Conservation United Kingdom

Conservators told to follow Star Trek captain’s orders

At Icon’s triennial conference in Glasgow this week, the oft-repeated message was “engage” and “make it so”

Listen to the captain and "engage"

“Take every opportunity to tell people what you do,” said Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish government’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs at opening of “Positive Futures in an Uncertain World”, Icon’s triennial conference at the University of Glasgow, on Thursday 11 April. “The sector needs to get smarter about shouting about culture.” Hyslop’s message was repeated by other speakers at the conference, including the chancellor of the university, Kenneth Calman, urging the assembled crowd of conservators to talk to politicians, captains of industry and the public about the importance of heritage preservation.

“The excellence of our profession often remains a longstanding secret,” said David Leigh, a conservator and Icon’s representative on the National Trust Council’s art panel, alluding to the fact that the job of a conservator has been traditionally a backroom activity. In the current economic climate, however, where resources are limited and cutbacks in staff and budgets have become a fact of life, one of the best ways to make a case for heritage preservation is to engage with the public. “You need to articulate the relevance and importance of your work… and maximise the opportunity to share your expertise,” Hyslop said.

Some organisations, including the Historic Royal Palaces, have become old hands at engaging with the public. “It has been critical for conservators to hone their communication skills in recent years,” said Kate Frame, the head of conservation and collections care at the Historic Royal Palaces. The organisation’s transition from a government body to a charitable one in 1998 meant the conservation staff had to take on broader roles. One way they engage with the public is through activities such as the popular “Ask a Conservator” programme, where conservators explain their work.

Calman ended his plea for conservators to become more involved with the public by instructing the audience to follow two commands from a captain—not a captain of industry, but a captain nonetheless—Jean-Luc Picard from the USS Enterprise: “engage” and “make it so”.

A full report on the conference will appear in our May issue.

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17 Apr 13
15:11 CET


I have been a paintings conservator running a mixed speciality practice for 38 years. I have had to educate the public every step of the way. Our profession is a secret with little understanding of our necessary education and dedication to preservation of our heritage and art. Our stories are typically interesting to the public and TV restoration shows are popular and misunderstood as preservation. It is high time we engage the public with good stories. Our field needs something as popular as the antique road show, internationally, which also teaches how to maintain their treasures and what conservators recommend. As a group, unlike many international campaigns appealing for support we have no advertising budget and little publicity experience. Engaging the public is key to increasing the financial support needed to keep our rare profession alive and healthy.

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