Icon, the UK's Institute of Conservation, last month announced its intention to withdraw from the membership of ECCO (the European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers' Organisations). The move followed disagreements about the education requirements for entry to the conservation profession, and about how open conservation members' organisations should be in their membership. The ECCO membership consists of 18 European conservation associations, including bodies from France, Germany, Scandinavia and Slovakia. ECCO's main objectives are to promote a high level of training and to work toward legal recognition of professional status' ; to this end, it has prepared Professional Guidelines' that include a code of ethics and a set of basic requirements for training in conservation. These guidelines recommend that a conservator-restorer should have a minimum of five years' study in conservation at a university level (the equivalent of a Masters degree). Full membership of ECCO would be restricted to conservators who fulfilled these educational requirements.
Speaking to News in Conservation, ECCO President Monica Martelli Castaldi said that the guidelines were intended to serve as a bench mark for professional status which is transferable and mutually recognisable' , and that they would fit into the European Qualifications Framework (which links equivalent qualifications between different European countries, making it easier to work in another country). However, a majority of conservation training courses in the UK would not fulfil the ECCO guidelines, being either Bachelors degrees (3 years at undergraduate level) or stand-alone Masters degrees that do not require previous study in conservation. Icon argues that adopting these guidelines would exclude a majority of its members from being able to call themselves conservator-restorers'. Instead, they would prefer to see a system that recognised the value of internships or work practice in addition to purely academic qualifications. Icon's PACR (Professional Accreditation of Conservator-Restorers) scheme does not have minimum academic requirements, but seeks instead to assure professional capability' and an ongoing commitment to professional development. Icon has also recently introduced paid training internships in conservation as a way of broadening access to the profession, especially in areas (such as natural history, stained glass or books) where there is no formal academic training available in the UK.
Given these differences of opinion, the Board of Icon felt that there was no alternative but for Icon to cede from ECCO. In a letter to members, Icon Chair Simon Cane said, We are interested in, and have a commitment to, setting and maintaining standards ... but we believe that we should recognise that people work at different levels and that a healthy profession requires diversity not exclusivity.' He also pointed out that the size of Icon's membership (3000 members compared with 160 members in its sister body in France) reflected its willingness to embrace the entire conservation community and not just those who meet the ECCO educational standards. However, Monica Martelli Castaldi said that Icon would have to abide by the same rules as other organisations if it wished to belong to ECCO. ECCO has very specific membership criteria and as such is not an open' organisation ... many [other organisations] have been obliged to undertake major restructuring and expenses in order to become a member.'
Both sides are keen to seek a resolution if possible. Icon Chief Executive Alastair McCapra describes it as entirely conceivable' that Icon would rejoin ECCO at some point in the future, and said that Icon was still involved with other European projects. We do want to work with other organisations within Europe we're not going to turn our backs on working in Europe.' ECCO similarly expresses a wish to find common ground with Icon' and hopes that the issue of membership would be resolved in the future.