President's Report—June 2016

Publish date: 
19 Jun 2016
Author: 
MaryJo Lelyveld

This Edition of the AICCM Newsletter has been dedicated to the passing of Emeritus Professor Colin Pearson. Colin’s easy and unassuming manner belied his exceptional impact upon the conservation profession in Australia. He was instrumental in establishing the first conservation course in the Asia Pacific region at the University of Canberra (then Canberra College of Advanced Education) and served as the principle lecturer and course convenor through its 25 year history. Colin’s legacy includes not only supervising the graduation of 338 conservators, many of whom now head conservation departments across the country and region, but maintaining an esteemed international profile in the field with involvement in the ICCROM, IIC and ICOM-CC Councils through a notable publications history of over 120 papers on the subjects of the conservation of metals, the preservation of collections in tropical environments, preventive conservation and conservation education.

We extend our profound sympathies to his wife Gwyn, his children, family and close friends. 

Setting course

The President’s Report in the last edition of the e-News presented readers with some basic statistics on the organisation, drawing on internal data from our own survey results and membership figures as well as government statistics. The simple take-home was that membership numbers are slowly increasing along with current and future projected growth of the profession. And whilst the latest Census datasets (2011), indicate an aging profession (along with the ‘greying’ of the nation generally), it is anticipated that the 2016 Census data relating to the profession may indicate a reverse to this trend. This report builds upon these findings by outlining some of the drivers behind the 2016–2020 AICCM Strategic Plan.

Need for numbers

One of the biggest difficulties in the strategic planning process is accessing suitable data to inform decision-making. We require nformation about where we have come from, the strengths and weaknesses of our industry and the opportunities and challenges we face now and in the future. But data relating to the development of the organisation, its reach and impact, and current and future skills gaps are piecemeal, making it difficult for the AICCM to prioritise areas for on-going development. What valuable information exists is held as grey literature, supported by personal reflections (for example the Lyall interviews of senior conservation professionals held at the National Library of Australia or articles in AICCM Newsletters) and a limited number of articles across AICCM peer-reviewed publications [1]. To date, little has been done to bring these documents together to provide a broad understanding of the current conservation situation and the AICCM’s place within it. Addressing this by developing a coherent, contemporary voice for materials conservation, will be one of the key strategies over the coming four years.

Similarly, one of the critical issues for the future of the AICCM will be articulating and generating value. Value to our members, value to the heritage, collections care and GLAM industries, and value to a public interested in preserving their cultural material. Unfortunately, value (like significance) is not static or singular. So we have looked at identifying key trends that will influence how the work and structure of our organisation might need to adapt to changing values over the coming years.

The impact of demographic change on the profession

We have all heard that the Australian population (along with most western countries) is ageing, with the majority of Baby Boomers entering retirement age by 2020 and Generation Y comprising approx. 42% of the general workforce [2]. But what is the impact for the AICCM?

Commentators within the field note that managing the generational shift of the membership base from Baby Boomers to Generation Y will rely on Gen X taking on leadership roles during this challenging period [3]. How do we entice more Gen Y to take up AICCM membership and more Gen X and Gen Y to take on council roles? Increasing opportunities for input and involvement in short-term project-based opportunities for volunteering are some of our strategies.

Associations and not-for-profit consultant Belinda Moore remarks that Baby Boomers “have been the most likely to join, the most likely to renew, and the most likely to volunteer with associations.” She argues that the products, services, communication channels and decision-making structures within most associations have served the needs of this group at the expense others [4]. Is the AICCM doing enough to ensure that the needs of our younger members are being met? Are we cultivating an organisation that all groups are interested in supporting? How can we ensure that AICCM membership holds value for members at different career stages of their career, be it student, emerging professional, mid-career or retiree?

Updating our website and social media presence to communicate with our younger members has been critical to our future viability. Our increasing levels of digital engagemnt has validated this approach. As part of our 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, we are looking to develop an emerging conservators network and a mentorship program to support two-way skills and knowledge transfer. Such programs are only as successful as the energy invested in them, so I invite any members interested in getting involved to get in contact with us for more information.

Outside of the AICCM, an aging population creates opportunity for increased interest in conservation services. It has been estimated that within Australia, Baby Boomers who currently comprise 25% of the population yet own 55% of the nation’s private wealth [5] spend the majority of discretionary funds on recreation, culture and travel products [6]. This group has both the interest and means to preserve and restore familial collections of heirlooms and memorabilia and/or support and engage with heritage preservation projects. Unlike the great successes we have witnessed in raising standards of collections care within our collecting institutions, the state of the privately held ‘national distributed collection’ remains in question. Given this, how can we ensure our communication tools provide connect individuals with the conservation services they require in a form that is readily accessible, intuitive to use and up-to-date?

