Friday, October 21, 2011

Why conservation matters

It’s that time again when Australian conservators get together for their bi-annual conference under the auspices of our professional body the AICCM. This year we are meeting at the National Library in Canberra, which is proving to be a great venue, not least because the Queen came past in her motor boat yesterday morning to see what we were up to!

The conference kicked off with an absorbing keynote address from Sam Jones of the UK Demos Institute. Sam has written widely on cultural issues, and is particularly known to conservators through his co authorship of ‘It’s a Material World’, which looked at the impending closure of the world renowned Textile Conservation Centre at the University of Southampton in 2006 (since reopened at the University of Glasgow). Apart from being very well connected in the museum and cultural world, Sam also has the advantage of seeing things from the other side, having been seconded for a year to work within the UK Government’s DCMS.

His fundamental point to us as conservators was that we have a key role to play in ensuring the health of society, because we deal in the long term values of social well being in a world of political and financial short termism.

He provided three examples of where we can play a role in communicating why conservation matters:
  • By telling the story of how and why things were made in the way they were. In a world of consumerism we can help keep alive the set of values that explain the importance of thinking about how things were made and where they come from. We do that already with food, e.g. Fair Trade products, and need to do it more with made things.
  • By getting policymakers to see culture differently. It is extraordinarily opportune that the Government’s call for submissions on the new Cultural Policy closes this week, and we have been busy as an Institute putting the case for the role conservation can play as part of this. Sam’s point is that cultural policymakers need to break free from existing structures and explore new spaces. As he says ‘Culture roots us in our past and enables us to imagine and explore our future”.
  • By standing for a wider ethos of care, a means of connecting with deeper values. We live in an age of great uncertainty whether it is through financial challenges or more deeply the rise of mixed culture societies. Showing value in the world about us and how cultural capital is the glue that hold communities together is a role that conservators can readily take.
Big picture stuff but a very stimulating way to start the conference. More soon.

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director

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