From Conservation
to Conversation – Workshop program

Thursday 9th September 2021

10:00-12:00, CET Welcome and Opening Session

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Welcome by

Barbara Plankensteiner (Director of the MARKK)
Lutz Nitsche (Referent des Vorstands der Kulturstiftung des Bundes)
Farideh Fekrsanati (Head of Conservation Department MARKK, Hamburg)

Q&A with the Panel of speakers

Barbara Plankensteiner (Director of the MARKK)
Farideh Fekrsanati (Head of Conservation Department MARKK, Hamburg)
Laura van Broekhoven (Director Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford)
Monica Hanna (Associate Professor and Acting Dean, College of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, The Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport)
Shadreck Chirikure (Oxford University – British Academy Global Professor)

13:00-16:00, CET | Workshop 1Knowledge systems: sharing knowledge and facilitating access to and use of collections.

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In this session we want to give space for a critical look at decision-making processes within the Institutional setting when working with collections and the power relations embedded therein. The conversations center on approaches and experiences of colleagues where Museums/Institutions are involved in facilitating access to and use of collections. We want to use these examples to discuss the opportunities and challenges that arise and talk about the importance of access to collections for communities and for contributing to ‘cultural health’.


„It’s just like day parole: the temporary release of family belongings from institutional holdings“ 

Heidi Swierenga (Senior Conservator, Museum of Anthropology, xʷməθkʷəy̓əm Musqueam Territory at the University of British Columbia)

Some things in conservation are easy to understand. We understand that a loan is a privilege that is granted when specific criteria are met; we understand that damage is a possible outcome if an object is handled by those without training; and we understand that policy is set by the standards of best practice that have developed over decades. We know these things because we were taught them, and we know these things because they are true. When it comes to the community use of museum collections, however, these truths often serve as convenient excuses to deny Indigenous people the right to control their material culture as is called for in the United Declarations of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This brief talk will look at examples of community activations of collections from MOA and talk about why they are critical to community, institutions, and the profession of conservation.

Conversations with Our Ancestors

Annissa Gultom (Museum Department, Ras Al Khaimah Department of Antiquities and Museums, UAE)

„Our Ancestors Knew Best“ is a breakthrough in providing open-source wisdom thatcombines Indigenous knowledge and lab-based science. It is a result of conversations since 2016 between museums, cultural institutions, and the core of this initiative: the caretaker of Indigenous knowledge in textile care in southeast Asian countries. Country reports were gathered by researchers from the local museum, cultural office, and part of the community itself—the body of knowledge formed in the reports is based on interviews, documentation, and material sampling. The findings were compiled and then  analyzed by scientists to provide hands-on scientific interpretation of the methods and material used. Scientists established lab-based analysis and further experiments to measure the efficacy. Findings, analysis, and conclusion from the whole program presented in a 2019 publication are dedicated to a „user-friendly“ audience. While the scientific discoveries are provided, the colorful 210 pages long book also provides „how-to“ tips and recipes in textile cleaning (or not „cleaning“) equipped with posters that simplify the knowledge in caring for your textiles. The book and posters are currently available for free download through the website of SEAMEOSPAFA.

“Whiria kia tina – making reconnections.”

Awhina Tamarapa – Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Ruanui descent (Museum and Heritage Studies programme, Victoria University of Wellington)

Awhina Tamarapa will share approaches and experience facilitating a diverse range of taonga Māori projects with descendant communities, artists and cultural practitioners, as a former Curator Māori, for the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Her current PhD study in the Museum and Heritage studies programme, Victoria University of Wellington, is based on theorising her practice. Awhina aims to critically interrogate the idea of museum custodianship from a Māori indigenous perspective. The topic explores the role of museums in the maintenance of Māori weaving as a cultural pedagogy and living cultural practice.

Listening and knowledge-sharing

Renata F. Peters (Institute of Archaeology, University College London)

Consultations, collaborations, and partnerships with originators of collections and their descendants have been conducted extensively during the last 30 years. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement as even the most progressive practices of collaboration and knowledge sharing may be influenced by colonial histories and the colonial baggage of the heritage sector.  It is even an understatement to say that collaborative processes are complex and need careful preparation. Not only may it be difficult to understand the views and interests of those involved, but it may also be challenging to make sure that all relevant voices are truly heard and represented in decision-making. This talk will explore ‘listening’ as a method to de-hierarchize knowledge and create space for new ways of understanding and perceiving the world.

