Student Meeting + Networking Event at the IIC Wellington 2022 Congress

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Image of New Zealand on a globe. Image by Sharra Grow

Review by Alexandra Taylor

AROUND THE WORLD IN 30 SECONDS

Opening up the Zoom chat propelled this year’s IIC Congress Student Meeting into action. With a simple click, Amber Kerr, Meaghan Monaghan and Alexandra Taylor welcomed 46 participants into the fray... and it was quickly established that convening online for just such a meet-and-greet made the world that much smaller.

Laura Romani tuned in from Barcelona; we received a wave from Eveline Vandeputte in Belgium; Washington DC’s Fenna Engelke made her presence known; Chelsea Roberts and Tayla Hollamby called in from different ends of the same campus in South Africa; we heard “middag” from Roos van der Helm the Netherlands; Phedra Komodromou sliced an hour out of her sunny afternoon in Greece to join us online, whilst on the other end of the world in Indonesia, beneath a starry sky, Oscar Umwanzisiwemuremyi sent his warm salute; Gabriela Lucio called in from the tropics in Brazil; and in the north we had Ticca Ogilvie representing Canada, not to mention the additional 36 students and emerging conservators tuning in from their various other international locations.

INTRODUCING MEMBERS OF THE COUNCIL

Alexandra (Conservator of Paintings Fellow at SRAL, NL) introduced her co-hosts Amber (Head of Conservation and Senior Paintings Conservator for the Smithsonian American Art Museum, USA) and Meaghan (Conservator of Paintings at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada). All three are IIC members and volunteers dedicated to increasing public awareness for art conservation and promoting professional outreach in this field. In fact, Amber joined IIC as a graduate student in 2005. It’s hard to believe she attended her very first student meeting in 2008; “doesn’t time fly?” Whilst in Jordan, she established the inaugural student poster session—a position Amber later handed down to Meaghan after joining IIC Council.

Meaghan met Amber as a Kress Fellow at the IIC Student Conference in Copenhagen, 2013. Wishing to bridge international relations and establish herself more professionally, Meaghan reached out to Amber after moving back to North America. She became a part of the student poster committee in 2016, and has been involved behind the scenes of IIC ever since.

Have you noticed the core feature in both co-hosts’ bios? IIC gives great pride of place to its student and emerging members. Much of what IIC programmes for students and emerging professionals is in fact run by volunteers in that very category. Being a part of an international body like IIC is suited to those who are passionate about developing their professional careers. However, this partnership is very much two-way in that we listen to student and emerging conservators who play an intrinsic role in shaping our future community. We are constantly implementing and developing our programmes based on your expressed needs, which inevitably benefits the growth of IIC.

POLLING AND DISCUSSIONS

In light of the first question posed to the group, which addressed the length of time participants have been student members, Amber explored some of the benefits of joining IIC such as access to the Congress content and the Brommelle Memorial Fund. Most participants were new members and were themselves interested in the tiered membership categories. The categories of student (and even early career), Amber explained, significantly reduces the financial burden of membership. In fact, IIC’s Opportunities Fund is an additional source of great support, and its Needs-Based Learning-Focussed Bursary has been used towards this very thing.

The second question of the meeting explored why one might become a student member; it was multi-choice, giving our audience the freedom to select two or more answers. Seeing what people tended to select helped to clarify how IIC might best connect with everyone. The options were: access to publications; networking with others; volunteering opportunities; professional development; free access to the congress; mentoring programme; and funding opportunities and access to grants. Most people selected the first three options, but several went for the whole list! The mentoring programme was also very popular. Throughout the meeting, shy participants made use of the chat whilst those that were more vocal joined in the discussion. We were fortunate enough to hear from Oscar Umwanzisiwemuremyi, Fang Zheng Ong, Laura Cassandra Vălean and Chelsea Roberts.

Oscar is Rwandan-born, an ambassador for his region and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in Indonesia. “I am very happy”, he commented, “It is not very easy for people from Africa to get these sorts of opportunities, as Amber said … We…lack opportunities, information…. I hope we will have more of [this] to come.” Securing an enriching IIC membership can offer a clear pathway to networking with organisations and individuals, access to publications, volunteering opportunities and professional development, funding and grants, free access to the Congress and the Mentoring Programme, etc. An IIC membership can assist with the sort of professional self-improvement Oscar and his contemporaries strive for.

Fang Zheng, previously a member of ICOM, wanted to join something more international. She commented on the affordability of an IIC student membership, as well as its openness and approachability, “You can join everything!” In fact, Laura from Romania (and now based in Portugal) noted having opted to study conservation because of the IIC. The previous IIC Student & Emerging Conservator Conference, 'The Conservator’s Reflection', was held at the Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences (CICS) 12–14 September 2019. “IIC is the reason I applied at the University.” Laura also reviewed Science for Conservators in issue 87 of News in Conservation, accessible here, yet another fantastic example of how student members can make meaningful contributions to the IIC community.

Chelsea’s reason for joining IIC literally made jaws drop. Supervisors at her university in South Africa caught wind of free admission to the Congress via IIC membership. As such, students were encouraged to apply for membership, and the faculty actually allocated an entire week of tuition to sitting through the Congress in its entirety, from Opening Ceremony through to Closing Remarks. “This was our lecture course for the week.”

From here we segued into the third polling question: how did you learn about becoming an IIC student member? As in Chelsea’s and Tayla’s cases, some participants noted that their university, mentor or training programme recommended joining. Others highlighted the power of LinkedIn, amongst other social media platforms. Some heard about IIC student membership via referrals from their peers, and others learned about the IIC after becoming members of other organisations, as exampled by Fang Zheng. Ironically, with Amber and Meaghan as co-hosts, the majority of participants heard about IIC’s student membership through the much acclaimed poster sessions.

