A Recap of IIC’s Point of the Matter Dialogue on Viral Images and Protest Art

On February 14th, conservators, archivists, curators, educators, artists, historians, and activists gathered in the Bonnie J. Sacerdote Lecture Hall at The Metropolitan Museum of Art for the International Institute for Conservation’s (IIC) Point of the Matter Dialogue, “Viral Images: Exploring the historic and conservation challenges of objects created for social protest and solidarity.” When organizers began planning this event two years ago, they could not have predicted just how timely this Point of the Matter Dialogue would be, in light of increased social unrest resulting from recent political and global events. Appropriately, a pink knitted ‘Pussy Hat’ could be spotted in the audience — a symbol of protest and solidarity from the historic Women’s Marches held worldwide just three weeks earlier.

The program focused on creative and expressive imagery used for social protest. Fine art, photography, and graphic design are all subject to endless replication and adaptation, becoming “viral images” that spin outwards on social media and the news – carrying with them powerful messages and gathering new meanings. Viral images can function as symbols for a specific social cause or an entire movement, can themselves become flash-points for social action, or can serve as documents of historic moments. Ephemeral by nature, they can prove to have long-term influence. IIC’s Point of the Matter Dialogue aimed to address the challenges involved in archiving this form of cultural heritage.

The organizers posed a series of questions as a starting point for discussion:

  • What happens to the artwork when the protesters leave?
  • Was it ever intended to be collected or preserved?
  • Is there a precedent for archiving these ephemeral materials?
  • Who is collecting them?
  • How do we preserve the intent and impact of these creative works for posterity?

The event included short presentations by panelists and a Q&A, both of which were live-streamed online and can now be viewed here. Before recording began, the program kicked off with a sneak preview of “STREETWRITE,” a musical film written and directed by Blanche Baker about street art and freedom of expression. This was followed by a performance and presentations by Artists Fighting Fascism: Rebecca Goyette, Brian Andrew Whiteley, and Kenya (Robinson). Those watching the video of this program may be interested in learning more about these artists and their work, as they were active participants in the Q&A session and their projects were cited several times by panelists and audience members (specifically Goyette and Whiteley’s recent video collaboration, (Robinson)’s #WHITEMANINMYPOCKET project, and Whiteley’s Trump Tombstone piece).

The panel included six speakers, who represented various stakeholders and decision-makers in this discussion: those who produce, document, collect archive, preserve, and study protest art and viral images. Ralph Young, a Professor of History at Temple University, discussed the history of dissent in America, touching on themes covered in his recent book and courses on this subject. A historical context for the concept of “viral images” was provided by Aaron Bryant, Curator of Photography and Visual Culture at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Bryant discussed his approach as a curator for a history museum to collecting images and objects that represent historic events, changing ideas, and social movements (including Black Lives Matter protests).

Michael Gould-Wartofsky, a sociologist and author, related his experience reporting on Occupy Wall Street in 2011, highlighting the key role of social media and viral images for broadcasting protesters’ messages, and the challenges in reconstructing this digital archive. A case study for the practice of archiving this form of cultural heritage was provided by Lidia Uziel, Western Languages Division Leader for the Harvard Library: shortly after the 2015 terrorist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris, the university created an archive devoted to collecting and documenting the visual and textual materials produced in response to the event.  

Gregory Sholette, an artist, activist, and writer, discussed his personal involvement in the East Village art scene in the 1980s and the afterlives of artworks created for social movements as they are moved into the museum. In this vein, Christian Scheidemann, a conservator of contemporary art, presented examples of artworks created either as a form of protest or from protest materials and considered the decision-making process involved in exhibiting, preserving, and restoring these works.

After short presentations by the panelists, an hour was devoted to questions from the audience. The dialogue between the panelists and audience members moved beyond the prompts posed by the organizers, and included both practical and theoretical questions. The discussion touched on the life cycle of viral images and protest art, and the relationship of this ephemeral material to fine art. Participants considered the practical problem of how to determine what material to save in the aftermath of historic events when resources for its preservation are limited. Questions were also raised about the social and ethical responsibilities of conservators and archivists, our role in constructing and framing historical narratives, and the impact of our individual and innate biases. This in turn led to a frank conversation about the lack of diversity in the conservation field, a concern that has motivated the formation of the AIC Equity and Inclusion Working Group (NB: Readers may be interested in Sanchita Balachandran’s talk “Race, Diversity, and Politics in Conservation: Our 21st Century Crisis,” presented at the 2016 AIC Annual Meeting). These questions pointed to a number of potential topics for future events in the Point of the Matter Dialogue series.

Thank you to IIC and the Point of the Matter Dialogue organizers for such a productive and thought-provoking program! To watch the full program, click here.

