Twitter, Emojis, and the 10 Agents of Deterioration by Mariana Di Giacomo

Mariana Di Giacomo – @MarianaDGiacomo

Being on Twitter is extremely fun for me. People are hilarious and I’m constantly learning from those I follow. As a paleontologist, I am drawn towards fossils, and Twitter is no different. I follow paleontologists, museums, and even SUE the T. rex. I also have another interest, and that is conservation of museum collections. This makes me also follow conservators, organizations, and anyone who tweets about these topics.

A while ago, I signed up to manage the account @RealScientists, hoping to get the word out about my work in #FossilConservation. This account has over 66,500 followers, and these numbers increase weekly with every person curating the account. The idea of doing this felt exciting, but also scary because I was afraid I was not going to be able to manage speaking to such a huge audience. When one of the admins of the account contacted me, I was super happy to have the opportunity to share my work.

Curating the account means you can tweet as often as you want for a whole week. You are free to do polls, engage in Q&As, talk about your science, and even about yourself. It is a great way for others in the Twittersphere to know you, and to learn from you. I tweeted mostly about my experience in paleontology collections, but also focused on conservation.

There is one tweet in particular I want to share because I did not expect it to be so popular, and for people to be so interested. It was a tweet about the 10 agents of deterioration. My idea was to make the tweet accessible to those not working in conservation, by using emojis. This proved to be an excellent choice; the tweet has 330 likes, 146 retweets (plus 25 retweets with comment), and was seen by more than 32,000 users. Who knew people would be so excited about preventive conservation and collections care?

Image by Mariana di GiacomoImage by Mariana Di Giacomo

The most exciting part was not only seeing the likes and retweets, but reading and replying to comments. I kept tweeting that day about the different agents of deterioration, and even though those tweets were not as popular as the main one, I received comments on them as well. People were intrigued by the effects of light, as well as by the effects of temperature and relative humidity. The agent “thieves and vandals” felt odd to one user, who thought this was no longer an issue in museums. Money and budgets was also a topic of discussion, as well as participation of conservation professionals when deciding construction and renovation projects. Emergency preparedness and involvement of the inside and outside community were touched upon, and people responded positively. It blew my mind how interested people were in these topics.

One of the short conversations I enjoyed the most was about education in conservation. An educator asked how to support students interested in these topics, and I gave her some suggestions for success in the field, but ended up talking about advocacy for diversity in conservation. This brings me to the last thing I want to talk on this post: the importance of social media.

I know this has been spoken about a million times, and those managing accounts for museums and collections say this all the time. However, all of us working on conservation need to be more active if we want to inspire change. From the 330 likes I had on the post about the agents of deterioration, many came from conservators and museums, but a lot came from people outside the field. People are fascinated by treatments’ “before and afters”, but they also care about collections. Bringing communities into the backstage is something we should all do, and should do more often. In a single week, I had over a million views of my tweets, from people from all over the world. This shows how powerful social media can be for outreach purposes, and why we should be more involved.

Tell people about what you do. Be humble. Recognize when you don’t know something. Be open to comments and suggestions. Learn when to disconnect. Have fun. Inspire. Those are the things I learned during this week. If you’re on Twitter, you should consider signing up for something like this. If you’re not, what are you waiting for?

How does two conservators walk into a bar sound?

In an article in the April 6, 2018 issue of Science magazine about the then forthcoming second annual “March for Science” (on April 14th), Jeffrey Mervis mentions a number of outreach activities that were developed after the first march. Among them is the Fleet Science Center’s attempt to demystify science with “Two Scientists Walk Into a bar” . In this program, pairs of scientists speak to patrons in San Diego bars for two hours about whatever topics the patrons bring up. How does two conservators walk into a bar sound ?

Introducing Untold Stories

I’m delighted and excited to introduce Untold Stories, a project aimed at pursuing an art conservation profession that represents and preserves a fuller spectrum of human cultural heritage. With generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Untold Stories’ mission is “to expand the existing ethical framework for art conservation by engaging new voices and hearing new stories that transform our understanding of the preservation of cultural heritage. We seek to recognize and conserve a broader range of cultural heritages; embrace a more diverse set of conservation practices and practitioners; and affirm the deep emotional connection between objects and sites of cultural heritage and the communities that claim them.”

