Conservation: Reactive and Proactive

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A screencap of a virtual presentation in progress during the AIC 2020 Virtual Meeting. This talk was presented July 2, 2020. At top left are speaker headshots, with handouts and an active attendee chat below. The slides are presented in the center.

By Suzanne Davis, Vice President and Annual Meeting Program Chair

This is supposed to be a newsy article about the annual meeting, and it will be! But I’m choosing to write something a little more personal, because I don’t feel well-equipped to write anything about our annual conference unless I’m also able to acknowledge how hard it is—even for me, the annual meeting program chair—to actually pay attention to the meeting right now. Our 2020 Annual Meeting theme, Conservation: Reactive and Proactive, was chosen last summer and referenced big, emerging issues in our discipline. Little did we know it would come to seem prescient and almost ridiculously appropriate as we reacted to global and national crises this spring. In this moment, as we continue to react to what is happening in the world around us, we can also see opportunities for proactive work, both with our annual meeting and, more broadly, for the scope and character of our work.

I’ve been attending AIC’s annual conference for almost 20 years, and this year is different for many reasons. The most significant of these is the grief and trauma many of us are experiencing. I won’t stay on this point, but this winter and spring we’ve witnessed—literally, due to modern technology—a brutal series of anti-Black murders and other violence, as well as the disproportionate and devastating effects of COVID-19 on BIPOC. We’ve also seen fresh discrimination against Asian Americans. It’s painfully clear that we need to continue to assert that Black lives matter, and that we must work much harder on anti-racism efforts. As individuals and as a discipline, we are exempt from nothing in this regard. (See also the Board Statement). 

Meanwhile, many AIC members have been furloughed, with even more wondering if our jobs, museums, and businesses will survive the pandemic. Not least, there is the pandemic itself: The highly infectious SARSCoV2 virus and the fear and distress surrounding the COVID-19 disease it causes. Which brings us to another reason this year’s conference is different: It’s online, because it’s too dangerous for us to meet in person.

I’ve posted regular updates in our member community about the process of transitioning the annual meeting to an online or “virtual” format, but here’s a brief recap. In March, as negotiations about our in-person meeting were happening with venues in Salt Lake City, UT, we ran a survey to ask members about options for the 2020 conference, including the possibility of holding a virtual meeting. More than 1,000 members responded, and most expressed a willingness to meet virtually. AIC board members and key staff met by phone, discussed the survey, and agreed to explore options for an online conference.

My normal job for the conference is to work on the content. I chair the general or plenary session committees, including the committees that work on the opening session, the concurrent “general” sessions (which focus on multi-disciplinary topics in conservation), and the poster session. I also facilitate other content-related activities by assisting Specialty Group (SG) program chairs and other session organizers, as needed. My counterpart in the AIC office, Ruth Seyler, focuses more on the logistics for meeting (not a small feat), although we consult closely on all aspects of the conference. The year 2020 has been a year in which the meeting’s content and logistics have required even more collaboration than usual, not just between us but with many other AIC and FAIC staff, session chairs, and speakers.

As exploratory planning got underway, Ruth and I reached out to SG and other program committee chairs to ask anyone interested (or with existing experience) in planning a virtual meeting to step forward and help with decision making. An informal working group of AIC staff, program committee members, and SG and network chairs was formed. This group surveyed the 2020 speakers about presenting their talks virtually and, when 79% of speakers indicated they would be willing and able to present online, we began to look at virtual conference platforms.

Ultimately, we chose the platform LMS Elevate for most programming, and we have subsequently transferred more than 100 hours of programming to this learning management system. This system was both cost- and time-effective for us, since we were already using it for the C2CCares webinars and FAIC’s online courses. These considerations were important, because we initially forecast a $50-60,000 loss on the meeting and we needed to transfer a huge amount of content to an online platform quickly. Using an in-place system allowed us to act rapidly and saved us a lot of money, which is crucial for the long-term financial health of our organization.

If you’ve been attending the virtual conference, you may have observed that this system is not without its drawbacks (at least for our conference). The system doesn’t work well with some internet browsers, there’s no easy way to provide real-time captioning, and sound quality varies based on speakers’ and attendees’ connections. For some attendees, there are time lags between the audio and slides. As webinar platform, it can feel a little clunky to all of us who are more comfortable with Zoom and Google meetings. Bottom line – it’s not as functional for our purposes as we would like, and I want to acknowledge the problems and sincerely apologize to anyone who’s struggled with it. As a speaker, session chair, and attendee, I have experienced similar frustrations and empathize. For reasons of time and cost (we are still projecting a ~$45-50,000 loss), we’re not able move to a different system for most sessions this year, but I assure you that we are paying close attention to all of these issues and we are learning a lot that we can and will apply if we need to meet virtually again.