Panelists and organizers for the IIC Point of the Matter Dialogue on Viral Images. (Photograph courtesy of Sharra Grow)
Back row: Christian Scheidemann, Michael Gould-Wartofsky, Aaron Bryant, Lidia Uziel, Ralph Young
Middle Row: Gregory Sholette, Blanche Baker, Rebecca Rushfield, Amber Kerr;
Front Row: Kenya (Robinson), Rebecca Goyette


Advocacy Alert: Comment on proposed changes to laws regarding trade and transit of African elephant ivory

Advocacy Banner
Please Act Now!!
An urgent message to AIC members from AIC President Pamela Hatchfield:
In response to an unprecedented rise in illegal poaching of the African elephant driven by the demand created by the ivory trade, US Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) has responded with proposed amendments to existing laws to increase protection of the African elephant. These efforts are in tandem with CITES international efforts and an executive order by President Obama in 2013 to combat wildlife trafficking. Most recently, FWS has amended language in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) 4(d) rule to incorporate certain restrictions on international and interstate trade and transit of African elephant ivory. While we strongly support the premise that the African elephant must be protected, we also want to protect cultural heritage. The two goals are not mutually exclusive. FWS has invited the general public to comment on the proposed changes through 28 September 2015.
The AIC code of ethics states, “III. While recognizing the right of society to make appropriate and respectful use of cultural property, the conservation professional shall serve as an advocate for the preservation of cultural property.” Accordingly, we must take a stand for the protection of cultural property, including items made with ivory.
We have crafted the comment below for your use, but you should feel free to alter or add to it.  The more comments received, the more likely it is that our concerns will be heard. We urge you to submit your comments to the FWS portal so that AIC’s voice is heard as they finalize these changes.
You may submit comments electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov/. In the Search box, enter FWS–HQ–IA–2013–0091, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. You may submit a comment by clicking on ‘‘Comment Now!’’
You may also submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–HQ–IA–2013–0091; Division of Policy, Performance, and Management Programs; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 5275 Leesburg Pike, MS: BPHC; Falls Church, VA 22041.
Note that all comments will be publicly posted on http://www.regulations.gov/.

Dear ______,

I am a member of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC), an organization formed specifically to protect cultural heritage properties, including those fabricated from or incorporating materials derived from endangered species.

As a conservation professional, I support elephant conservation efforts and respect laws that halt illegal trafficking of new raw and worked ivory. At the same time, we must seek the protection of cultural property that was obtained in full compliance with legal regulations at the time of acquisition. Therefore, we advocate for protecting permitted, legally acquired worked ivories from unnecessary destruction, destructive testing, and possible confiscation.

As a member, it is essential for me to state my position on this important issue. While I wholeheartedly support efforts to protect elephants, I wish to call attention to the fact that present efforts to protect African elephants from extinction could also result in inadvertent damage to historic cultural artifacts that are made of or with ivory. Please consider the following recommendations while finalizing all proposed changes to the 4(d) rule:

  • Protect legally acquired worked ivories from destruction, destructive testing, and possible confiscation.
  • Accept documentation that reliably establishes ownership dating to 1976 or before (pre-Convention) as proof that the ivory was legally obtained, and as antique if documentation demonstrates a history over 100 years.

With thanks for your attention to these critically important concerns,


(Your Signature Here)

ECPN Webinar “Get Involved! Conservation Education, Outreach, and Advocacy”: Follow-Up Q&A

ECPN Webinar “Get Involved! Conservation Education, Outreach, and Advocacy”: Follow-Up Q&A

On April 23, 2014, the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) hosted an hour-long webinar titled “Get Involved! Conservation Education, Outreach, and Advocacy.”

The program featured three speakers with experience working in various aspects of conservation education, outreach, and advocacy: Teresa Myers, private practice conservator who participated in the American Alliance of Museum’s Museum Advocacy Day in 2011; Richard McCoy, an arts and cultural consultant with an established history of writing for digital and print publications, teaching in graduate programs, and creating innovative web projects; and Sarah Barack, private practice conservator and co-chair of AIC’s K-12 Educational Outreach subcommittee.

During the program, the speakers shared their experiences as supervisors and pre-program interns, respectively; contributed to guided questions; and answered audience questions.  The recorded webinar can be found on AIC’s YouTube channel (or click here). 

Included below are the questions that could not be addressed during the program with responses from the speakers.

What are some tips you have for emerging conservators who would like to get involved with outreach and advocacy? What can they be doing short and long term to make an impact?

