“Being part of the change is far more interesting than just being carried along by it…”
- Velson Horie FIIC
Unlikely to go down in history as anyone's favourite year, 2020 nevertheless saw conservators reaching out to their communities to offer what help they could - and reacting actively, not passively to the enormous changes that we faced.
We also devised new ways of meeting and working, turning both to the online world, but also to the hyperlocal and to nature. Here then is our selection of some of the more positive things which, with your help, emerged from 2020, both at IIC and in the wider conservation community.
1. Hope for the National Museum of Brazil
IIC's first major event of the year was a talk by Beatriz Haspo, of APOYOnline on the after effects of the fire which gutted much of the National Museum of Brazil in September 2018, destroying many irreplaceable collections. Nevertheless, her talk was called 'The National Museum of Brazil LIVES!' and pointed to remarkable saves, including fragile objects which survived, despite falling through several floors during the fire.
In retrospect, it set the tone for 2020: pointing out our so easily overlooked vulnerabilities, but also the resilience that is possible despite major disaster.
IIC members can watch a recording of Beatriz Haspo's talk on our IIC Community here.
2. Conservators helping out - from nitrile gloves to face masks
As Covid-19 took hold, Fran Baas and Elena Torok, both objects conservators at the Dallas Museum of Art, donated homemade cotton masks to their local hospital, Baylor University Medical Center, commenting “They are practically our next door neighbor!” They were among hundreds of conservators across the world who looked for practical ways to support the medical effort, whether that was through donating useful conservation kit, including gloves or sewing projects.
In the UK, IIC was pleased to do some behind-the-scenes organising with the National Museum Directors' Council, which helped the museum and health worlds link up to make sure donations of PPE reached the health service at a critical moment.
3. We raised our game against climate change
Recently launched, AIC's podcast Conservators Combating Climate Change is a series of transparent conversations featuring preservation professionals who are actively addressing the climate crisis and its threat to cultural heritage. In each episode, hosts Natalya Swanson and Emma Hartman unpack aspects of this complex issue and discuss what sustainability means in regard to conservation-restoration practice. Read more here.
This is typical of the awareness flowering across the profession about the climate emergency - with a determination across the profession to act as leaders. In 2020, IIC's own Climate Action programme is supported by our Special Interest Community on Sustainability.
4. ...and launched some Watch Parties
In March, Stemming the Tide, organised by Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Smithsonian’s National Collections Program, with IIC as a partner, examined the impact of climate change on cultural heritage and communities worldwide. The event had an afterlife through Facebook Watch Parties, hosted monthly by IIC until October. Drawing a crowd from across the world, it showed us a new and more interactive way to think about some of the challenges facing the profession. We plan more Watch Parties for the future.
A complete recording of Stemming the Tide is still available for members on IIC's Community platform here.
5. Earth becomes art - learning new skills (and starting a new business)
Hedwig Braam was one of many who found that her freelance business ground to a halt as the coronavirus hit. She found herself spending more time on her hobby of making pigments out of natural earth elements - combining reading a pile of books on the technical approach with practical experiments and a renewed attention to nature.
"I learned about iron oxide, bog iron, rock determination and levigating pigments. Working with these natural, ancient materials stirred an inspiration in me that I sometimes missed in modern materials—there is something magical about them not being man-made, but having been around for millions of years."
As she described in the October - November edition of News in Conservation, as well as a distraction, her interest eventually turned into expertise, and a second business. Read the full story here.
6. It was a year for recognising excellence with some new and landmark prizes
This year's Keck Award for public engagement went to The Storage, Conservation and Restoration Department (RCR) – Sport Lisboa e Benfica Cultural Heritage in Portugal, which through guided tours to a strong social media presence, interested the football-loving public in the practice of conservation. Strong social media and presentation skills were also evident from our 2020 Edinburgh Congress Poster Prize winners, Alberto Sanchez-Sanchez and Salome Larina Hunziker, who brought a new film dimension to the art of the poster. Our Taylor & Francis First Time Author Essay Prize, created to encourage excellent new contributions to Studies in Conservation was won by Ann Marlene Gagnon.
We were also delighted to confer Honorary Fellowship on Joyce Hill Stonor - a member of IIC since 1970, a leader of many professional bodies, author and inspiration to many students - we also learned of her talents writing music, lyrics and scripts for more than 30 stage productions. You can read about her remarkable achievements here.
7. We worked to create a more equitable spread of opportunity globally - and to develop new leaders
Working with support from the Getty Foundation we have made progress this year in developing new leaders, with over 100 taking part in a live hub event in India. We also engaged with universities from Africa to Latin America, and have awarded over £10,000 in grants to help our members through our Opportunities Fund this year, especially those in low and middle income countries. (A second round of our Opportunities Fund is opening now for 2021)
8. We made it to Edinburgh - and beyond
When it became clear that meeting in the real world for our 2020 IIC Edinburgh Congress was impossible, we went online, and found consolations as well as limitations in our new format. We attracted four times as many delegates than is usual for our Congress events - including so many of you across the world who would not normally have attended.
With help from our partners, we brought much of the heritage of Edinburgh to life in filmed tours. We also saw our 2020 Forbes Prize Lecture delivered by Professor Norman H Tennent, at one of Scotland's most striking venues - Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran.
You can watch the whole Forbes Prize Lecture above - or with further details of the talk here.
9. Looking back a little further....
And finally, do check out IIC's 70th anniversary edition of News in Conservation, and learn more of our history, reaching back to 1950.