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Caitlin Southwick, Conservation Matters in Wales: Resilient Conservation, e-conservation Journal 3, 2015, pp. XX-XX
Available online 11 June 2015



Conservation Matters in Wales: Resilient Conservation
 



Review by Caitlin Southwick

December 10, 2015
Chepstow Drill Hall, Gwent, Wales

Organized by: Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, The Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales and Cardiff University


“2014 was the hardest year yet for conservators.” Heads in the audience nodded their agreement as Jenny Williamson gave voice to the brutal reality conservators are experiencing today. Private and public sectors alike felt the budget cuts and financial purse strings draw more than ever this last year. The question is: will it get worse? And what can we do about it? The theme of the 10 December Conservation Matters in Wales Conference was “Resilience in Conservation” and it was organised by Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales (AC-NMW), the Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales and Cardiff University. In the face of economic adversity and waning support for cultural heritage, what can the conservation community do to survive these tough economic times? Speakers gave presentations on topics including the defense of the conservation education system (Jane Henderson and Phil Parkes of Cardiff University) to a call for arms, rallying the troops to find new ways to raise funds ourselves and create opportunities (Charlotte Hodgson of Glamorgan Archives). The audience heard personal testimonies from members of different cultural heritage disciplines and had the opportunity to openly debate and give input in panel led round table discussions.

The presentations at the conference touched on resilience and the changing face of the conservator. Employers have different expectations and conservators need to adjust in order to fulfil new obligations. "Professionals are adapting, taking on new responsibilities and expanding their roles to become more employable or to retain their jobs... while ensuring they continue to meet their professional standards.” Margaret Brooks, Trainee Conservator at Pembrokeshire Archives, gave a personal testimony on the matter. With all the obstacles faced in this economic crisis, from job insecurities to restricted funds, the cultural heritage community now more than ever needs to work together to find more efficient and creative ways to maximize resources.

Sarah Perons, Care of Churches Officer, Diocese of Llandaff, considered proactivity within the different factions of cultural heritage. She offered insight into collaboration from the point of view of a non-conservator, and discussed opportunities for small and large scale projects that encompass different branches of cultural heritage in order to fulfil mutual goals.

Left to right:
Figure 1. Phil Parkes and Jane Henderson from Cardiff University speaking on the importance of proper training.
Figure 2. Charlotte Hodgson, Deputy Archivist at Glamorgan Archives, during her presentation on income generation.
Figure 3. Robert Pearce, Senior Preventative Conservator at AC-NMW, pointing out that energy is the second biggest expense for museums.


There is a need for better communication within the cultural heritage field, but also on a larger scale, integrating and involving the public. Megan de Silva, of Monmouthshire Museums Service, evaluated the changing interface between the community and museums the new theme of participation, while Julian Carter, Senior Natural History Conservator at AC-NMW, told a story that demonstrated public perception of conservation as an unessential nicety. Presenters at the conference encouraged the cultural heritage community to work harder to include the public and to raise awareness of what conservators do, to make sure we educate people as to why conservation is not simply a frivolity but a necessity.

As the need for public support rises, the relationship between the public and museums is changing. Megan de Silva’s presentation illustrated that public opinion and involvement is now essential, and museums must take into consideration what is best for the objects and what is best for the communities who benefit from them.

Left to right:
Figure 4. Megan de Silva of Monmouthshire Museums Service, evaluated the changing interface between the community and museums.
Figure 5. Sarah Perons, Care of Churches Officer, Diocese of Llandaff, offered insight into collaboration from the point of view of a non-conservator in cultural heritage projects.



Volunteer programs are effective resources for public outreach. These programs, which require a lot of effort and resources to be successful, are an excellent way of engaging the public and demonstrating the importance of the work of museums and conservators. Penny Hill of St. Fagan’s argued that volunteering is a mutually beneficial enterprise where participants get the opportunity of first-hand experience allowing them to connect personally with their community and their heritage, while at the same time giving institutions the essential help they depend on to stay running. Despite the benefits of the volunteer programs, there are concerns about redundancy and professionalism. Volunteers are essential for the survival of many museums and historical houses. The question is whether or not volunteers are taking away paying jobs. Entry level positions are scarce for emerging professionals and when there are other people who are willing to do the same work for free, possibilities for paid employment diminish further.

Is it ethical for untrained personnel to replace a trained conservator? Jane Henderson and Phil Parkes, both from Cardiff University, touched on the importance of proper training during their presentation on the conservation education system. This education is very expensive, and students pay a lot of money to be properly trained for positions, but is it worth training professionals if there is no money to pay them when they graduate? Or if their positions are being filled by unpaid volunteers? The presentation analysed research the team had done, concluding that conservation education is fulfilling its goals, meeting the needs of the employers, the problem is once again the financial support and awareness. Corporations, sponsors and individuals who give money to education need to be aware of the success and necessity of conservation training, in order to generate greater contributions.

In these times, it is not enough just to ask for money. Budget cuts are coming, and because they can be foreseen it is essential to plan for them and be prepared. Charlotte Hodgson, Deputy Archivist at Glamorgan Archives, talked about income generation, and how we can and must take matters into our own hands to find money. She presented several ideas on how organizations can proactively seek funds, including fundraising, storage rentals, packaging services and renting out extra space. She encouraged the conservation community to come up with new sources for funding and to share ideas and work together to tackle the problem.

The major limitations within conservation and cultural heritage are caused by a lack of funds but also inefficiency in spending. Robert Pearce, Senior Preventative Conservator at AC-NMW, pointed out that energy is the second biggest expense for museums, but it does not have to be. Museums and institutions may be spending thousands of pounds unnecessarily by using obsolete and inefficient climate control. He outlined a strategy for huge energy savings that can be realized by making simple changes to climate control systems. Funding and resources targeted to this vital research could lead to large energy and monetary savings for institutions globally. More attention must be paid to ways that museums can save and become more sustainable and economical.

Times are tough and the light at the end of the tunnel is yet to been seen. If we are able to band together and tackle these impending issues head on, there is hope that the conservation community can seize the opportunity not only to expand awareness of our cause but to be resourceful and thrive.




Caitlin Southwick
Conservation Student
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