Managing Risks – Student Perspectives
By Catherine Gill
I was fortunate enough to receive an AICCM Student Registration Bursary to attend the Managing Risks to Collections conference held at Deakin Downtown in February. The conference theme focused on the ten agents of deterioration or change. Presenters gave papers, presented lightning talks and engaged in panel discussions. They addressed the current research, practical studies and new technologies relating to preventative and sustainable practices of taking care of collections.
As a student nearing the completion of a Masters of Cultural Materials Conservation and hoping to eventually work in the field of managing collections, the conference provided a wonderful opportunity not only to hear keynote speakers but to observe the collaborative nature of those working with collections, from a range of diverse institutions and organisations. It was a great opportunity to witness the openness of collection managers and conservators sharing experiences and to hear some of the issues and complications that can arise from caring for collections.
I attended the final day of the three-day conference; the focus was on Dissociation. There were four sessions on the day, Dissociation: Cataloguing + Digital being the first. The importance of identifying and managing the risks to time-based and audio-visual collections was discussed. The risks of dissociation of objects in collections in small, volunteer-run and regional museums in New South Wales with a discussion on digitisation as a means of addressing loss of information was also presented. The next presenter Lauren Mc Alary discussed the 'scary cupboard', being dissociated objects in collections that live in a state of uncertainty over ownership and that there are no laws surrounding disposing of objects in collections in Australia. The session finished with Jess Day from Museum Victoria showing us the impressive practical implementation of a bar-coding system that she and her colleagues employed to catalogue the unregistered palaeontology specimens at Museum Victoria.
Following some mini cake delights at morning tea, the second session Dissociation: Cultural Risk began with presentations about the importance of conserving intangible heritage and how tourism can help and impede this preservation. The challenges of distance and the practicalities of conservation and collection management in remote Northern Territory Indigenous communities was presented with some images of the beautiful weaving Carolyn McLennan had been working on with some women in these communities. Nyssa Mildwaters spoke about caring for the objects at the Otago Museum that have been separated from their originating communities and the recognition of a need for greater engagement with originating communities.
After lunch, the third session Risks in Context began. A discussion on the effectiveness and importance of documentation and contracts regarding collections commenced the session, followed by an eye-opening presentation about the destructive effects of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. Gina Irish spoke about how the disaster plan in place at the time did not prepare them for this event. Next, Ainslee Meredith spoke about a program implementation by the Grimwade Centre into the Master’s course. The program sought to embed an important and needed sustainable ethos and practices into conservation applications by students. The final presenter in this session Siren Deluxe from Auckland Museum was a highlight for me. She spoke openly and amusingly of the journey of building a team in her department of ‘Collection Care’. The presentation was a change from the previous talks as it drew attention to the people working in her department. She spoke of the positive outcomes for colleague relationships that come about when a team is managed well and the subsequent achievements that can come out of this atmosphere.
The day finished with a session on Risks and Collection Management and focussed on future directions for collection management followed by the final question and answer panel. The panel session verified the supportive nature of collection care amongst its carers with speakers and audiences openly sharing experiences and ideas. The address at the conclusion of the conference by MaryJo Lelyveld brought to light the enormous amount of work the AICCM committee had done to organise the conference and bring together such a diverse range of professionals caring for their collections.
Many thanks to the AICCM for making this opportunity possible and for their on-going support of student conservators. For a student and emerging conservator to hear specialists in their fields involved in collection care was an amazing opportunity. The understandings and insights, new ideas and the practices shared by those involved in managing risks to the collections was enormously beneficial and will inform my future practices.
Read more student perspectives on the AICCM website.