Untold Stories will pursue this mission by engaging the voices of visionary leaders and thinkers within the arts, cultural heritage and allied fields whose work offers transformative approaches to storytelling, representation and preservation. Between 2018 and 2020, Untold Stories will hold public events at each of the next three annual meetings of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works featuring thought-provoking conversations with artists, arts administrators, activists, poets and scholars. All events will be professionally videographed and made available on the project site soon after they take place.

The 2018 AIC meeting in Houston will feature a panel discussion on “storytelling as preservation” with Deana Haggag, President and CEO of United States Artists, MacArthur award winning artist Rick Lowe, and queer migrant poet and cultural organizer and activist Sonia Guiñansaca. This event is free and will be held on Wednesday, May 30th, 2018, from 4:30 to 6pm at the conference hotel. (For more information, please visit This event is also now listed in the AIC Program.

Another key component of Untold Stories is to create paid opportunities for emerging professionals to assume leadership roles in the development and implementation of the project’s programming. The project is currently seeking two assistants for 2018. Any interested conservation students or recent graduates of a program are invited to apply. The deadline for applications is January 20th.

Thank you all for your support, and see you in Houston!

Sanchita Balachandran
Project Director, Untold Stories

AIC Presents Forbes Medal to Representatives Royce and Engel

Photo credit: U.S. Foreign Affairs Committee


On June 22, 2017, U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY) were presented with the American Institute for Conservation’s highest honor, the award of the Forbes Medal, for their bipartisan efforts that resulted in the creation of the “Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act.”

Now passed into law, this act imposes new, stronger import restrictions on antiquities that are trafficked out of Syria. By reducing trade in looted artifacts and the profits from looting, historic sites in the Middle East and the cultural material they contain are better shielded, and, by extension, knowledge of our past, of our shared humanity, is saved.

During the presentation on Capitol Hill, Chairman Royce said, “I want to thank the American Institute for Conservation for all of its important work. We are witnessing a cultural devastation in the Middle East. ISIS, Assad and other parties to the conflict are decimating the region’s Greek, Roman, and Byzantine heritage, and sites and artifacts of importance to all three major faiths, from Sufi Shrines to Jonah’s tomb. The U.S. must always lead in supporting those in conflict zones who are risking their lives to preserve the world’s history for future generations.”

Recent turmoil in the Middle East – particularly in Syria and Iraq – led to a thriving trade in looted artifacts, benefiting organization such as ISIS. AIC is pleased to celebrate these U.S. Congressmen who recognized the dangers of such looting, and worked across the aisle to protect precious cultural heritage from exploitation.

“On behalf of the board of directors of the American Institute for Conservation, I extend our thanks to Representatives Engel and Royce for their individual efforts and for their guidance of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs that has both established a precedent for and emphasized the necessity of protecting cultural heritage,” said AIC Executive Director Eryl Wentworth.

“This award is a fitting way to recognize their bipartisan work on behalf of the American and global community to preserve objects and sites of cultural heritage.”

The AIC Forbes Medal celebrates those whose work on national and international platforms has significantly advanced the preservation of cultural heritage.  Prior to honoring Congressmen Engel and Royce, only eight recipients had received this honor since its inception in 1994.

The Forbes Medal is named for Edward Waldo Forbes (1873-1969), who served as director of the Fogg Museum at Harvard University from 1909 through 1944. He founded the country’s first fine arts conservation treatment and research center, and was dedicated to technical research of artworks. Four years after retiring from the Fogg, he founded and served as director of the American Research Center in Egypt.

AIC Board of Directors’ Statement of Solidarity with the Smithsonian Institution

We would like to share the following message from the AIC Board of Directors:

“The American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works decries recent actions that impede the preservation of cultural heritage. The deliberate placement, on two separate occasions, of a noxious symbol of intolerance – a noose – in the galleries of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and on the property of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden interferes with their mission to celebrate and preserve cultural collections. These repugnant acts denigrate the work of our valued conservation colleagues, disrupt the visitor experience, and intimidate potentially new and broader audiences. We believe that the creative achievements and histories of all peoples must be acknowledged and honored through access, interpretation, and preservation. We urge everyone who cares for our cultural heritage to actively support the Smithsonian’s exhibitions and programs.”

To learn more about the events of last week, you can find an article from Smithsonian Magazine here.

