A Synopsis of the Black Art Conservators Panel Discussion at the Washington Conservation Guild

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The logo for the Black Art Conservators. Image courtesy of LaStarsha McGarity/BAC

By LaStarsha McGarity

The Black Art Conservators (BAC) were invited to participate in a virtual panel at the Washington Conservation Guild’s February meeting to share more information about the group and their experiences in cultural heritage. The invited panel included four members of BAC: Nylah Byrd, Valinda Carroll, Anya Dani, and Ariana Makau. The moderators from the Washington Conservation Guild were WCG Director Nick Pedemonti and Adrián Hernández, WCG IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access) Action Committee member. Nick posed questions for the panel to respond to, and Adrián monitored the chat and virtual Q&A.

The panel opened with a brief history and status update on the Black Art Conservators. Our group was founded in 2020 with our statement in response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the persistent lack of diversity in conservation, and the collective need to incorporate racial justice into preservation work. BAC began with a dozen members and has expanded to fourteen members from the United States, Canada, Norway, and South Africa. Our members vary widely across experience levels from pre-program students to seasoned professionals and across almost all specialties. Before the formation of our collective, we met informally at conferences, through email, and via word-of-mouth. Due to the small number of Black conservators in the US, networking among ourselves has been a manageable task. In the most recent demographic survey of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) membership, 0.9% of the conservators identify as Black/African American almost double from the last demographic survey (AWP Research and Foundation for Advancement in Conservation, 2022, pg.17).

Nylah, Valinda, Anya, and Ariana discussed the role that BAC has played as an opportunity to form connections with other Black conservators and nurture a sense of community. Our regular virtual meetings give us the space and dedicated time to assist each other in navigating issues within the field. These issues include micro- and macro-aggressions, racially triggering collection items and terminology, and exploitative volunteerism. We also discuss and enact collaborative actions or projects with other caretakers of Black material culture. Each of the panelists is involved in public advocacy and outreach programs, forging connections between conservation and historically excluded communities as well as advancing inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility within conservation. This critical work is often undertaken on a volunteer basis with limited to no compensation, limiting the capacity in which BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) conservators, who are more likely to enter the profession with fewer privileges than their White peers, can maintain the sustained volunteer involvement often required for career advancement. Anya mentioned that short-term solutions could involve alternative compensation such as free memberships, training, or reduced conference fees in conjunction with volunteer term limits that more evenly distribute the workload. All agree that long-term, sustaining IDEA work must include more robust funding to justly compensate participants for their labor.

Following this discussion, Valinda broached the topic of the efficacy of pipeline programs aimed to create pathways for underrepresented students, including those at Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving institutions (MSIs), into art conservation. These programs provide the crucial first conservation internship but often lack the resources to follow students through the oft-noted barriers to the field. Nylah critiqued the pipeline’s current exclusion of BIPOC students at predominantly White institutions (PWIs), where more BIPOC students are enrolled.

Ariana also pointed to the importance of engaging students before college to show them the numerous ways they can work in our field. To that, Anya discussed the importance of creating equitable work environments for BIPOC conservators including fair wages and an institutional commitment to anti-racism—including staff IDEA training that is not a burden on BIPOC—to ensure that the field is a safe, welcoming space for these future conservators to enter and thrive. Although the panel discussion was intended to be made accessible after the event, a technical glitch meant that it was not properly recorded and is unavailable. BAC is currently determining the most appropriate follow-up to this panel and will promote that response on our website and social media when available.

The Black Art Conservators have compiled resources for learning about our organization and IDEA on our website: www.blackartconservators.com. Please read our statement for actionable items to bring into your cultural heritage practice at any career level. For the latest on the Black Art Conservators, please follow us on Instagram and Twitter @blkconservators. We welcome Black preservation specialists from every level, geography, and specialty to join our collective.


AWP Research, and Foundation for Advancement in Conservation. “2022 AIC/FAIC Conservation Compensation Research.” American Institute for Conservation, 2022, https:// www.culturalheritage.org/docs/default-source/publications/reports/survey.... Accessed 20 February 2023. pg. 17.


LaStarsha McGarity (she/they) is a founding member of the Black Art Conservators and the current social media manager. She is a preventive conservator at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, and a 2nd-year Ph.D. student in Preservation Studies at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. Contact BAC at https://blackartconservators.com/contact/.

(Read the review in the April-May 2023 "News in Conservation" Issue 95, p. 54-57)

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The Black Art Conservators (BAC) were invited to participate in a virtual panel at the Washington Conservation Guild’s February meeting to share more information about the group and their experiences in cultural heritage.
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