Final Remarks and Closing Ceremony

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"We must embrace change.” Professor Jane Henderson, Secretary General of the IIC, reiterated her opening words from the IIC Preprints preface during the final remarks. It is a sentiment that has already been achieved by participants of this year's Edinburgh Congress. The constantly shifting world of 2020 has made many feel uncertain, but our ability to adapt and thrive despite the circumstances was showcased during the lively and engaging congress held online this year.

The logistical and administrative planning by the IIC committee and local organizing team impressed all involved. The virtual event allowed a wide international audience to attend and contribute. To echo Julian Bickersteth’s words, one silver lining was the participation of over 2000 delegates from over 90 countries; figures never previously seen by the IIC and indicative of the global interest sparked by the biennial congress. New friendships and connections between colleagues worldwide allowed for insightful dialogues causing the chat boxes to overflow with conversation. Sessions were extremely well attended and Q&As frequently extended past their allotted time slots with presenters generously offering their expertise and answering the numerous audience queries.

The overwhelming sense of community was heartening and uplifting; conservation professionals can be characterised by their open-mindedness and curiosity. Showcased throughout the week were colleagues who collectively have risen to the challenge of the pandemic. For some, this meant utilising new technology to share their research. While for those unable to work due to Covid-19, this might have meant immersing themselves in the world of conservation once more, lifted out of their isolation by the collective enthusiasm and engagement of all involved. The virtual tours of Edinburgh showcased, amongst others, wall paintings, Mackintosh’s Hill House, and the Forth Bridge. The tours were a fantastic example of employing technology to welcome an audience remotely. Isobel Griffin, head of the local organizing committee, spoke to the joy of creating the virtual tours, which helped promote and communicate the wealth of heritage Scotland can offer, whilst also imbuing all congress proceedings with a distinctive local feel.

The heritage sector’s awareness of change has always allowed it to evolve over time, keeping it relevant and contemporary. The online congress is simply another example of how we are changing as a community while it also signposts the way ahead. The generosity of the Getty Foundation for providing grants to bridge the digital divide is a welcome acknowledgement of the lack of equality that continues to pervade the field and prevent marginalised colleagues from attending online events such as this. As called out by Henderson, it underscores diversity efforts we need to make collectively to ensure that their work and voices are heard now and in the future. The sponsorship of the Getty Foundation broadened access to this year's congress by supporting the virtual attendance of colleagues in India with a live hub, and globally to another 30 individuals, and 10 institutions.

Coming together as a community offers the opportunity to celebrate excellence in the field with prizes and awards. Xpectraltek supported the Poster prizes, which were awarded by Austin Nevin. The main award went to Alberto Sanchez-Sanchez for his work at Casa de Pueblo, Spain and the student award to Salome Hunziker for her use of 3D imaging for the reconstruction of a late 15th-century polychrome stucco relief. Award recipients were voted on by attendees and the IIC committee who agreed on the winners for, in Nevin’s words, an “uncontested election.” We are grateful as a community for the ongoing support of sponsors who also met the challenge of a global pandemic, with the active participatory support of Historic Environment Scotland and CXD International providing the means to pivot seamlessly from a physical to a virtual conference.

Julian Bickersteth announced the winner of the Keck Award which goes to the individual or group who has contributed most to the public appreciation and understanding of the accomplishments of conservation. This year’s winner was Sport Lisboa e Benfica from Portugal for their impressive work over the past decade to preserve their sporting collection. The enormous effort towards outreach and engagement brought conservation into the spotlight for many who “more than likely, would not have been exposed to the field otherwise.” They used presentations, interviews, a social media platform, and school visits to showcase the expertise and care of conservators.

Access to the online content will be available for all delegates for the next 30 days. With the wealth of presentations, talks, and tours available, there will be plenty to occupy us even after we have said goodbye. After the bustling, hectic online world in which we have recently been immersed, it is now time to take a step back and reflect on this experience. The IIC committee embraced change in a world of turmoil and created a joyful, informative, and engaging congress. Even more significantly they are committed to future change. Diverse voices are necessary to lift the conservation community out of the past and into the vibrant and dynamic future that we have been able to see within this virtual sphere, and we must collectively support and encourage all those who work in heritage to participate and ensure that their expertise is heard.

Thrillingly, the 29th Biennial Congress 2022 is due to be held in Wellington, New Zealand. We received a sneak preview of the themes and cultural institutions that the local organising committee hope to include on the agenda in two years time, and have to admit that it looks fantastic.

From all of us at the IIC Congress, we wish you all the best and look forward to seeing you (maybe even in person!) in New Zealand in 2022.

 

Authors:

Jenny Ellison is a freelance conservator, based in London, UK.

Samantha Springer is the Owner and Principal Conservator of Art Solutions Lab in Portland, Oregon, US.