If you would like to share this statement, you can also find it here in PDF format.

Belgian Committee of the Blue Shield Seeks Support to Fight Art Trafficking

AIC would like to share the following statement from the Belgian Committee of the Blue Shield:

“After the attacks of 22 March 2016, the Federal Government asserted its determination to combat terrorism in our country.

However, by royal decree of 27 October 2015 establishing the repartition of the personnel of the Federal Police (Belgian Monitor of 30 October 2015) it decided to abolish the ‘Art & Antiques’ section of the Federal Judicial Police, which endeavours to fight the illicit trafficking of works of art.

It is nevertheless well known that the illicit traffic in works of art is one of the sources of finance for international terrorism. In his discourse of 17 November 2015 at UNESCO, President Holland of France made the fight against the illicit traffic in works of art a priority for action:

‘The first of these priorities is the fight against the illicit trafficking in cultural property. It is important to know that at this moment, the terrorist organisation IS delivers archaeological permits and raises taxes on the works that will then supply the international black market, passing through French ports, havens for the handling and money-laundering, including in Europe.’

At the present time, several western countries are dedicating more staff and resources to combat the illicit trafficking of works of art. This is the case in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Spain (24 staff versus 8 beforehand), the United States of America (16 staff versus 6 before) and above all France, which has a specialised unit of 25 people. Other countries are taking similar measures. Belgium is therefore resolutely marching against the tides of history.

In international colloquiums, Belgium was clearly identified as a main hub of the illicit trafficking of works of art. In abolishing – particularly now – the ‘Art and Antiquities’ unit of the Federal Judicial Police, our country does not give the right signals.

Several national and international organisations, namely INTERPOL and the UN, complained to the Federal Government about this measure, pointing out that Belgium is no longer able to fulfill its international obligations. Furthermore, the abolition of the judiciary unit ‘Art & Antiquities’ risks damaging the reputation of Belgium, already tarnished by criticism after the Paris attacks for the way in which our country handles the fight against terrorism.

In abolishing the ‘Art & Antiquities’ unit, a specialised contact group disappears. It will no longer be possible to reply to specific questions from Interpol, foreign customs services and other authorities and international organisations. Even worse, the database that is managed by this judicial section will no longer be updated. Belgium will become the weak link in the battle against the financing of terrorism and the illicit trafficking of works of art. It will be very difficult to repair the damage which will result and considerable financial means will be needed.

More alarmingly, Paris Match revealed recently that ‘one of the perpetrators of the deadly attacks at Zaventem airport and Maelbeek metro station in March of this year actively participated in the trafficking of works of art in Belgium, and relatively recently. Around him were other characters, apparently linked to Salah Abdeslam.’ Without being able to confirm that there could be a link between the attacks in Brussels and the illicit trafficking of works of art, this information should underline that the negligence of the Federal Government could cost us all dearly.

Sign the Petition (Site in French)

Minister of the Interior,
Minister of Justice,

In abolishing the ‘Art & Antiquities’ unit of the Federal Judicial Police, you are putting Belgian citizens, as well as the citizens of other countries, in danger.

The fight against terrorism, and therefore its financing, must be one of your priorities.

We ask you to reverse your decision to abolish the ‘Art & Antiquities’ unit of the Federal Judicial Police, and to work towards strengthening it.  We want see the restoration of Belgium’s image abroad through the respect of its international obligations and by lending support to the efforts to prevent new innocent victims.

The authors of the petition :

Myriam Serck-Dewaide
Gustaaf Janssens

The Belgian committee of the Blue Shield asbl, is a coordinating body bringing together representatives of Belgian authorities, both federal and federated, and international organisations, including experts in the protection and management of cultural heritage. It works towards the enforcement of compliance with The Hague Convention of 1954 and its Protocols in relation to the protection of cultural property in the case of armed conflict.

You can sign the petition here.

AIC Board of Directors Statement on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)

We would like to share the following statement from the AIC Board of Directors:
The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works strongly supports the Oceti Sakowin Oyate (the Great Sioux Nation) and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) across treaty land.  As the national professional organization dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage, we deplore the destruction or desecration of any historic or sacred site, and are deeply concerned by the current threat posed to such cultural heritage by the DAPL.  We are committed to collaborating with native people and support the preservation and long-term stewardship of their culturally significant sites.  For these reasons, we join with allied agencies, including the American Alliance of Museums, the American Anthropological Association, and the Society for American Archaeology, to condemn any negative impact of the DAPL on historic and sacred sites.
Approved by the AIC Board of Directors
December 1, 2016
To view and share the statement, click here.

