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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Navigating the Legacy Grant program for Historic Properties: Getting started

By: Tamsin Himes | Funding | Preservation & Facilities | December 15, 2020

So let's say you’re part of an organization that has a historic building in its care. You recognize the need to begin preservation projects, but don’t know how to go about it. You’ve heard of the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grants (MHCHG) program  – commonly known as the Legacy Grant program – but have no idea where to start. Or maybe you’ve just joined your county’s historical society and you’ve been tasked with the rather overwhelming job of figuring out how to move forward with much-needed building preservation. 

Whatever your specific circumstance, this blog post is for you! Here, and in subsequent blog posts, I’ll break down the Legacy Grant program into bite-size pieces and give you tips and pointers for navigating the different steps of the grant process. 

First, let's take a wide view of the grant process. I’ll get into the nitty-gritty details a bit later. Here is what it looks like simplified into different steps: 


Graphic showing the grant process.


The first step is to make sure both the building and the organization are eligible for Legacy Funds. For organizations, there are four eligible categories: 1) nonprofit 501c3 organizations 2) units of state or local government 3) federally recognized tribal organizations, and 4) educational institutions. Buildings must be listed in the National Register of Historic Places OR in some cases, it is sufficient to be eligible for the National Register -- I’ll get to that in a minute. In addition to being on the National Register, all work on historic properties must conform to the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. 

So, what if your building is not in the National Register, but you’d like it to be? There are resources to help with that too. Jump over to this blog post for the ins and outs of the evaluation and nomination process and how the Legacy Grant program can help you.

Signing up for an account 

Before applying for a grant, you’ll need to request an account on the grants portal. This is where all applications are submitted and where official communication happens between the applicant/grantee and the Grants Office. This is also where your grant project will “live” after the application process and where milestone reviews and grant amendments will be processed. Requesting an account is easy and simple. Just click “create an account” on this page to get started. Once your request has been approved by grants office staff, you’re ready for the next step. 

Ask us questions 

This blog post is one of a series of posts explaining the grants process. The next one can be found here. We at MNHS are always happy to guide you through any questions you may have. You can join us for one of our monthly open houses or you can contact us directly if you have any questions! 

Tamsin Himes, Design Reviewer: tamsin.himes@mnhs.org 


Fun Facts About Museum Pests - Part 2

By: Megan Narvey | Conservation | November 3, 2020

In Part 1 of this series, we talked about the common clothes moth. Today, I'd like to tell you about my favorite museum pest. When I say favorite, I definitely don't mean that this is the best kind of pest to find in your home or your collection. They're not easy to detect, can be very difficult to eradicate, cause a lot of damage, and can live basically anywhere! However, when they’re not ruining your wool rug, they have been put to good use in some professions. And the larvae have the best nickname of any museum pest. Today, let's learn more about the carpet beetle!

Multiple life stages of a carpet beetle.
Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org
  • Carpet beetles are a type of dermestid, also sometimes referred to as “skin beetle”.
  • Some types of dermestids are really helpful. Forensic entomologists use them to learn more about criminal investigations, and taxidermists and natural history museums use them to clean animal skeletons.
  • A carpet beetle is the same shape as a ladybug, but much smaller - only a few millimeters long! They are usually black or a mottled yellow, black, and white.
  • Adult carpet beetles feed on pollen, so it's easy to accidentally introduce them to your home or museum by bringing in fresh cut flowers. They can also fly, and enter through open windows.
  • Another common source of infestation is having bird or wasp nests on your building.
  • Even though adult carpet beetles prefer to live outside, they like to lay their eggs inside. Female carpet beetles can lay about 50 eggs.
  • The larval form are called “woolly bears” because of their densely packed hairs.
  • The late stages of woolly bear growth can be up to twice as big as the adult beetle!
  • Just like with clothes moths, these cute little fuzzy larvae are the ones responsible for damage to the collection.
  • Woolly bears feed on wool, fur, felt, silk, feathers, skins, and leather, and they’re more likely to be found in dark, undisturbed areas. However some will also eat things like seeds and grains; and they will eat through other materials if a food source they want is nearby.
  • Some woolly bears can live for up to two years if the conditions aren't ideal for them to grow and pupate!
  • As woolly bears grow, they shed their skins. These shed skins are one way to identify that you have a carpet beetle infestation.
  • Another good way to identify a carpet beetle infestation is on your window sills. Adult carpet beetles are attracted to light, and often congregate near windows.

