Icon’s ‘Positive Futures in an Uncertain World 2013’ Conference, Glasgow: An emerging conservator’s view by Adam M. Klups

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Over the 10th – 12th April Icon hosted its second triennial conference and the splendid Gilbert Scott-designed buildings of the University of Glasgow welcomed more than 400 delegates. The event was an important opportunity to discuss the actualities and futures for conservation profession, a debate so urgent in the current climate of uncertainty affecting the heritage sector.

The event attracted all generations of conservation professionals from the UK and from abroad. The enthusiastic atmosphere among the attendees was overwhelming from the very beginning, making a strong statement about the well-being of the conservation community, despite the uncertain times currently facing the conservation profession in the UK. It seemed that the theme chosen for this occasion could have not been more relevant.
The strength of the conference laid in the fact that its plenary sessions addressed issues which are key to all of us, no matter of what our age or conservation specialism. We were reminded that it is extremely important in times of economic instability to strongly defend and emphasise the public value of conserving out heritage despite its economic cost. We heard and discussed the significance of engaging with stakeholders and making partnerships, as well as promoting outreach and care for the public image of conservation in order to make the our mission more legible. We were also prompted to be confident advocates of our profession to make it become more recognisable and understood by the general public, and importantly, we were also urged to care for our professional image. The session’s opening remarks by the chair David Leigh, ‘Conservation’s positive profile’ and the very first paper, by Christina Rozeik, ‘Should we care about conservation’s public image?’ set the tone of the event very well.
The speakers presented various case studies and viewpoints all agreeing that we all need to change alongside the changing demands to keep up conservation’s positive profile. Many emphasised the increasing importance of volunteers in conservation projects, highlighting that a good volunteer management needs a vision.

Special acknowledgement is due to the Organising Committee and Chief Executive Alison Richmond for working very hard on the students and emerging conservators’ element of the conference, which was one of many break-out sessions that the attendees could choose from. It is very encouraging that over the past years young conservators and conservators-to-be have been receiving more and more attention from established conservation bodies. It is vital that emerging conservators should be given chances to have a fair start in the sector. We all, but especially conservation students and emerging conservators, need a platform to meet so that we can feel part of the conservation community and to share the community’s views, and concerns. In Glasgow, a large group of students and conservation graduates entering the job market had a chance to hear both successful stories and difficulties faced upon starting a professional career from those who were now fully established. Useful advice was offered on the topic of starting a small conservation business and appeals for more assistance for young conservators in the shape of mentoring schemes were strongly supported. It was encouraging to see conservation students and emerging conservators mingling freely and willingly with their more experienced colleagues on many occasions during the event, once again proving that networking is a key element of conservation get-togethers, as well as papers and poster sessions.
It was during one of the student and emerging conservators’ sessions that Icon's ‘National Conservation Education and Skills Strategy’ was summarised by Icon’s Kenneth Aitchison. Some of the discussed aims of the ‘Strategy’, launched last year, which are already affecting the direction of our profession included: raising awareness of conservation education, encouraging responsibility of all stakeholders for material heritage, sustainable career paths for entering the profession, introduction of a conservation technician qualification, and fair and more consistent academic benchmarking.

The conference has provided food for thought for conservation professionals, their younger colleagues and all those working in the heritage sector. ‘Don’t say no - think how!’ should become a motto for all of the Icon conference’s attendees! Positive futures must be seen as a combination of creating a positive message, having resilience and taking pride in our profession. Paraphrasing one of the speakers, Kate Frame: ‘conservation is a lot more than it seems’ and it is now, more than ever, up to us to focus on its future.
Two most important lessons that the conference taught us are that achieving a recognisable, respected professional image earning us public appreciation should be our common goal, and that only by developing strategies fit for the present day, and by providing encouragement and engagement for students and young conservators we can make conservation truly a vital and sustainable profession.

<em>Adam M. Klups holds a BA in History of Art and Material Studies from University College London and is currently studying for a Master’s degree in Principles of Conservation at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL. He works for St Albans Museums, Hertfordshire and is a member of the Executive Committee of the Józef Piłsudski Institute for Research in Modern History of Poland, based in London. His broad professional interests focus on archaeological and building conservation.
Some interesting projects Adam participated in include Çatalhöyük Research Project, Turkey and conservation of the Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland. He also instigated IIC’s first Student and Emerging Conservator Conference held in London in 2011.</em>