That said, there are some things that are truly fantastic about this year’s meeting:

  •  There are almost no concurrent sessions, so if you want to attend RATS, PSG, and WAG talks live, you can! To make this possible, we spread the meeting out over three months. This decision was the topic of much discussion in our virtual conference working group. Some of us felt it was unsustainable and unhealthy to ask attendees to sit through (and staff to manage) a solid week or more of consecutive online programming, and that it would be best to spread it out in small chunks over several months. Others pointed out that many members were either caring for young children or working from home, and these individuals would not be able to attend day-long programs even if they wanted to. A few of us, me included, were worried that if we spread the program out across months, attendees would lose interest. But we were in the minority and, in the end, the conference was scheduled through early September. We are offering six to eight hours of programming each week, with most sessions scheduled from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time. Although it’s a bit hard to tell (right now) how well this will be received, all seems well so far! As an attendee, I have carefully planned sessions into my calendar each week and really look forward to showing up for them. I love seeing colleagues’ names and messages pop up in the chat window, and it’s helped me feel connected to a vibrant professional community at a time when I rarely leave my house.
  • The sessions are recorded. If you are caring for family during the day, or (in my case) must attend long meetings with co-workers, you can watch the archived sessions later.
  • An unexpected benefit has to do with our business meetings; for the first time, these are open to all members, not only those physically present at the conference. Our annual All Member Business Meeting on May 22 had 450 attendees, more than we’ve ever had at an in-person meeting! And because members could quickly type questions and comments into the chat (vs. walking to a microphone, waiting in line, and asking the question or offering an observation) we were able to take more questions than we’ve ever been able to at an in-person event. We’ve answered those we couldn’t get to and those that required more explanation in a document that’s posted on the online community under “Member Library > Membership.” AIC board members liked this format for the business meeting so much that we would like to use it for future meetings, even as our conference returns to meeting in person.

This begs the question, what else might we choose to retain from this experience? For example, could we meet virtually on a regular basis and forgo meeting in person each year? My view on this is that in years when we can safely offer an in-person conference, we should. As a national professional association, we advance our discipline in ways that work best when we can meet face to face. This includes the meetings of many committees and interest groups who bring together members from across the country to advance policy and programs around key issues like diversity and equity, leadership, membership designations, and professional education. AIC’s mission is also fundamentally tied to professional education and the exchange of knowledge and ideas. As someone who has attended and given many talks, I believe that nothing matches the experience of being able to present and discuss your work in person. For me, AIC is one of the key places where I test my work and ideas among experts as a way to develop them further. Although I certainly understand the perspective of members who do not wish to attend the conference every year, my deep conviction is that it is best for us as an organization and as a discipline to offer an in person meeting each year, when it’s safe to do so. That said, maybe we can also offer an online component. We’ve had more than 1,500 people register for this year’s annual meeting, which is a record number, and we have seen a 15% increase in international registrations. This demonstrates how attractive a virtual option is for many people, and we hope to offer a combined in-person and online event in future. In short, we can expect that our experience in 2020 will change and expand our annual meeting model in new and exciting ways.

I opened this article with a few short statements cataloging the current miserable state of the world and a brief note about my own difficulties in focusing attention on the annual conference. If you are struggling with the same, I encourage you to persevere for two reasons:

  • Attending is likely to lift your mood, because our colleagues are doing such interesting and inspiring work.
  • Our work and how well we do it matters. We must move forward thoughtfully and proactively, because conservation is an incredibly important social activity. Every object we care for is an entry point into others’ lives—the lives of artists and creators, collectors, residents and users—and our work helps tell their stories.

Cultural heritage offers an amazing opportunity to connect people from different points in history and different walks of life, and we play a huge role in fostering this connection. To briefly consider one big societal problem we’re struggling with right now, racism, a central question is: How do you engage people who think the problem isn’t real? The arts and cultural heritage can offer different entries for considering and connecting with this issue and may reach people in ways news stories do not. We need equity and peace and understanding in our own discipline, and we also need it in the world around us. Our work can contribute to this goal. All of which is to say, at a time when many of us are renewing our resolve to create change, time and effort spent on professional education and research can help us build the knowledge and skills to make our world a better place.