The best way to prevent a carpet beetle infestation is through housekeeping and integrated pest management. If you spot a carpet beetle or woolly bear on your collection, it's usually a good idea to bag that item right away. Many museum objects are safe to freeze if following the proper protocols, and this can kill carpet beetles, woolly bears, and eggs. Always consult a conservator if you're not sure whether a treatment method will be safe for your collection.

More Resources
Bell Museum: Meet the Beetles
Entomology: Carpet Beetles
Black Carpet Beetle
Varied Carpet Beetle
Solutions - Low Temperature Treatment

Security Camera Checklist for your Museum

By: Joe Hoover | Information Technology | October 27, 2020
Image of museum collections with Dome security camera superimposed on top.

Ensure Adequate Camera Coverage
Ideally, a security camera network important areas like entryways and points-of-sale should be covered and sometimes from different angles. Consider wide-angle or PTZ cameras that allow surveillance of a large area with a single security camera.

Connect for Remote Viewing
Have your camera feed accessible from your computer and smartphone. You can’t always be there to watch your cameras. The best systems will even send push notifications for security events.

Check for Camera Quality
Your cameras must be able to deliver quality video so that you can recognize fine details like faces and license plates. Consider HD 1080p cameras, 2K cameras, or 4K cameras where appropriate.

Night Vision Capabilities
Night vision security cameras can see in the dark because they have IR (Infrared) surveillance technology. During daylight hours, quality cameras use something called an infrared cut-off filter. However, IR cameras can be fooled

Hard-wired vs Wireless Security Cameras
Hard-wired cameras have an established track record when it comes to development and best practices. Wireless cameras can be a great fit for older historic buildings to minimize visual impact. However a strong connection is also necessary to handle the bandwidth required for high-resolution 1080p or 4k images. Security measures to prevent the wireless camera from being hacked must be taken into consideration. Learn more »

Fun Facts About Museum Pests - Part 1

By: Megan Narvey | Conservation | October 20, 2020

Not many people go into museum work because they love insects, but pest management is one of the most important tasks you can do to protect your collection. Common museum pests can wreak havoc before you know it, and they affect everyone - from your wool sweater collection at home to the pristine store rooms of a national museum. Today let’s learn some fun facts about the common clothes moth.

Webbing clothes moth: larva, pupa and adult on wool.
Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org
  • Clothes moths come in two major types: the casemaking clothes moth and the webbing clothes moth. They look similar but the webbing moth larvae creates patches of silken webbing to protect itself while it munches on your collection, while the casemaking moth creates a small tubular case.
  • Clothes moths are only about half an inch long.
  • Adults will lay about 40-50 eggs, which are too small to easily spot on an object. The larvae look like little white caterpillars.
  • Only the larvae will cause damage to your collection, but it’s easier to spot and trap the adults. You can buy clothes moth pheromone traps to easily monitor for them.
  • These pests feed exclusively on animal-based materials like wool, fur, silk, feathers, taxidermy, and leather.
  • Some warning signs to look for include webbing or silken cases on objects, and shedding fur as the larvae eat along where it connects to the skin.
  • Moths also leave behind a fecal material called frass, which looks a lot like sand. Moth frass is the same color as the material they are eating, so it can sometimes be quite colorful.
  • Moth larvae don’t like light, so you can often find evidence of their presence in folds, cuffs, and crevices on objects.

The first step to protecting your collection from museum pests is learning how to identify them and spot damage before it gets out of control.

