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 – Angels Project, June 1, California Historical Society

This year’s Angels Project took place at the California Historical Society (CHS), a non-profit organization founded in 1871 to celebrate California’s rich history. Textile conservator Meg Geiss-Mooney and photograph conservator Gawain Weaver led the group of about 25 enthusiastic volunteers and had our project and supplies ready to go early Sunday morning.
Prior to the AIC meeting, Gawain had surveyed the CHS collection for approximately 200 photograph albums that were in need of treatment and/or re-housing. We divided up into teams based on specialty and skill set, and went to work to assess, surface clean, stabilize, and box each album. The library was organized into stations to help with workflow and I joined the group that was examining each album to identify the photographic processes and provide recommendations for treatment. Not only was this a great way for me to put my photo conservation skills to the test, but as a native Californian, it was a pleasure to look through these beautiful albums featuring historic images of local monuments and people. Using a pre-made single page survey form, we denoted all necessary identification and condition information to help with the following treatment steps and for later catalogers at CHS.
Station two began treatment, and was set up to vacuum, brush, and clean with eraser crumbs the dirtiest album covers and pages. A special table of volunteers was armed with the proper PPE to tackle any possible mold. Next, a group of expert conservators were completing treatment steps such as re-attaching loose photographs, mending torn pages, and tape removal, as needed on a case-by-case basis. Finally, the albums were whisked away to be housed in new archival-quality boxes that were labeled and placed on a cart to return to storage.
At the end of the day, all albums were assessed and boxed, and many received significant treatment steps that will no doubt prolong the life of these valuable objects. For those albums that did not receive treatment, they can be flagged by priority and sent out to a private conservator in the future. As with Angels Projects that I’ve participated in in the past, I appreciated the opportunity to meet, learn from, and work with many new conservation professionals, and I was especially happy that this project allowed me to directly benefit the photographic collection through treatment and re-housing.
Many thanks to Meg, Gawain, Ruth Seyler, and the rest of the AIC staff for organizing this year’s project, and to the CHS staff for generously providing the volunteers with ample working space and supplies, a delicious lunch, and a bonus free annual membership to the Society!
For more images from this and previous Angels Projects, please visit the AIC Angels Projects Flickr page.