By Elizabeth Hébert
Tune into any episode of the ECPodcast and you will hear, “This is the ECPodcast: by and for emerging conservation professionals,” playing over a catchy piano jingle. The podcast was started a little over two years ago by Liz Hébert, a masters student studying paintings conservation at the University of Amsterdam. Episodes have covered a range of topics that pertain to ECPs (emerging conservation professionals), from writing a thesis to working a second job. Read on to learn about what it takes to put a podcast together, and what’s coming up next in Season 2.
Q: What inspired you to start the ECPodcast?
Conservators are often podcast people. Faced with long hours in front of an artwork, it’s nice to have something engaging to listen to while your hands and eyes are at work. For some, that’s music or a book on tape; for me it’s podcasts. I began searching out art history and conservation related podcasts years ago and stumbled upon The C Word, a highly regarded podcast for conservation professionals. I quickly devoured all the available episodes, enjoying the camaraderie among the hosts and their insight into the realities of being a conservator. They had two episodes about emerging conservation professionals, and as an ECP myself, I started thinking, I want more of THIS! A podcast dedicated entirely to the experience of being a young person beginning a career in conservation; just the type of resource that I wish I’d had when I was starting out and applying to universities, internships, and graduate programs. This idea rattled around in the back of my mind until I arrived in Amsterdam to begin my master’s degree. Pulling from my own experiences and the students around me, I began recording episodes with the help and support of my fellow students. Once the pandemic hit, I started sharing them online.
Q: Walk us through recording an episode.
Recording an episode is the most straightforward part of the process, it is the prep work which comes before that is most important. First, I organize a group chat where I introduce myself and explain the details of the episode and how it will be recorded. I then provide the panelists with an outline of the questions I intend to ask and invite them to suggest any changes or additions. This ensures everyone is on the same page but also that the questions are relevant to their program and experiences.
Episodes are discussion-based, so setting the tone among the panelists is crucial for the recording. I record on Zoom, starting with a round of introductions and small talk to create a comfortable atmosphere that stimulates conversation. If a tangent occurs and we begin a discussion about a topic that isn’t covered in the outline, I encourage it! These interludes are often the most entertaining for both the panelists and the listeners. One of the most rewarding moments happened after recording an episode with students from Cardiff University. They commented that, despite knowing each other for two years, they felt that they learned so much more about each other during the recording. That is the best possible scenario for me as a host, to simply facilitate conversation and strengthen connections.
Q: What do you find most challenging about making the podcast?
Consistency. I’m a one-woman show, and while I love the entire process, from interviewing through to production and running social media (@ECPodcast), it is a lot to juggle on top of my own studies. Currently, I am at a point in my education where I am interning at various institutions. I will be at Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg (SRAL) for the rest of this year, and then beginning in January, I have a placement at the Van Gogh Museum. I would love to release an episode every month, but for the foreseeable future, I cannot guarantee that I will adhere to my own sche-dule. In the meantime, I look forward to conducting interviews with additional conservation programs from around the world.
Q: You recently released the first episode of Season 2. What is different from Season 1?
All of the panelists in Season 1 were from my own program at the University of Amsterdam, and while our camaraderie resulted in lively discussions, I wanted the podcast to include a wider range of perspectives. The most popular episode of Season 1, by far, was about the application process for the University of Amsterdam. Students who’ve since been admitted into the program told me they listened to the episode while applying and found it immensely helpful.
Based on my own experience applying to different programs, I know that there is a dearth of information geared toward aspiring conservators. I want to bridge that know-ledge gap, so each episode of Season 2 will focus on a different graduate-level conservation program. This provides listeners with answers to practical questions on topics such as funding, visas, application requirements, etc., but I also make sure to ask about student life; what is your favorite class? What makes the program special to you? Do you feel prepared to begin your career? These are questions that are not answered on a program’s website, and it is a novelty to hear about a program from the perspective of a current student.
Q: Do you have a favorite episode?
The two-part episode we recorded on writing a master's thesis for conservation (Season 1 Episodes 7 & 8). I recorded the episode with Terri Costello and Paul van Laar, two friends from my master’s program, who are studying glass conservation and technical art history respectively. Although the episode was specifically about the thesis process within our program, the advice and experiences we discussed are universally resonant for conservators writing a thesis. The topic was quite personal for me, because I decided to share that I initially failed my thesis. As difficult as that experience was, it forced me to evaluate my writing and, in the end, I handed in a thesis that I am genuinely proud of. I thought this was a well-learned lesson and that other conservators in training who are faced with the immense task of writing a thesis might be comforted to know that failure is not the end; something better can come from it. In direct contrast, Terri’s thesis was awarded the Rijksmuseum Migelien Gerritzen Thesis Prize. She provided some fantastic tips and tricks to writing a thesis that everyone can benefit from.
Definitely listen to those episodes if you have a master’s thesis looming.
Q: What do you hope to achieve with the podcast moving forward?
I often talk about how conservation is a group effort; though we may work on a treatment alone, we all benefit from collaborating with a larger network of conservators. The podcast is a resource and platform where emerging conservation professionals may raise their voices on the challenges we face as we move forward in our careers. I also believe it should be relevant to conservators at every stage of their career. From conversations with current students, it is clear to me that there is a lot of uncertainty about what the future of conservation will look like. For established conservators, the podcast can be a window into the struggles of emerging conservators. Established conservators should make themselves aware of these issues so they can be part of the solutions.
If I have learned one thing from interviewing both established and emerging conservators, it is that no one comes to this profession in exactly the same way. There is always something to be learned from another person’s experience, and I hope that the podcast can facilitate that. Having a healthy respect and understanding of the environment that each conservator comes from makes it easier to communicate and advance our approach in educating young conservators. Now, with more graduate programs dedicated to conservation than ever before, I hope that Season 2 will demystify how various programs teach conservation. Sharing and understanding the connections, differences, and inside tips from these training programs is crucial to developing our discipline’s approach toward educating the next generation of conservators.
Liz Hébert holds a masters in paintings conservation from the University of Amsterdam (2021). She is currently completing a postgraduate degree at Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg (SRAL), and will begin an internship at the Van Gogh museum in January 2023.
(Read the article in the October-November 2022 "News in Conservation" Issue 92, p. 40-44)