More Resources

Casemaking Clothes Moth
Webbing Clothes Moth
Entomology: Clothes Moths
Identifying Museum Insect Pest Damage
Museum Pests e-learning tool
Insect Pests in Museums Identification Poster

Word of the Year: Pivot

By: Julia Larson | Mission & Management | October 7, 2020
Worker inspects repainted street signs, Works Progress Administration Sign Project. Courtesy of MNHS online collections. from file print

How many times have you heard this word in the past week? “We’ve had to pivot our programming.” / “The way we were doing things did not fit the response so we had to pivot.”

I have heard this many times over the past few weeks. This describes museum sites that opened and had more attendance than expected, schools moving from hybrid learning to all distance learning, newspaper articles describing how restaurants have gotten creative in their ways to feed people and partner with other businesses; the list goes on. It seems in my personal life, I have also pivoted. From having my children home from school due to a teacher strike, melding right into having to do distance learning this spring due to the pandemic; then, adjusting our house to accommodate working from home. I have more than once thought about how much I have “pivoted” due to the pandemic.

That got me thinking, what does the word “pivot” actually mean and how has it manifested itself this time in history? I am a fairly visual person and when I think of the word “pivot” a specific visual comes to mind. The visual is that of the toe of a basketball player. The paragraphs in italics are what I see, in my own words.

Five toes, snuggly housed in a tennis shoe, tensely bent as the heel of the foot raises high off the gym floor. The toes are planted- firmly planted- the heel reaching up and then rotating. Yet, it only spins halfway, then switches, forcing the body’s hips to swing the other way. “KEEP YOUR FOOT PLANTED!” yells the coach to the player; the player who is trying to live out their vision of being a basketball superstar.

This is where I have heard “pivot” before. Is this visual a good description of what is happening in society? I tentatively say, yes, it is. Businesses, people, decisions, keeping rooted, but modifying the outcome. Or, maybe more accurately, businesses, people, decisions, trying to keep rooted while spinning and balancing. We all know the eventual outcome of the pivot.

The toes, holding the weight of the body, expand as far as they can, getting more and more spread out as they are pushed and turned. Pushed and turned, pushed and turned down toward the floor. The other foot, which the rest of the body is trusting to gracefully caress the gym floor quickly and often to balance the body, eventually betrays the planted foot and slams into the gym floor, shifting the weight of the body and forcing the planted toes to move.

Anyone who has played basketball knows that feeling, the unbalance that finally ensues, forcing the frantic release of the ball or whistled travel call. Sometimes my professional pivots feel like this. Before the pandemic one of my favorite parts of my job was doing site visits. Now I have to first, review if a site visit would be safe and second, if a site visit is really necessary. Also, meeting people to tour their buildings and hear their passion is enlivening to me, but now I have video meetings, video Grants Open Houses and video tours if those are possible and safest. While I know the pivot to more video meetings is the right thing to do, I still mourn the loss of those interactions. But, maybe pivoting has another outcome?

The toes- planted, pressured, straining to cling to the wooden gym floor- hold their place. Twist, squeak, twist, squeak, twist, squeak. The toes, doing their job of moving in place, providing the time, the hesitation for the body to use its senses; to look, to feel, to decide the next move, until finally, the open player. The body’s hands confidently and forcefully thrust the ball forward and into the teammate’s hands, only for the teammate to bounce, jump and release the ball into the basket with the swoosh of the net. 

Some things have improved with the pivots. Due to the video meetings and conferencing, I feel like the Department is getting more accessible, which will hopefully translate to getting in contact with more people around the state regardless of location to help preserve their histories. I am also attending a lot of webinars and expanding my knowledge in subjects I would not have been able to before everything went online. 

What is your pivot? How has it gone? Are you getting off balance and frantically searching for solutions; or, are you staying planted and confidently making plays? Are you perhaps confident at one pivot and falling off balance for the other? 

No matter what, now is a time to pivot. No standing still, you must pivot.