Question four to the group asked: have you participated in an IIC student conference? Surprisingly, very few participants had attended this student conference before. To date there have been six student conferences. Last year’s conference ‘Celebrating Diversity’ took place in Lisbon. The other five (excluding the aforementioned conference in Cologne) are listed below:

Head, Hands and Heart (Bern, 2017)
Making the Transition (Warsaw, 2015)
Conservation: Obstacles or Opportunities? (Copenhagen, 2013)
Conservation: Futures and Responsibilities (London, 2011)

These conferences offer an incredible range of educational and professional engagement opportunities: from participating to hosting. Certainly, being online makes things a little easier, but guest speakers are generally present on-site. Next year’s conference will be held at the University of Amsterdam, but IIC are always on the lookout for host institutions. Past conference recordings are available here.

When asked, “Have you participated in IIC’s Community Platform program? Yes / No / I didn't know there was a Community Platform,” the majority of our 46-membered audience selected the last two answers. Thus, we then explored the benefits of the IIC Community Platform. Alexandra reiterated that sharing knowledge and staying interconnected is the reason why we established a Community Platform in the first place. Once signed in, there exists a vast range of resources and dialogue chambers at your disposal: from chatrooms for posting questions and seeking advice, to special interest communities and access to a variety of selected News in Conservation articles. The Virtual Study Hall was among the projects highlighted in the meeting, alongside the Emerging Conservator Zoom Talks with special interest in the PhD Project Proposal.

The Community Platform is all about networking, with both professionals and emerging conservators communicating here. You can post your thoughts, ask questions, and share announcements at your leisure. You can hone your interests, with the Reading Room being regularly updated (for those who’re after a bit of light reading); and the Emerging Conservators group always churning out new initiatives to join. We encourage you to get more active with this incredible resource—make the most of it.

The last posed question asked the group, “what are future programming ideas you would be interested in?” Obviously, IIC’s recent collaboration with ICOM-CC has the potential to meet sustainability challenges more globally. Topics of interest included COP27 and more involvement in the Climate Heritage Network. Advocating for climate action issues is an on-going goal of IIC, who have become an important voice for conservators in collection care (you can find a whole sub-community dedicated to this on the Community Platform). Other excellent ideas included (but were not limited to):

· Laura Romani: “a common glossary for damages, treatments, characteristics... maybe in more than one language.”
· Ogechukwu Okpalanozie: “conservation in the context of sustainability.”
· Dr. Hanaa Ahmed: “green conservation of textiles.”
· Gabriela Lucio: “a study group and continuous meeting where we can not only study but exchange and create online work opportunities for the current situation in the field of conservation in the world.”
· Napur Mundhra: “job/career related advice for moving countries.”
· Teal Patterson: “informal talks with professionals in private practice about their experience, how to get contracts, etc.”

In agreement with Taylor Hollamby’s observation, “This is very exciting to see that there’s networking between different countries”, the opportunities for collaboration and networking are boundless. However, it should be noted that the idea of open access is bittersweet. It’s wonderful in the sense that sharing is what we’re all about—such as access to past theses and articles (here, Ticca Ogilvie suggested Dart Europe and Roos van der Helm proposed OATD). Yet, there are challenges, because somebody does have to pay to make things freely available.

CLOSING COMMENTS, RECAP AND THANKS

In the closing comments, we discussed the IIC Congress. Teal Patterson was complimentary of both Wendy Rose from Getty Conservation Institute and Irit Narkiss from Manchester Museum: the presentation on photogrammetry was enjoyable, whilst Narkiss gave a great lecture on repatriation. Many agreed with Napur, who said “I love to see how everyone across the world is so passionate about conservation and doing so much in their own regional areas.” In terms of this year’s Congress being hybridised, Fang Zheng expressed that although in-person networking and hanging out again would be lovely, “[being] online is great for the pocket”. Oscar made a good point in terms of being physically present; “it’s impossible for those who can’t get the right visa”. Coming from a developing country where travel might be difficult only accentuates the importance of Congress being available online. Like many, Hector J. Berdecia-Hernandez missed the in-person aspect of the IIC Congress—as do I, Hector. As do I.

And so, the meeting drew to a close. The time everyone allocated to being there was graciously appreciated by the hosts. Amber gave a quick recap, reminding everyone that all social media platforms are run by volunteers who are themselves emerging conservators. Participating on awards committees, membership committees, connecting, networking and growing professionally: everyone must begin somewhere. Just as Meaghan initiated her IIC career after experiencing the 2013 Student Conference in Copenhagen, and Amber joined the student meeting in 2008, and Alexandra was admitted into the IIC Communications Team in 2019, it all begins with being a passionate and invested member. However, just as our envigored audience demonstrated, IIC membership is but the beginning; IIC’s success depends on the participation of its members —your ideas and dialogue, energy and advocacy help to keep us moving forward.

AUTHOR BIO

Alexandra Taylor is a paintings conservator. She is currently a Fellow at Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg (SRAL). Prior to this she has worked internationally, holding positions at Saltmarsh Paintings Conservation in Cambridge and the Phoebus Foundation in Antwerp. Her interests lie in the treatment of Old Masters and the fundamental aspects of paintings analysis, research, and the valorisation of results. She is an IIC Communications Team member and is passionate about increasing public awareness and promoting professional outreach in this field.

(Read the whole article in the October-November 2022 "News in Conservation" Issue 92, p. 46-51)

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With a simple click, Amber Kerr, Meaghan Monaghan and Alexandra Taylor welcomed 46 participants into the fray... and it was quickly established that convening online for just such a meet-and-greet made the world that much smaller.
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