Adopting Indigenous Knowledge: Conservation methodologies for Material Culture 

Johanna Ndahekelekwa Nghishiko (Conservator, National Museum of Namibia)

Working as a conservator with the Ethnographic Collections at the National Museum of Namibia has sparked many questions, particularly with respect to the importance of “Indigenous Knowledge” and its role in the wider Museum World. Questions such as: How does one work (conserve) with sacred or spiritual objects or sensitive materials such as undergarments, have initiated the need for documentation of Indigenous conservation methodologies of material culture. This short presentation will highlight some of these themes and seek to offer some suggestions to address these questions by identifying different strategies that museum conservators can employ/adopt from the source communities.

Interdisciplinary decision making when anticipating community involvement

Diana Gabler (objects conservator at MARKK)

Transcultural collaboration is repeatedly demanded in current debates on decolonization and the future of ethnological museums. ‘Collaboration’ is now practiced by many museums, however, conservators in German-speaking institutions are often not considered in the development and funding of collaborative projects, due to less flexible intra-institutional hierarchies and rigid workflows within separated departments. The potential of conservation to open up museum practices to Indigenous approaches might be lost as a result. Negotiations in transcultural spaces between Indigenous knowledge holders and conservators have shown that working through different epistemological/ontological perspectives on preservation strategies bear large potentials regarding the understanding of materiality, manufacturing, and the meaning of things. This talk will present some thoughts on interdisciplinary collaboration within institutions from a conservator’s point of view as a necessary requirement for international collaborative efforts.



Q&A with the Panel of speakers

16:00-18:00, CETDigital Meet and Greet

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In this break room you will have the opportunity to network, exchange ideas and talk with other participants about workshop contents and share further reflections.

Friday, 10th of september

9:00-12:00, CET | Workshop 2Conservation Skills for Engaging in Conversation

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In this session we take a look at current international developments in the training of conservators and discuss formats that already are being practiced or developed. We hope to explore what skills and training will be necessary to develop within German/European institutions when considering a shift in the conservation practice moving the decision-making process towards inclusive multidisciplinary exchange of knowledge and people-centred practice. What is already practiced, how effective are these methods, do they achieve the necessary results?


Thinking through conservation ‘rules‘

Catherine Smith (Senior Lecturer, Archaeology Programme, University of Otago, New Zealand)

The education of conservators most often focuses on understanding the physical preservation of artefacts, predicated on the institutional imperative of retaining objects ‘in perpetuity’. While training, we are often taught ‘standard’ procedures for appropriate treatments, display and care of artefacts as a kind of toolkit for professional practice. But what if the ‘rules’ of conservation are actually getting in the way of preserving cultural material in a holistic, respectful and intelligent way? This talk will discuss challenges to the accepted canon of conservation practice in regard to artefact access and care, and how as conservators we can continually expand our ideas about what preservation of cultural material really means.

Conservation across a continent:
Exploring training and two-way education at Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency, Warmun Art Centre and the Grimwade Centre at the University of Melbourne

Robyn Sloggett (Cripps Foundation Chair and Director of the Grimwade Centre, the University of Melbourne)
Gabriel Nodea (Director of Arnhem Northern and Kimberley Artists (ANKA))
Lynley Nargoodah (Chairwoman at Mangkaja Arts and a Director of Arnhem Northern and Kimberley Artists (ANKA))

Australia is characterized by rich cultural diversity and the tyranny of distance. While most conservators are employed in capital cities, some of the nation’s most significant cultural material is held in remote Indigenous communities. The risks are high, including losing knowledge from Elders, risks from increased environmental events such as cyclones and floods, and ongoing risks from pests and other forms of damage. With few Indigenous conservators in the country, effective cultural and conservation knowledge needs to be shared two-ways, with Indigenous communities educating conservation professionals and conservation educators supporting Indigenous art workers. Having the conservation knowledge to be able to lead from within communities is critical. This presentation examines how formal training is translated into programs within Indigenous-owned art centres. It examines why two-way education is an important model in conservation and how this is led by Indigenous graduates of the Grimwade Centre at the University of Melbourne.