—Suzanne Davis, AIC Vice-President, davissl@umich.edu


Annual Meeting Workshops Recap 

We are excited to have been able to adapt over half of the scheduled in-person workshops to the virtual meeting format. These workshops included: 

  • Now You See it, Now You Don’t: Documenting Web-based Art,
  • XRF Boot Camp Lite,
  • Measuring and Mitigating Pollution in Showcases,
  • Introduction to Digital Preservation and Storage,
  • Facilitating Decision-making Through Analysis of Temperature and Relative Humidity Data,
  • Making the Ask: Developing Negotiation Tactics in the Field of Conservation.

These six online workshops were held throughout June thanks to the flexibility of our wonderful instructors. The workshops included interactive materials and resources that participants accessed through an online workshop portal, in addition to at least one live webinar session. Lively discussion took place during the live sessions and through discussion forums in the workshop portals. All the workshops sold out and staff is looking into the possibility of making the content of some workshops available to additional participants later in the summer. Keep an eye out for upcoming announcements so you do not miss out! 

—Sarah Saetren, FAIC Education Coordinator, ssaetren@culturalheritage.org


Next Month’s Annual Meeting News feature by Ruth Seyler: The AIC Annual Meeting: Changing Times, and Risk, Resilience, and Reward

At our all-member business meeting, several attendees asked about the rationale for having an annual conference and suggested AIC hold a meeting less frequently, perhaps every other year or move to a virtual meeting in place of the in-person conference each year. In the September issue of AIC News, AIC Meetings Director Ruth Seyler will address these questions from a business standpoint, exploring the risks and rewards of various meeting models for individual attendees as well as for AIC as an organization.


Blog your experience!

Every AIC member has access to their own blog. If you would like to reflect on your experience attending sessions of the virtual annual meeting, please please post about it at www.culturalheritage.org/blog.


Social Media

NYPL Conservation Instagram post.

Curious about your colleagues’ takeaways and impressions of the meeting programming? Join us on social media! Find posts about the meeting using #AICmtg20 on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

While we’re gathering virtually, we would love to still “see” you! Show us where you’re joining the meeting from by using the hashtag #AICfromAnywhere–we’ve seen desks, decks, labs, even joining from bed–and show us if you have anybody watching with you–partners, children, pets, plants, you name it– with the hashtag #ConservationCopilot. We encourage you to get creative, have fun, and challenge others to do the same!

Katelin Lee, FAIC Outreach Coordinator, klee@culturalheritage.org


Exhibit Hall Goes Virtual in 2020

Exhibitors are an essential part of every annual meeting. They share vital research, products, and techniques with more than 1,200 conservation professionals each year. The exhibit hall also supports the meeting financially. When we decided to transition into a virtual meeting, we wanted to ensure we thanked and included the exhibitors that had planned to be part of our 2020 meeting in Salt Lake City.

Getty Conservation Institute is promoting books during its Exhibitor Meet and Greet sessions.

Every exhibitor has been offered the chance to share a brief presentation during a variety of sessions this summer and answer any questions that come in from attendees. This option replicates (in part) a small piece of our exhibit hall. Exhibitors are able to select sessions that best fit their products, keeping a connection with members to sustain everyone until we meet again in person.  Check the September AIC News for a full list of exhibitors who participated in our conference this year.

We hope that you will continue to support these businesses when able. Learn more about the exhibitors at www.culturalheritage.org/exhibitors.


Congratulations to AIC’s 2020 Award Recipients!

We congratulate the six individual honorees and one organization that earned recognition from their peers this year.

Please join us in celebrating their accomplishments on Wednesday, July 29th, at 4:00 p.m. ET via Zoom. We will share the access link closer to the event. This year, we honor:

  • M. Susan Barger, PhD, Consultant for Small Museums and Archives, with the David Magoon-University Products Conservation Advocacy Award.
  • Gwen Spicer, Conservator in private practice and author of Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums & Cultural Institutions, with the Publication Award.
  • Debra Evans, retired Paper Conservator at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, with Honorary Membership.
  • Karen Pavelka, Senior Lecturer for preventive conservation in the School of Information at The University of Texas at Austin, with the Rutherford John Gettens Award.
  • Samuel Anderson, Principal of Samuel Anderson Architects, with the Allied Professionals Award.
  • Joyce Hill Stoner, PhD, the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Material Culture at the University of Delaware (UD), Director of Preservation Studies Doctoral Program at UD, and Paintings Conservator at the Winterthur/UD Program in Art Conservation, with the Keck Award.