Share your thoughts in the comments below or reach out to the Minnesota Local History Services with your pivots.

Producing the short historical film

By: John Fulton | Information Technology | September 29, 2020
Image from Minnesota Historical Society Collections.

A Short Historical Film (around 5 to 20 minutes long) is a great way to get a lesson or story across in a limited amount of time. A short historical film could be used to focus on one collection item or a recent research finding. Taking the opportunity to do shorter, cheaper, faster videos can be useful and rewarding.

When planning your historical film you were well-served by devoting time and attention to overall planning, research, script, budget. Turning from planning to production is the next step.

Production and post-production usually involves hiring professional filmmaking help. But this depends on goals, scope and budget. Part of the point of short historical films is to keep as much control over the film as possible in the hands of the historical organization or historian.

Basic steps toward producing a Short Historical Film:

Production. The second part of the film project marathon also begins with overall planning. Assess, collect and organize all of the parts available to the film. Historical films are often built on archival footage, interviews, b-roll to support the interviews and recreations.

Post-production. The script should need revision in light of archival assets found and interviews. Get broad agreement on the script as needed before starting to finish the film. Editing all of the film and sound elements of the film will be the main work of post-production. Editing is a form of writing itself and can transform the intent and meaning of all elements. The researchers should stay involved in this process.

Final Format. Hopefully you decided in the initial and overall planning how you want to use the short historical film. Knowing this will help determine your final format. Do you plan to upload the film to YouTube, output to a DVD, or incorporate it into a physical or digital exhibit? Each choice entails its own workflow.

If you like what you produce there are venues for short documentaries.

Sharing access to your organization's domain, email, and passwords

By: Joe Hoover | September 23, 2020

Don't limit access to your organization's accounts to just one administrator. Share access to ensure continuity of control for your most important accounts.

From MNHS Collections. AV2015.109

When you have only one account/password administrator, you have problems: You're completely dependent on that person for access. An accident, emergency, or a job change may leave your organization without an administrator to manage accounts. Many organizations struggle to access all sorts of accounts after an administrator leaves.

Share access to three important services--your domain name, your email, and your passwords. It goes without saying, share access only with people you trust, typically employees or a board member.

Shared Administrative Access
Some online applications like G Suite and Office 365 allow more than one account to hold "super administrator" or "global admin" privileges.

Password Manager Application
A password management system offers two additional options: Shared passwords and emergency access. Shared password systems, such as 1Password for Teams, Lastpass for Teams, or Dashlane for Teams, allow different people to login to a site with the same password synced and shared across accounts. If one person changes the password, the change syncs, too. Emergency access allows full access, as well, and can be configured to only allow access if the account holder doesn't respond.

Encrypted Word Documents As A Password Manager
For those looking for a more affordable and simpler alternative (assuming you already are using Microsoft Word). Using Word 2007 or later, (and ideally it would be Word 2013 or later) it should be reasonably secure to use an encrypted Word Document as a password manager. Versions prior to 2007 will not be secure at all.
How to Password Protect a Word Document - Video
How to password protect Microsoft Office documents

Representation and The National Register in Minnesota

By: Julia Larson | Preservation & Facilities | August 17, 2020
Lena Olive Smith and client at Olive Hair Store, Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis. Courtesy of MNHS.

The National Register of Historic Places recognizes places with national historical significance. But, does this recognition extend to places that represent different ethnic and regional identities? What does the data from the National Register tell us and what are some organizations, states and individuals doing to reconcile lack of representation?

What is the National Register?

The National Register of Historic Places is a list of places that are considered worthy of preservation at a national level. The worthiness of a place is determined by an advocate for that place working with State Historic Preservation Office staff and a National Register Review Board at the state level. Their recommendations are sent to the State Historic Preservation Officer for signature and then to staff at the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. The final step in the process is for the Keeper of the National Register to officially add it to the National Register list. 

