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Monday, Session 1: Perspectives, Leadership and the Evolving Profession

After 24 years the 27th Biennale IIC Congress retackles Preventive Conservation. The room was filled with bustling and excitement, more so after Stefan Michalski, Forbes Prize Lecturer, reminded us on his keynote that our conservation work not only feels, but also is authentically and in essence, meaningful.


Anna Bulow presenting Monday during Session 1
Image by Sagita M. Sunara

During this first session our speakers presented three very different approaches as to how we see the evolving conservation profession. First Anna Bulow reminded us how the profession has developed; from 19th-century industrialization that initiated our desire to protect culture, to the need to formalize these attempts after the world wars, and then inserting technology in our daily tasks to do so. Remembering that preventive conservation has traversed its own journey is important to be able to achieve the new goals of museums today, that is:

  • enhancing and celebrating culture,
  • creating and engaging community, and
  • participating in a self sufficient manner in commerce and economy.

Understanding whence we came from is a sure way to close the gap between the material condition and the meanings objects have, incite public participation, and it is also a good way to adapt to our digital revolution.

Then David Thickett changed the tempo by returning from the conceptual aspects of heritage to the frontiers of implementation. How we determine which indicators are worth measuring? What we measure, why and how we translate that into proper policy shifts? Are we considering the scope of our collections? Are we deliberating on the diversity of materials and even the discrepancies between environments while decision making?

Finally Mateo Rossi-Doria and Stefan Michalski shared practical tips on preventive conservation leadership. They reminded us of the importance of developing human relationships in order to implement preventive conservation plans. Amongst the tips were:

  • install a preventive conservation philosophy from the educational level,
  • divide a project in small contracts,
  • always describe the positive results, and
  • remain an independent thinker,  instead of integrating to the organizational structure.

Being - or not - part of the family seems like a mute point, because we are creating through the IIC and other similar organizations a new community of conservators. However their lecture was also an invitation to reassess our communities’ communication skills. Why are we printing so little about preventive conservation, especially since we are constantly engaging with so many stakeholders? Are we assuming preventive conservation policies are a given and forget to spot them within institutional routines? Is the 5% publication rate on preventive conservation a reflection of the status quo? Are our congress and conference committees being biased against preventive conservation study cases and more importantly long term planning examples?

All in all, it was a great way to start us off! Let’s hope it’s not another two decades before preventive conservation gets the spotlight again, especially since our M.O. is holistic and integral. If anything this congress is an invitation to keep up the good work and to continue to grow as a community.

Author: Jessica Lewinsky