SGSConnect: On Looking for New Models

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Image of coffee breaks with dramatic views

What differentiates this  Salzburg Global Seminar from a typical professional meeting is that it's more than a bunch of people sitting in a room all day long listening to experts give PowerPoint presentations. Sure, we do some of that but, also, we actually have to work together and do it as global-thinking, collaborative teams.

This model is one that more professional associations should consider adopting.   We should work together during meetings and try and solve the big issues, instead of letting the really good ideas and conversations slip away into the hallways and the "non-conference" parts of meetings.

To work effectively as teams at the SGS, we have to account for everyone's perspective - and there are a lot of perspectives here.   We then have to find ideas and plans that have a chance to fit into the global puzzle of the conservation of culture.   We have to find global solutions.

This perspective is natural for professionals from the cultural realm because we think like this on a daily basis.   We consider the many shareholders of objects in how we preserve, restore, and represent them.

Mind you, there are still coffee breaks with dramatic views.

Each morning we hear presentations on one of 6 different themes, and then in the afternoon and evenings we work in small groups to solve issues.  This seminar is more than a 9 to 5 job.

Here's a list of the 6 plenary themes:

  • Advocacy and Public Awareness
  • Education and Training
  • Indigenous Communities, Access, and Cultural Rejuvenation
  • Emergency Preparedness
  • Collaboration
  • Sustainability

From these sessions, we've divided ourselves into 5 working groups:

  • Emergency Preparedness
  • Raising Awareness and Support
  • New Preservation Approaches
  • Education and Training
  • Assessment and Planning

On Saturday each of the groups will report back to the full group on their findings, and some time later a final report will be written.  Will you check in on the weekend to see what I'm up to?

I'm in the Education and Training group, whose charge is to improve education and training on a global scale and make it relevant for everyone, everywhere - from the established graduate programs to the countries that don't yet have training programs.   We are in the process of developing our ideas into a set of recommendations that can actually happen.

In our efforts we cannot be afraid to look for new models; but this doesn't mean that we are relying on the "established" methods for conservation training.   We must look to those communities that do not have conservators to discover practices that will advance collections care.  In this way,  a new model is also an old model.  We must continue to look to those folks that have been caring for collections for hundreds of years and understand their approaches and techniques.  We must look to bring their knowledge and experience more formally into the fold.

But a new kind of awareness that I've arrived at in a more profound way is the "conservation" relates in a very broad way to everything and to everyone, on a distinctly personal level.  Helen Kay Roseroka, the director of library services at the Botswanna Library, summarized this so profoundly and simply this morning by saying that "I am a person, because you are a person."  Think about it for a minute.

We are everything, and everything is us, and we must care.  Think about it when you throw away your garbage, and then where your garbage ends up.  Think about it when you're eating dinner, think about it when you're taking a walk in your neighborhood.

That which was left behind, thrown away, kept, forgotten, or dead is what I am.  It's what you are.  It's who we are.  It is and we are.

In this way, our set of allied professionals is enormous, and our actions are even more interlinked.   It is not just "Art" with a capitol "A" that we need to think about, but also the way we value and conserve our cultures, and, really, the living practices of all humans, animals, and plants.  While at the same time we need to think about the art that is being made today and how to interrelate its complex nature - our complex nature - to the past.

In a tangential way I was reminded of this when my wife and I watched the movie Food Inc., a pointenaing critique of the U.S. food industry.

Here's a link to movie's Official Trailer

We all are thinking about the same "noble goal" that is suggested in that movie, that we all our responsible to make sure our culture is cared for and then interpreted in the right way.

This means we all have to do more, and some of us have to do less.

By Richard McCoy