Thursday, November 5, 2009

Salzburg Declaration on Conservation

There has been a meeting of the great and good in the world of conservation in Salzburg over last week end. This has been a one off forum sponsored by the US based IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) and it has included in its 60 participants from 37 countries three Australian conservators, Vinod Daniel, from the Australian Museum, who was a co-chair, Ian Cook, former director of Artlab Australia in Adelaide and Marcelle Scott from Melbourne University. I ought to state up front that I tried to get an invite myself, but was told that they wanted more people from developing nations and not particularly anyone from the world of private conservation. Fair call, I suppose, when the big conservation challenges are less and less in the developed world!

They met in the stunning setting of Schloss Leopoldskron, better known as a backdrop to memorable scenes in the Sound of Music, which is the home of the Salzburg Global Forum. Check out the programs this place is running. It appears to have been a great success, resulting in the ‘Salzburg Declaration on the Conservation and Preservation of Cultural Heritage’. Whilst this on first reading appears to be full of worthy generalisations about working together to save the world’s cultural heritage, it does on closer inspection reveal some genuinely new thinking on how to achieve a global approach to conservation.

And it has got me thinking that we do need to see cultural heritage as a universal asset and to approach its conservation with universal cooperation. I am reminded of the 18th century concept of wealthy Englishmen undertaking the grand tour and returning with trunks full of 'universal heritage' with which they then proceeded to create cabinets of curiosities, with no delineation between type (e.g. paintings or stuffed animals) or origin (Iceland or Africa).

The International Institute for Conservation has been running a blog throughout the weekend written by Richard McCoy from the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The blog has been informative, but it is the response from one Dale Kronkright that sums up beautifully the issue of universality and diversity of conservation work:

Conservation of cultural heritage materials takes place in so many places worldwide and on so many different levels today: in the hands of the preservation practitioner, on the shelves of a museum storage room, in the policies of a collecting institution, in the aims and goals of an organization’s board and philanthropic supporters, in the analytical investigations of a conservation science laboratory, in the public engagement created in an exhibition. I frequently now get the feeling that there is now one worldwide heritage collection, investigated, managed, documented, stored, cared for and exhibited at diverse and unique museums all over the world. Some have stable funding and edifices and exist in secure locations. Some are more threatened. Few actively and meaningfully collaborate for a common purpose. The challenge appears increasingly to be one of creating a global platform onto which any of us can pose questions, carry on preservation dialogues that develop ideas, methods, materials and marshal resources where and when they are needed, while continuing to execute our daily responsibilities and institutional objectives.

It’s a powerful thought of which we who live in the micro world of individual conservation decisions need to be constantly reminded.


  1. Thanks for this Julian. It was a delight for me to be part this session in Salzburg(and have the delight of Co-chairing this with the wonderful Debbie Hess Norris). This one off meeting (as you put it and there has been no other comparable meeting that I have been part off) brought together such a diverse range of practioners (from Museums, Libraries, Archives, Heritage Architecture...) from 32 countries in a setting that fostered collaboration and creativity. In some ways this was AusHeritage in a global context

    The declaration was a consensus based higher level document and thanks for using your blog to promote it (which is what we were hoping will happen). There will be a set of recommendations coming out in the next few months (based on the working group discussions)which should be beneficial to the profession in a global context.

    Some key aspects I picked up are
    (1)that our profession is at a very critical juncture internationally with decreasing support and resources and we have a role in reshaping and advocating if the profession is to become sustainable.
    (2)There is a need to rethink conservation education programs.
    (3)There is also a need to define and position Conservation as a global profession and have a calm debate on what this would mean to our current state of play.

    Vinod Daniel, Australian Museum

  2. Hi Vinod, I like your key aspects. The first I certainly agree with - the latest Powerhouse Museum strategic plan does not even mention conservation, and I am intrigued by your second. Where and how are current education programs not working?

  3. Looking at conservation education from a global perspective, in its current form it is sustainable predominantly in a western context. Just looking at our neighbours in the Pacific region, there is no conservation training program and hardly any trained conservators (may be 2-3). I can extend it to Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei.....

    I heard the same from our friends in Africa who were in Salzburg. The question is then on how we can change the model and contents to make it global and also sustainable.

    Vinod Daniel