TREASURED LANDSCAPES: National Park Service Art Collections Tell America’s Stories launch

NPS Landscape Art
The National Park Service Museum Management Program is pleased announce the publication of TREASURED LANDSCAPES: National Park Service Art Collections Tell America’s Stories (book) and a companion virtual exhibit in celebration of the National Park Service Centennial, 1916–2016.  Artworks from over 50 national parks are featured in the book and the exhibit.
Landscape art played a major role in the establishment of the National Park Service and inspired national leaders to protect and preserve these special places for all Americans. Stunning paintings, watercolors, sketches, and works on paper from National Park Service museum collections are seen together for the first time. They capture America’s treasured landscapes from Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Death Valley, to works displayed in the homes of such eminent Americans as Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Laurence Rockefeller. Other works mirror American experiences, from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, to solitary Southwestern scenes, to wildlife in nature. These works of art convey a visual record of the Nation’s stories and reveal the remarkable diversity and engaging history of the National Park Service.
Book available through Eastern National eParks
National Park Service Virtual Exhibit

Power to Preserve: Creating a Collection Care Culture: AIC’s Collection Care Network Hosts a Session at the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting

–By Marianne Weldon, Objects Conservator and Collections Manager of the Art and Artifacts Collection, Bryn Mawr College
On Sunday, May 29, I attended the panel entitled Power to Preserve: Creating a Collection Care Culture moderated by Rebecca Fifield.  This session was developed by AIC’s Collection Care Network (CCN) for the Collection Management track at the Annual Meeting of the American Alliance of Museums in Washington, D.C.  The AAM Annual Meeting Theme for 2016 was Power, Influence, and Responsibility, encouraging exploration of “how the themes of power, influence and responsibility shape the work of museums in the U.S. and around the world”.
A goal of the presentation was to share influencing strategies to support development of collection care, as well as to highlight resources and partnerships available through AIC. The three presenters spoke of ways that they have been working at their institutions to foster relationships with partners within and outside their institution to better enable them to care for their collections.
 Maryanne McCubbin spoke to fostering aligned goals across an institution.  She emphasized the importance in finding common ground among museum staff and that most people working in the museum are collections stewards in some way whether directly or indirectly.  She outlined the importance of fostering that relationship with others that work in the museum in a variety of ways including:

  • Avoiding rhetoric and demystifying what collections staff are doing. Avoid terms that people won’t understand, such as agents of deterioration.
  • Being proactive and available so people don’t feel like they are bothering you or that you are too busy for them.
  • Provide frequent, regular, repeated communications on many levels and in many directions up and down the chain.
  • Make sure to demonstrate that you have the “big picture” in mind and that you understand and present things in an inter-disciplinary way.

Kathy Garrett-Cox spoke to the importance of working with community partners to enable smaller institutions to create a collection care culture beyond their institutions.  At Maymont, an American estate in Richmond Virginia, the staff numbers 3 full-time and 3 part-time, which is small when considering the needs of institutions during emergency response.  Garrett-Cox spoke about the formation of The Museum Emergency Support Team (MEST), which was formed by a group of small local organization in 2006 in response to Hurricane Katrina as an alliance for response to help to share resources, planning and training.  She additionally outlined many specific examples of the way the group grew and changed over the years, introducing challenges associated with volunteer group continuity, what worked, and what didn’t.
Patricia Silence works at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation where she manages the preventive conservation team of 20 members.  She gave numerous examples of ways that demonstrated the power of communication strategies to strengthen staff partnerships in supporting collection care. Overall, these ideas helped create relationships where colleagues in other departments wanted to help further collection care. These strategies included:

  • Meeting with over 150 site interpreters and supervisors in small groups and explaining the reasons for temperature set points. This included a briefing on dew point and how they use temperature to reduce the possibility of having water in the walls. This has helped their facilities department get fewer calls regarding comfort issues.
  • Tracking the number of hours spent cleaning gum off of items and cleaning up soda spills in order to explain why these items should not be allowed in historic buildings with collections.
  • She emphasized the importance of expressing professional “needs and desires” in terms of value. Giving reasons beyond collections value when necessary and aligning the rationale with the goals of colleagues in other departments.

