’s Local History Services office is interested in learning about the experiences of organizations that apply for these funds. We’d love to hear from you. E-mail us at localhistory@mnhs.org

Website Development / Design Helpful Worksheets

By: Joe Hoover | Information Technology | September 12, 2017
Thinking about creating a new web site or updating your old one? Take a minute to download and review these documents, most which have been composed by us over time, to help guide you in your planning and your communication with your web developer.

2013/2014 Monitoring Reports

By: rjohnson | January 14, 2014
Greetings grant recipients! The Grants Office will be sending the next round of monitoring reports out in April of 2014. As you know, the Letter of Agreement (LOA) your organization signed upon receipt of your grant requires notification to our office of any planned visual or structural alterations to the property the grant was awarded to. Since the spring is when many construction projects begin, this is a perfect time for your organization to re-iterate to us any work you may have planned.
The reports sent in the spring will be considered your 2014 reports, but we ask that you include any work done since the completion of the last monitoring report at the end of 2012.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your monitoring report(s), you may contact Becca Johnson at: 651/259-3468 or rebecca.johnson@mnhs.org.

Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest

By: Joe Hoover | Interpretation | July 3, 2012
The Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest's opportunity to house its entire collection at the University of Minnesota's Anderson Library has freed up the organization to allow it to develop and focus on interpretation, outreach and education.

Mitson House Museum - Canton Historical Society

By: Joe Hoover | June 26, 2012
While the Canton Historical Society is one of Minnesota's newest historical organizations, the Mitson House Museum has been around since the 1970's. Along with the Canton Depot, the Mitson House Museum is undergoing changes with the community's renewed interest in their historical assets.