AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting – Thoughts on Outreach and Advocacy

Last week, I attended the 40th annual meeting of the American Institute for Conservation, held in Albuquerque, NM.  It’s always good to reconnect with colleagues and with the conservation field at large, and this year was no exception.

The theme for this meeting was “Connecting to Conservation: Outreach and Advocacy,” and much discussion was devoted to social media and blogs like this one.  In an inspiring keynote address, Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice, former director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, encouraged conservators to advocate for themselves politically, raising the profile of the profession by demanding improved funding and recognition at the local and especially the national level.  The effectiveness of this plea was its immediacy, encouraging the conservation field to empower itself and advocate for its own needs.

Many other sessions underscored conservation’s advocacy for related causes, such as libraries, museums, the arts, and education.  While online outreach allows the creation of targeted, digital interest groups, the move toward publicly featuring conservation treatment demonstrates the power of first-hand observation.  Professional outreach is equally important; my talk, “Toward an Ontology of Audio Preservation,” generated thoughtful discussion on the topics of authenticity and reformatting at the Electronic Media Group session.

There has been a concerted effort in recent years to bring conservation out of hidden, basement labs and into the public eye.  When carefully balanced against workflow needs, this trend can elevate the profile of the profession and its host institutions alike.  Of course, much of this promotion is driven by fundraising needs within perennially underfunded arts and humanities institutions.  Ideally, our outreach function as conservators is to find ways in which fundraising and educational goals go hand in hand.  That way, libraries, museums, and the conservation field can elevate each other’s profiles together, and development directors and conservators can shake hands and be happy partners.