Teresa Myer: As I mentioned during the webinar, I found the Museum Advocacy Day event to be incredibly educational regarding the mechanics of advocacy. It’s a great place to start. It’s well organized, very clear and focused and well worth attending. Looking at longer-term activities, finding ways to foster relationships with Congresspeople and state-level legislators as well will boost your impact. Another way to be involved is simply to talk about your advocacy activities with other conservators and museum professionals. Hopefully, the more people realize how straightforward and achievable this activity can be, the more they will join in. As Ruth mentioned, there is a real strength in numbers; the more voices there are speaking to a common point, the more weight the point carries.

Richard McCoy: I think getting involved in a community is the best way to get involved, however you want define “community.” Your community might be local, national, or international. Working with folks on a common goal in a larger project is a very good way to make an impact in educating others about the need to care for cultural heritage, and therefore advocate for your profession.

Sarah Barack: Getting involved with your local community at first— see where there is a need and/or opportunity. For instance, going to open houses to meet people at local schools; volunteering with local groups that already have ties to the community, etc. I think the first step is really just making connections with people and once that has been established, it is easier and more natural to find ways in which you can promote conservation.

Regarding long term versus short term, hopefully short term smaller projects might lead to a more permanent or deeper activity. If particular conservators enjoy outreach activities, I would encourage them to think big picture, so that they can align their efforts with a larger strategy— whatever that may be. For instance, to be part of a school curriculum, or part of an annual arts fair or weekend, etc.

Besides conducting a wiki search, how else will people know about the articles that are being written through Richard’s class?

RM: A drive goal I’ve been working towards is to change how people find information when caring for cultural heritage. What I mean is that when you search for something on the Internet (Google it), I think you should be able to find excellent information, either about a particular item of cultural heritage or how to care for it. Sure this is a big goal but really we have the tools to solve this, it’s just a matter of getting more people working to the same end. 

SB: Links from other websites are certainly a great way to drive traffic to any particular site.

The more students hear about conservation the more, presumably, applicants we will have for conservation graduate programs. How can we make more jobs and paid opportunities for the people we are recruiting to prevent an overabundance of conservators in a small job market?

TM: At this point there are a fairly consistent number of graduates each year because of the limits the programs put on the number of students they will accept each year. But it could certainly expand in the future. There will never be a shortage of work; entropy is on our side. The limiting factor seems to be funding and the value put on conservation by the people setting the budgets. So how do we increase the available funding? Advocacy! As a conservator in private practice, I believe that it is up to me to improve the job market I’m functioning in. Though I did have an excellent experience with advocacy, I have found that I use outreach more consistently to build my local job market. I’ve done lectures, workshops, visited museums, and been on the board of our state museum association. I’m a CAP assessor as well. People won’t make room in their budget for something that’s not on their radar; it’s up to all of us to stay visible.

RM: I think conservators need to start thinking about how they can be helpful in caring for cultural heritage inside and outside of cultural institutions. Too often we narrowly define our profession to be almost principally about conservation treatment. Well, I don’t think there are that many jobs that will be growing in that kind of work. But if conservators are able to demonstrate that they can do all sorts of other things then they may find themselves able to gain more employment.

SB: I don’t know if greater awareness does really lead to greater practical interest (e.g. applications) — I don’t know if we can make that link in such a clear way. Rather, I think greater awareness among students means that down the road, our future investment bankers, doctors, lawyers, etc., will hopefully appreciate and support our field—hopefully leading to more funding. It is such a niche field at the end of the day, and demands such a wide array of skills and abilities that it naturally filters itself. Still, the question of supply and demand is a good one— and whether the professional market demands the amount of supply we have created is a valid discussion. I don’t know the answer; anecdotal information and personal stories are not the full picture. We really need a better grasp on what all the graduates and mid-career folks are doing to understand.

When advocating by way of Wikipedia articles, for example, is there a concern that it actually devalues what we do since people may use these articles to attempt their own treatments?

RM: To answer your question in a word: no. There is a clear need to have better information out online because people are looking for it. My concern is around getting good information in highly visible places; I’m not worried about what people will do with good information.

And remember, Wikipedia is a freely available online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; it’s not a place to publish how to guides. If the articles published in Wikipedia are of high quality, they can only serve to reduce misunderstandings and point people to good and reliable sources.

On the other hand, I think that the amount of questionable or bad information on the Internet is problematic and dangerous. Take for example the stuff that’s on places like “WikiHow,” which does publish how to guides that will teach you things like How To Clean a Painting in 12 Easy Steps. I think we might see that kind of thing as a call to action.