Additionally Patricia spoke of areas for improvement, where things haven’t gone as well as she would like.  One specific example was in the area of excessive lighting, where additional buy-in by leadership and security staff is still needed.
As a result of all the panelists discussing both things that worked well and areas that needed improvement, discussion with the audience then centered around how we respond to hearing “NO” at our institutions and what are the most compelling arguments to win institutional support for preservation programs.  Several  members of the audience responded with ways that they build partnerships with allies within their institution or develop data to support their argument before again attempting to implement change.
The panelists presented a variety of examples, both successful and unsuccessful, to promote collection care cultures at their institutions. It contributed renewed energy to go back to our institutions to continue to forge stronger relationships to support collections care in a variety of creative ways.
Find out more information about the activities of AIC’s Collection Care Network.
Rebecca Fifield is Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections at the New York Public Library. She is a graduate of the George Washington University Museum Studies program and a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation. A 25-year veteran of large and small art and history institutions, she is Chair of AIC’s Collection Care Network and an Advisory Council Member of the Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists.
Maryanne McCubbin is Head, Strategic Collection Management at Museum Victoria. Maryanne has worked in archives and museums for close to thirty years. An expert in history and care of heritage collections, her work has centered on the development, care and preservation, use and interpretation of collections. Her current position involves addressing the big, tough issues around managing a major, complex state collection.
Patty Silence is Director of Preventive Conservation at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, responsible for preservation in the historic area, museums, storage, and loans. Her focus is on site maintenance, environmental management, emergency preparedness, exhibit preparation, pest control, and safe transport of collections. Patty has over 30 years of experience in encouraging colleagues to gain and use expertise in collections care.Kathy Garrett-Cox is Collection Manager of the Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island and formerly Manager of Historic Collections at Maymont in Richmond, Virginia, where she worked for 11 years. She currently serves as President of the Virginia Conservation Association and as Chair of the Richmond Area Museum Emergency Support Team. Kathy speaks frequently on coordination of conservation projects and writing disaster plans. She recently coordinated the Central Virginia Alliance for Response program.

International Archaeology Day at the Penn Museum

October 15 is International Archaeology Day (IAD), which is sponsored by the Archaeological Institute of America and held each year on the third Saturday of October. AIC is registered as a Collaborating Organization for IAD this year and we are encouraging all AIC members to promote this event, archaeology, and how we as conservation professionals support archaeological projects and collections. You can do this in many ways, including by posting on the AIC and ADG Facebook pages and on the AIC blog, with a tag for International Archaeology Day. The hashtag for social media is #IAD2016.
As ADG co-chair and conservator at the Penn Museum, I will take this opportunity to promote the Penn Museum Symposium, Engaging Conservation: Collaboration Across Disciplines, taking place this week in Philadelphia from 6-8 October 2016. This 3-day symposium is being held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Penn Museum’s Conservation DepartmentFounded in 1966, it is thought to be the first archaeology and anthropology museum conservation lab in the United States to be staffed by professional conservators. 
Penn Museum Conservation Lab in 1968 (above) and in 2016 (below)
Penn Museum Conservation Lab in 1968 (above) and in 2016 (below)
The Symposium will feature 31 paper presentations by conservators, archaeologists, anthropologists, and specialists in related fields, which will address topics related to the conservation of archaeological and anthropological materials and the development of cross-disciplinary engagement over the past half century. The full schedule and abstracts can be found on the symposium website by following this linkLook for upcoming posts summarizing the events.
The Penn Museum will be hosting a variety of other events on October 15th in celebration of IAD, including offering behind-the-scenes tours of the Museum’s Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials (CAAM). CAAM opened in 2014, and encompasses teaching and research labs, staffed by specialists in ceramics, archaeobotany, archaeozoology, human skeletal analysis, archaeometallurgy, digital archaeology, and conservation.
CAAM teaching specialist Dr. Kate Moore working with students (left); view of one of the teaching labs (right)
CAAM teaching specialist Dr. Kate Moore working with students (left); view of one of the teaching labs (right)
We look forward to hearing about other ways in which our colleagues are involved in supporting archaeological projects and collections. Happy International Archaeology Day!