The places that are nominated to be listed in the National Register have to meet Criteria for Evaluation. While the National Register Criteria brochure was last updated in 1997, the actual Criteria have not been updated since the National Historic Preservation Act was passed in 1966. The National Register Bulletin: How to Complete the National Register Registration Form has guidance on choosing “Areas of Significance” within each Criterion. This can be one or more categories from the list “Data Categories for Areas of Significance”. The category in the Area of Significance related to ethnic and regional identities is “Ethnic Heritage.” On the National Register application form an applicant can choose Asian, Black, European, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander or Other if they believe the place is significant because of its Ethnic Heritage. The Area of Significance is not required to have an Ethnic Heritage affiliation. Other categories an applicant can choose from are Architecture, Education, Engineering, Law, Religion, Transportation and so forth.The National Register application also has a section called “Cultural Affiliation,” but that is only used for Criterion D, which is a resource’s potential to yield important information, most commonly used for Archeological Sites. This blog post focuses on places listed under Criteria A-C.


Now to take a turn, I’ll come back to the Area of Significance in a bit. I want to clarify who I am referring to when I mention representation within the National Register. According to the Minnesota Legislature, Minnesota has Ethnic Minorities that are defined as American Indians, Hispanics/Latinos/Latinas, Asians and Blacks. In brief, the U.S. Census shows Minnesota residents currently identify as 84% White / 7% Black or African American / 1% American Indian and Alaska Native / 5% Asian / 0% Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander and 3% Two or More Races. Also, 6% of Minnesotans identify as Hispanic.

Now, back to the National Register requirements--nowhere does the application require racial identification or ethnic heritage, nor does the application require a certain percentage of applications be related to a certain ethnic identification. Also, nowhere in the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office requirements do they call for identifying as an ethnic or racial minority on or within applications. Due to the lack of this type of requirement, the only way to determine if a certain identity’s history is represented on an application is that it is identified as an Area of Significance on the form or if it is mentioned in the Description and Statement of Significance (categories on the application form). Also, ethnic and regional identities and population variations are considered fluid in Minnesota. As a 2009 disclaimer by the Minnesota State Demographer’s Office states, 

Racial and ethnic groups are social, not biological, categories, and they change over time. For example, the Hispanic/Latino category was not used in Census data before 1970, and multiple race data was not collected before 2000. It is likely that racial and ethnic concepts will continue to change in the future. New identities may emerge. The growing diversity of the population and the increase in the number of people of mixed backgrounds could make racial identity less salient. On the other hand, unforeseen societal changes could lead to more focus on racial differences than we have now. 

Representation in the National Register 

When attempting to look up what is listed in the National Register in Minnesota right now, the Statewide Database is not currently available. There is a National Database. The website says it only lists properties from 2013 and earlier with details. I did check if more recent listings were included and they were not. When searching the National Database, it shows 1,766 properties are listed in Minnesota from 2013 and earlier. You can Advanced Search by “Area of Significance.” The first table below shows the properties for each Ethnic Heritage group in Minnesota and the name of the resource listed under that category. The second table shows the Ethnic Heritage categories as the percentage of the 1,766 total properties listed in Minnesota.

Table 1: Ethnic Heritage categories and places listed in the National Register for Minnesota
Asian Black European Hispanic Native American Pacific Islander Other
• Fujita, Jun,
• Smith, Lena O., House

• Avalon Hotel

• Bullard, Casiville,

• Hall, S. Edward, House

• Harriet Island

• Holman Field
Administration Building

• Pilgrim Baptist

• St. Mark’s African
Methodist Episcopal
54 Total*
*not listed
due to
space constraints
None • Church of Sts. Joseph
and Mary–Catholic

• Church of St. Francis

• Yucatan Fort Site

• Traverse des Sioux

• Pipestone Indian
School Superintendent’s

• Birch Coulee School

• Lower Sioux Agency

• Inyan Ceyaka Otonwe

• Maka Yusota

• Upper Sioux Agency

• Wood Lake
Historic District
None None
Table 2: Ethnic Heritage categories percentage of the total listings in the National Register in Minnesota.
Ethnic Heritage Asian Black European Hispanic Native American Pacific Islander Other
Total 1 8 54 0 11 0 0
Total % out of 1,766 .06% 0.45% 3% 0% 0.62% 0% 0%