Curriculum Shifts: Humility in conservation

Ellen Pearlstein (UCLA Information Studies and UCLA/Getty Program in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage)

It is well known that conservators struggle with relinquishing expertise and allowing intangible properties to compromise materials, yet good conservation requires these skills. Since 2005, all UCLA/Getty Conservation students enroll in a course where they work collaboratively with tribal museums, learning tribal history, and museum strategies for self-representation. Multiple engagements such as shared meals and conversations are part of the course, and treatments require approval by the tribal council of elders. Language revitalization is incorporated by using Indigenous terms for materials and processes in conservation documentation. Research questions and needs coming from our Indigenous colleagues are prioritized for course work. In my experience, tribal museums suffer from a loss of history for collections in their care much like non-tribal museums, so that researching provenance and parallel items contributes value. Tribes subject to genocide and repopulation create museums that prioritize material properties to help reconstruct their past.  Students are exposed to these lessons yet learn them unequally.

From Practicing Conservator to Practitioner-Researcher

Barbara Borghese (FIIC, Senior Conservation Manager – Treatment Single Item, The National Archives, UK)
Sonja Schwoll (ACR FIIC, Head of Conservation and Treatment Development, The National Archives, UK)

The role and competencies of conservators in the Collection Care Department at TNA have seen a shift from a bench-based treatment-focused structure to a framework developed around the ‘Conservation Practitioner-Researcher’ approach. Based on a model proposed by E. Pringle relating to the role of research within a museum context, the conservation practitioner-researcher undertakes research-led practice integrating objects with their context and value and makes treatment decisions that consider research outputs on the same level as other more traditional decision-making markers. Concepts traditionally utilised to describe the degree of intervention, primarily focused on quantifying a treatment decision can become inadequate. In fact, when research and practice merge to become integral to the intervention, we are looking at an essentially new understanding of the role of the conservator. In our presentation we will show how this manifests in our work with ResearchSpace, the new knowledge system, a representation and manifestation of our work as practitioner researchers.

New skills and tools for conservation professionals in a changing world

Valerie Magar (ICCROM, Unit Manager, Programmes)

The term heritage has been expanding its limits and coverage during the last decades. The profile of skills and knowledge required by conservation professionals has had to adapt accordingly. Furthermore, changing conditions worldwide, triggered by climate change, rapid urbanisation and social movements have created or enhanced challenges to care for heritage in a meaningful manner for society. This paper will focus on some of the issues, approaches and tools used in ICCROM’s capacity building activities.

Q&A with the Panel of speakers

13:00-16:00, CET | Workshop 3How to care – the evolution of Standards

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In this session we will look at aspects such as climate conditions, approaches to transport, storage and display, questions of sustainability and the influence they have on collections mobility. What is the influence that a change in ethics has on methodologies of collections care? What are limitations or conflicts experienced (emotionally/ scientifically)? How do these questions influence the formulation of guidelines and the approach to care?


Think locally, act locally: Why the ASHRAE climate guidelines are more radical and sustainable than those of ICOM-CC, IIC, and the rest

Stefan Michalski (Heritage Science Consultant)

The ASHRAE chapter is the only museum climate guideline written through a consensus of experts from both engineering and conservation. It is the only guideline discussing several levels of control (AA,A,B,C,D.) It is the only guideline explaining the risks (or not) beyond the absolutist 40%-60%RH window of ICOM-CC etc. It states that even larger seasonal adjustments can work for many institutions. It recognizes that humans, not collections, drive rigid unsustainable temperature targets. It suggests that the annual baseline can be the local annual averages, not 50%RH and 20°C. It advocates a risk management perspective. CCI found that “uncontrolled” climate rarely entered the top five risks of small and medium size museums. Wealthy museums must understand that the largest long-term climate risks to objects of any culture emerge when those objects are torn from their origins and moved to the foreign and always imperfect climate of a museum.

The pitfalls and possibilities of Standardisation

Jane Henderson (Professor, Cardiff University)

The paper will offer my perspective on the process of the production of standard as a member of the European standards CEN/TC/346-WG11 for the conservation of tangible cultural heritage. This group has been responsible for devising standards for the conservation process and decision-making, for procurement and principles of documentation. Drawing on my experiences, I will discuss some learnings for practice that can be drawn. This will include the cause and consequence of standards proliferation, the danger of attempting to standardise preferences rather than what is necessary, and the contrast this offers to the opportunity to use a standards process to listen and increase participation. I will briefly consider the evolution of preventive conservation standards and discuss the decision-making criteria utilised to shape them. I will argue that the careful consideration of these criteria is critical to the accountability of their production and their effectiveness in practice.