We also recognize The Bell Museum, Minnesota’s state museum of natural history, with the Ross Merrill Award.

Learn more about our awards, including past recipients and nomination procedures, at www.culturalheritage.org/awards.


2020 Virtual Annual Meeting: Thank You for Your Student Support!

A round of applause is in order for the nearly 100 members below who contributed $10,600 in sponsorships! AIC has matched these sponsorship funds to give access to every person who entered the lottery. About 245 current, pre-program, and post-graduate students who were unable to register are now able to attend our 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting.

Ms. Morgan Simms Adams
Ms. Rachael Perkins Arenstein
Mr. Gregory Bailey
Ms. Sarah Barack
Dr. M. Susan Barger
Ms. Brenda Bernier
Ms. Genevieve Bieniosek
Mr. Thomas J. Braun
Mr. Karl Buchberg
Ms. Ellen M. Carrlee
Ms. Sue Ann Chui
Ms. Brenna Cook
Megan Mary Creamer
Ms. Ellen Cunningham-Kruppa
Ms. Debra Cuoco
Ms. Jana Dambrogio
Ms. James Davis
Ms. Beth M. Edelstein
Ms. Rebecca Elder
Ms. Margaret Holben Ellis
Prof. Deena Engel
Mr. Elmer Eusman
Ms. Michelle Facini
Ms. Rebecca Fifield
Ms. Maria Fredericks
Ms. Sarah K. Freeman
Ms. Jennifer French
Ms. Sarah Gentile
Ms. Molly C. Gleeson
Ms Anna Graff
Ms. Mary H. Gridley
Ms. Gretchen Guidess
Ms Heather Hamilton
Ms Colette Hardman-Peavy
Ms. Pamela Hatchfield
Ms. Catharine Hawks
Ms. T Rose Holdcraf
Ms. Harriet Irgang Alden
Ms Ashley Jehle
Ms. Marjorie V. Jonas
Ms. Mary Kaldany
Mr. Richard L. Kerschner
Ms. Leslie Kruth
Ms Shan Kuang
Ms. Marie-France Lemay
Ms. Barbara Lemmen
Ms. Judith Levinson
Ms. Rosa Lowinger
Ms. Dorothy Mahon
Ms. Michele Marincola
Ms. Jennifer McGlinchey Sexton
Ms. Renate Mesmer
Ms. Eugenie Milroy
Ms. Erika Mosier
Ms. Sue Murphy
Ms. Gay Myers
Ms. Ronel YL Namde
Ms. Bonnie Naugle
Ms Ariel O’Connor
Mr. Jay Scott Odell
Ms. Laura Panadero
Ms. Bonnie E. Parr
Ms. Nicole M Passerotti
Ms Michaela Paulson
Ms. Ellen Pearlstein
Ms. Zoe Perkins
Ms Meghanne Phillips
Ms. Elena Phipps
Ms. Andrea Pitsch
Ms. Kari Rayner
Ms Carolyn Riccardelli
Ms. Sue Sack
Ms. Katie Sanderson
Ms. Sarah Scaturro
Ms Kirsten Schoonmaker
Mr. Kent Severson
Mr. Anthony Sigel
Mr. Yong Situ
Ms. Caitlin E. Smith
Ms. Shelley M. Smith
Ms. Theresa J. Smith
Ms. Vanessa Haight Smith
Ms. Rebecca Smyrl
Ms. Valerie Soll
Ms. Renee A. Stein
Ms. Denise Stockman
Prof. Dr. Joyce Hill Stoner
Ms. Kimi Taira
Dr. Melissa Tedone
Ms Dana Mossman Tepper
Ms. Karen Thomas
Ms. Helen M. Thomas-Haney
Ms. Deborah Lee Trupin
Dr. Erich Uffelman
Ms. Claudia D. Walpole
Ms. Jessica Walthew
Ms. Jane L. Williams
Miss Dona Yu
Ms. Shannon Zachary

Meeting refunds 

All refunds as requested from the 2020 meeting in Salt Lake City should have been processed. We thank you for your patience during this lengthy process. Each order had to be processed individually, some in several parts. We also had trouble with refunds over 6 months old, and we apologize for the problems caused by our process. We’ve changed our procedures to ensure funds are returned in a way that’s easiest for you. Please reach out to meetings@culturalheritage.org if something is still not right. 


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