42nd Annual Meeting – Opening Session, May 29, "The Long and Winding Road . . . Effective Advocacy, Fundraising, Networking, & Collaboration: Promoting Sustained Preventive Conservation Globally" by Debra Hess Norris

Across the globe, people are united in the desire to preserve tangible and intangible cultural heritage during catastrophic natural disasters, warfare, economic collapse, and other crises. Photographic collections, for example, are considered valuable to many cultures yet traditional photographic processes are disappearing. These collections are incalculable in number, many exist under poor conditions, and only a small percentage of them are inventoried systematically.
As professionals, we are accustomed to evaluating the condition of collections such as these and perform analytical research. While these pursuits are essential to the field, Debra Hess Norris reminds us that we must engage in intercultural dialogue, advocacy, and fundraising in order to effectively care for global cultural heritage.
We must not operate in isolation but rather promote education and training through hybrid and certificate programs. We must build public awareness and advocate for our cause through traditional media, social media, bilingual platforms, and crowd sourcing. We must pursue external support from organizations such as the Giving Pledge, Clinton Global Agenda, Gates Foundation, Luce Foundation, and US Ambassador Fund. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and FAIC should facilitate communication with the Institute of International Education, Department of State, and the Alliance for International Education and Cultural Exchange. In addition, AIC and FAIC must participate with ICCROM, ICOM, IIC, and UNESCO.
In closing, Norris reminds us that our projects – small and large, local and global – must be significant. She demonstrates this through a slideshow featuring John Lennon’s “Imagine” and images of photographic preservation projects from the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia.
About the Speaker
Debra Hess Norris earned an interdisciplinary B.A. degree in chemistry, art history, and studio art (1977) and M.S. degree in conservation (1980) from the University of Delaware. She has taught more than 100 workshops and seminars for conservators and allied professionals, has authored more than 35 articles and book chapters on the care and treatment of photographic materials, conservation education, ethics, and emergency response, and has collaborated on a series of Worldwide Photographic Preservation Projects with conservation professionals, organizations, and agencies.
Norris has served as chair of the AIC Ethics and Standards Committee (1990-1993), as president of the AIC (1993-1997), on the National Task Force for Emergency Response (1995-2000), and chair of Heritage Preservation (2003-2008). Currently residing as Chair of the Art Conservation Department at the University of Delaware and Professor of Photograph Conservation, she serves on the board of the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) and the Advisory Committee for the FAIC Hermitage Photograph Conservation Initiative.
Related Lectures/Webinars
ECPN Webinar: “Conservation Education, Outreach, and Advocacy” with Teresa Myers, Richard McCoy, and Sarah Barack. April 2013.
ECPN Webinar: “Self-Advocacy and Fundraising for Personal Research” with Debra Hess Norris. July 2012.

41st Annual Meeting – Paintings Session, Friday May 31, "Panel Discussion: Current Challenges and Opportunities in Paintings Conservation" by Levenson, Phenix, Hill Stoner, Proctor

I’m am extremely excited that I signed up to write a blog post for this Paintings Group Session at the  41st Annual Meeting for AIC: The Contemporary in Conservation this week in Indianapolis. As an emerging conservator specializing in the conservation of paintings, I found this discussion very important for our field and I was so pleased that Matthew Cushman gathered this renowned group of  conservators together for the discussion. The discussion (Current Challenges and Opportunities in Paintings Conservation) was well attended and the four presentations provoked important questions and topics for group discussion. This post isn’t intended for solely paintings conservators, but for all fine art conservators, restorers, and any people looking to find out more about the preservation and future of fine art.

Photo of discussion panel for Current Challenges and Opportunities in Paintings Conservation. (second from the left: Joyce, Hill Stoner, Rustin Levenson, Robert Proctor, and Alan Phenix).
Photo of discussion panel for Current Challenges and Opportunities in Paintings Conservation (from left: Tiarna Doherty, Joyce Hill Stoner, Rustin Levenson, Rob Proctor, and Alan Phenix).

Fair warning: this post is going to be a long one. I found so much relevant and notable topics were mentioned and I think they all deserve to brought up. This post is a little less personal opinion and a little more regurgitation of the facts – which is great for anyone who was not able to attend the discussion. The discussion panel consisted of mediator Tiarna Doherty from the Lunder Conservation Center at the Smithsonian Art Museum, and panelists: Rustin Levenson private conservator and owner of Rustin Levenson Art Conservation Associates; Alan Phenix conservation scientist from the Getty Conservation Institute; Joyce Hill Stoner educator in paintings conservation at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation; and Rob Proctor Co-Director and private conservator at Whitten & Proctor Fine Art Conservation.
Tiarna started the discussion with an introduction to each panelist, which was followed by a 10 minute slide-show presentation by each panelist discussing key points and topics each thought related to current trends and upcoming challenges in paintings conservation. This format acted as a starting point for the group discussion which followed. All the panelists came from different backgrounds which consisted of private, educational, institutional, and scientific positions,  so different perspectives for the field of paintings conservation could be properly represented.
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