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Fate Of Artwork Hinges On Crocker Art Museum Humidifier Fixes

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A million-dollar mishap is now threatening priceless pieces of art inside Sacramento's Crocker Art Museum. A humidifier system inside the museum is supposed to provide the proper humidity levels, but the system is failing and expensive artwork could be damaged.

The Crocker more than tripled its size after opening a new wing in 2010, and that allowed them to put many more pieces of art on display. Now, trying to protect those pieces is becoming a problem.

Sacramento's Crocker Art Museum has been around for 125 years, and inside are thousands of priceless pieces of art.

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen said, "The Crocker is the repository for so many Sacramento treasures."

But, now there's concern that the collection could be damaged due to humidity and temperature troubles.

"If you don't get it right, it can cause damage to the art, so it's a very fine balance," said Hansen.

The Crocker risks losing accreditation if those specific measurements are not met.

"If it didn't get fixed, I think we may have not gotten some exhibits."

Museum officials refused to comment, but CBS13 has learned the problems first surfaced soon after the facility expanded in 2010 and installed what was supposed to be state of the art equipment. According to city documents, "The original ultrasonic humidification system as-designed did not perform to expectations." Documentation went onto to say, " Repeated mechanical failures caused undesirable indoor humidity conditions adverse to art exhibits," and "Museums have strict standards for a reason."

Art archival expert D. Neath says improper climate control can cause permanent damage.

"It's actually expanding and contracting the fibers and eventually that deteriorates the piece. It weakens it, can rip it, it can fall."

The equipment failure triggered a legal dispute between the city and the original contractors, but now the two sides have reached a settlement, with the contractors agreeing to pay $770,000 to replace the humidifier and the city paying $250,000 in design and legal fees.

Art lovers are hoping the new system will help permanently preserve the collection.

"Artwork is meant to be enjoyed. It's not meant to languish in a drawer so we can keep it safe," says Neath.

Tuesday night, city leaders approved the plan to fix the problem, which includes installing a new, steam-based humidifier system that has better results.

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