A sustainable profession and organisation

Following the substantial rise in the number and size of conservation labs during the 1980’s [7], many of those working within the institutional context have been through various periods of (mild) ‘booms and busts’, the most recent of these being the $20 million dollar cut across national cultural institutions. Thankfully many conservation departments were spared direct job losses, if not job losses by attrition. It is difficult to determine future funding allocations to the arts and culture portfolios (with a looming election to added to the mix) but with the current trend toward casualisation of the workforce we can assume that, unlike previous decades, the majority of our members will likely be private conservators or working in contract positions within the public service. How will this shift impact upon the kind of services members want from the AICCM? And the skills base within the profession? How can AICCM support this transition through targeted professional development workshops and symposia? No doubt, advocacy will remain a key concern of our members and I invite any members wishing to represent AICCM in this area to contact me. In addition to this, the planned development of the website to showcase the projects of professional members is one way the AICCM is seeking to increase the profile of professional conservators.

The recent increase in membership fees has gone a long way in allowing us to be a self-sufficient organisation. While we will continue to rely on additional funds from advertising and event sponsorship to meet the operational costs of the organisation, unlike many other arts organisations dependent on (unpredictable) government funding for their viability, the AICCM is closer to reaching financial sustainability. However, current operational costs only cover minimal staffing (0.6 FTE positions) of secretariat and web managerial duties. It does not cover the hundreds of hours that members put in through their involvement in Council, SIG and State Division and Publication programs. Without the volunteer support of our members, the AICCM would cease to exist. Whilst this Strategic Plan will address issues of succession planning within the organisation, I am also of the belief that the organisation would best be served by employing an Executive Officer to oversee the operational activities of the AICCM on a day-to-day basis. Most critically, this position would act as the prime contact for industry engagement and develop key areas of advocacy and philanthropic support. This position will incur additional costs but as we improve the financial base of the organisation over the coming years, I hope that we can build towards creating such a critical role within the AICCM.

As philanthropic funding of the arts continues to grow, outpacing corporate sponsorship as the dominant source of private sector support for the arts [8], the AICCM is looking to develop opportunities for those who wish to support the work of the organisation and its members. As part of the Strategic Plan, we will be reviewing the status of the Public Fund and through its Development Committee, investigate how best to develop a perpetuity trust to ensure that AICCM will have resources to draw upon for supporting conservation projects, recognising of excellence in practice and research, and for professional development.

New media and modern materials

On the bench-front, as artists, makers and designers explore the boundaries of the material form conceptually, technically and physically, approaches to the preservation of these works will require ongoing research supported by greater communication and collaboration with those outside the conservation field. As the role of conservator grows from ‘object/artefact’ based work to incorporate that of facilitator of preservation based practices within communities [9], how can the AICCM support new modes of operation that deal with the evolving digital and contemporary art landscape?

Finally, as we go about the practical work of ‘how’ to enact conservation, we must always remind ourselves of the ‘why’ conservation exists—to enable access for both present and future generations. For some, this alone may be reason enough, however I challenge our members to consider the wider agenda of how conservation and cultural heritage access might help to address some of the most pressing needs of society today. Needs of identity, social inclusion, equity, sustainability and education. I am positive that the AICCM is in a position to address many of these challenges and support its members to take advantage of the opportunities that developments within the field and industry presents.


[1] Most notably Ian Cook et al., 2011, 'Conservation in Australian museums', in Des Griffin and Leon Paroissien (eds), Understanding Museums: Australian Museums and Museology, National Museum of Australia, published online at http://nma.gov.au/research/understanding-museums/ICook_etal_2011.html and more recently Scott’s formative ‘Normal and Extraordinary Conservation Knowledge: Towards a Post-normal Theory of Cultural Materials Conservation’ (Volume 36, Issue 2 of The Bulletin) and Sloggett’s ‘A national conservation policy for a new millennium - building opportunity, extending capacity and securing integration in cultural materials conservation’ (Volume 36, Issue 2 of The Bulletin).

[2] mccrindle.com.au/ResearchSummaries/Australia-in-2020-A-Snapshot-of-the-Future.pdf

[3] Sarah Sladek, 2011, The End of Membership As We Know It. Washington:ASAE

[4] Belinda Moore, 2015, Membership is Dead? Strategic Membership Solutions, published online at http://www.smsonline.net.au/resources/Documents/WHITEPAPER%20-%20Membership%20is%20Dead.pdf

[5] mccrindle.com.au/ResearchSummaries/Australia-in-2020-A-Snapshot-of-the-Future.pdf

[6] P. 12 Deloitte Global Services, Consumer 2020: Reading the Signs, 2011

[7] Ian Cook et al. (2011) 'Conservation in Australian museums', in Des Griffin and Leon Paroissien (eds), Understanding Museums: Australian Museums and Museology, National Museum of Australia, published online at http://nma.gov.au/research/understanding-museums/ICook_etal_2011.html

[9] Jones, S. et al (2008) ‘It’s a Material World: Caring for the Public Realm’ available at http://www.cool.conservation-us.org/byauth/jonessam/material-world.pdf