Looking at the census data in 1960, the percentage of Blacks in Minnesota (page 36)  was 0.7% of the population, 0.9% in 1970, and 1.3% in 1976. This is roughly 50 years ago which could be an indicator of the percentage of properties listed in the National Register. One rule of the National Register is that the place must be 50 years or older to be listed, in most cases. Minnesota has some catching up to do if it wants to base representation of listings in the National Register to the population 50 years ago. This type of comparison to the representation of the population 50 years ago does not take into account that the places listed in relation to certain identities should actually be more as history extends earlier than 1960. This comparison also fails to acknowledge the destruction of significant spaces due to Urban Renewal and other public places and systems. As it stands, Minnesota would need to roughly double their listings associated with Black history to reach the 0.7% of the 1960 population identifying as Black.

This comparison to representation within a population is a flawed comparison, but could be a starting point to clarify that representation is not where it should be. The example calculation is for Black identifying people and could also be done for the other population identifiers. This comparison can also be noted as flawed because some places may be listed due to an identity but are not marked as related to an Ethnic Heritage on the nomination form. 

Importance of Representation

Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, talks on NPR’s Ted Radio Hour about what having more Black sites on the National Register means. 

Making amends means Black Americans are appreciated, that our community is recognized for a 400+ year contribution, that our history and the physical places where the history is held are preserved. Making amends means that our nation is making new investments to address years of disinvestment and inequity. I believe that making amends is to understand that the Black experience is an American Experience.

According to Leggs, on a national scale, of the over 95,000 total entries in the National Register of Historic Places, only 2% focus on African American History. Leggs believes the National Register mirrors social issues of the country. He stated on a national level, officials are working to rectify this inequity. 

In my experience as a reviewer in the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage grant program, working at the Missouri DOT and interning at the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office, places listed due to non-European Ethnic Heritage happen through three avenues: (1) specific advocacy from a person or people towards listing a place; (2) stories that are conveniently tied to European properties; or, (3) the obviously significant places that cannot be ignored. This leaves out places that do not have one of those three avenues to get them listed in the National Register. A couple examples are 470 Hopkins Street in St. Paul, a house used for an exhibit at the Minnesota History Center and 612 E. Summit Ave. Fergus Falls, MN,. The latter is the house of Prince Honeycutt, the town’s first African American, a barber and baseball player. The Honeycutt House was evaluated in 2012 for National Register eligibility and was determined it needed further information to make a determination if it is eligible for listing in the National Register.


Public entities and organizations are working to reconcile the discrepancy in representation in the National Register. For example, some state historic preservation offices have divisions with a direct mission to represent certain identities such as the Georgia State Historic Preservation Office’s African American Programs and the Black Heritage Council of Alabama. The National Council on Public History recently reported on the importance of reviewing current and past nominations to tell yet untold stories. Some states are listing and updating places that have significance to Native Americans identities including the recently listed Higginbotham Turnpike in Van Buren, TN and advocacy toward renaming a historic district, Indian Village, in Detroit, MI. The National Park Service continues to administer their Underrepresented Community Grants, started in 2014, to diversify “the nominations submitted to the National Register of Historic Places.” This year, they include $750,000 towards 18 projects. In Minnesota the National Register nomination for the Fort Snelling Historic District is also in the process of being updated to reflect the deep history of the Dakota people and the nationally significant story of Dred and Harriet Scott. 

By using existing data and information, the field can come together to advocate for representation of identities whose histories are often not told. This includes using two of the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grants administered by the Minnesota Historical Society to reconcile nominations. The National Register grants are for the determination of eligibility for the National Register and writing, updating or revising a National Register Nomination. Feel free to join in this discussion by reaching out to the Minnesota Local History Services with ideas and thoughts.

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