Legislation, Policy, and Practice: Conservation’s new tools for equitable preservation

Kelly McHugh (Head of Collections Care and Stewardship, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution)

For decades Native activists lobbied their governments and advocated for cultural authority – to bring their ancestors home and to have a say in the manner in which their heritage is displayed and cared for.  Hard-earned legislative victories such as NAGPRA and UNDRIP challenge the long-standing unequal conventions of ownership and authority and created openings for Indigenous perspectives on care and stewardship.  Legislation inspires policy and policy influences practice.  The desire to create more equitable stewardship practices now occupies the consciousness of caretakers.  However, equity cannot be found in ad hoc practices of engagement. A move toward institutional systems that represent a multiplicity of knowledges, cultural structures, and social relationships is needed to reflect Indigenous systems of care and stewardship.  This presentation will look at how stewardship practices at NMAI are intertwined with legislation and policy and how intentional documents mandate a commitment to more responsible collections care.

Putting collections care in the bigger picture

José Luiz Pedersoli Jr. (ICCROM,Unit Manager, Strategic Planning)

Collections-based organizations typically address ‘sustainability’ by trying to reduce their environmental impact. Energy consumption and waste generation are key targets, with inevitable implications for collections care, be that climate control, transport, storage, or display conditions. The resultant ethical dilemma in current conservation practice is determining what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for collections versus the environment. Which takes priority? What is the ethical position on caring for collections?

Museums have untapped potential to contribute more towards improving social cohesion, climate action, livelihoods, and well-being. By approaching the care and use of collections from the broader ethical standpoint of ‘sustainable development’, we can rethink our role as a sector and make meaningful change. Through sustainability literacy and sound risk-based decision-making, our reasons for caring for collections, and developing methodologies and guidelines to sustain them, can be realigned to maximize the long-term benefits for people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership.

Art in Limbo: Logistical challenges, cultural differences, and the complications of collections access during the pandemic

Ana Maria Theresa P. Labrador (Deputy Director-General at the National Museum of the Philippines)

Conservation starts with documentation. While the significance of detailed recording is a standard practice in a museum’s collections management, its translation on the ground and its necessity becomes acute during high-risk episodes, such as traveling exhibitions. In this paper, I would like to focus on a recent program involving repatriating 115 artworks from the Philippine Center in New York to Manila amid the lockdown last year. A previously regarded opportunity to elicit information by installing data loggers inside and outside the six crates became a transaction of making haste packing and shipping to play catch up with the next available cargo flight out of New York in February 2020. As the artworks were cast into oblivion by the situation, this turned into a stressful episode even upon arriving in Manila, relieved eventually by their release to the National Museum of the Philippines as a result of our detailed documentation of the collection, establishing their provenance.

Transmission, conservation, and participation

Hélia Marçal (Lecturer in History of Art, Materials and Technology, Department of History of Art, University College London)

Transmissibility, or the ability of something to be transmitted from one organism or entity to another, is a characteristic that impacts how information and matter survive. In the case of epidemiology, it is one of the variables upon which the viruses and their variants are evaluated, and the risks for people are assessed. The more transmissible, the more risk these viruses and their variants pose. In the case of conservation, however, it can be a measure of resilience. The more transmissible a certain cultural heritage manifestation is, the more likely those manifestations are to survive and, therefore, the less is the risk for people and their cultural heritage. Similarly, with lower transmissibility comes the risk of losing some or all the aspects that make certain cultural manifestations ‘unique’ or ‘valued’. That is the case, for example, with artworks or cultural objects that rely on bodily experiences that are inexorably attached to a way of feeling and being that can hardly be translated into words. What are the limitations of transmission in those cases? What is the role of the conservator that wants to help increase the transmissibility of those works, and what can they do to sustain practices of transmission?

This presentation will look at the challenges of preserving and transmitting cultural manifestations that depend on bodily experiences and relationships, while discussing the potential of participation practices expanding the realm of the conservable.

Q&A with the Panel of speakers

16:30-17:30, CET Closing Session

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