Alice C.H. Tsang, Casey P.C. LIU, Conservation Office, Hong Kong

The AICCM has many members outside the shores of Australia. The editors have undertaken to reach out to these members to find out a bit more about their work, their challenges and their needs. We have initially looked to our near neighbours to the north as we feel members may not know much about what is happening in these countries. The first response comes from the Conservation Office in Hong Kong who want to tell us about their use of public programmes as leverage to build up an audience for conservation.

Gone were the days when conservators were confined to focus on the needs of artefacts behind the stage and shielded from the media and public attention. Stepping into the second decade of the 21st Century, by which conservation has taken on a far more complex landscape, the need for conservators to expand their role in communicating their work with the public has become more eminent. In line with the development of the society in the new era, conservators are now expected not only to perform their traditional roles with updated professional skills, but also fulfill a broader social mission to promote conservation awareness in addition to sharpening their identities in sustainable ways for the benefit of protecting and preserving the local cultural heritage for the future generations.

With some 30 conservators engaged by the Government to take care of all collection items pertaining to 19 public museum venues and archives in Hong Kong, there exists an apparent deficiency in manpower resources to cope with the conservation demand arising from the ever-growing collections. If we rely just on the Government or the museums to take up the responsibility of conservation, the unique and characteristic wealth of cultural legacy in Hong Kong may not be able to survive for the next generation. As the situation stands, conservation of Hong Kong’s cultural heritage should not simply rest upon museum conservation professionals, but by all in the community, who if made more aware on related conservation issues, would be able to contribute actively and substantially. In fact, tapping resources from the community to help protecting and safeguarding the local heritage is not only a global trend, but also a practical approach to spread the message of conservation across. As evidenced by many examples worldwide over the years, it has been proven that conservation of the local cultural heritage is a holistic activity which can only fully succeed with community participation. On the other hand, without public cooperation, cultural heritage (in particular those that cannot be collected by museums or the government) will stand a lower chance of survival.

With our vision and mission to accomplish, the Conservation Office (which operates under the Hong Kong SAR Government) understands that raising conservation awareness in the community is of paramount importance as part of our social responsibilities. However, the challenge lies with the sustainability considerations that we have to integrate into the strategic plans for unlocking the potential of this unique yet rich manpower resource in the community for the future development of the profession. While educational programmes have long been recognized as one of the most flexible and effective ways to extend access and act as instruments of change in peoples’ attitudes, to evoke feelings, to convey significant ideas directly and engage the community, the Conservation Office launches a series of conservation educational activities with a goal to directly engage, educate and promote conservation to the public. Examples of such programmes include International Museum Day Programmes, Conservation Volunteer Scheme, Conservation Office on Facebook, School Culture Day Programmes and the upcoming ‘Conservation Clinic’, and IIC 2014 Hong Kong Congress, etc. as outlined below:

International Museum Day (IMD) Programmes

To celebrate International Museum Day, we organize a series of educational workshops with themes set on conservation topics in May every year targeting at families as audience. While it has been found that enhancing meaningful interactions among family members will lead to collaborative learning among members, and that parents can be effective facilitators for their children’s learning, the Conservation Office is in fact offering IMD programmes as a unique milieu for instilling conservation concept to families in an informal learning environment.

Conservation Volunteers Scheme

As part of a dynamic education programme that connects public to their local heritage and to conservation projects in their community, volunteers are recruited to participate in hands-on conservation work after getting ‘apprenticed’ to some experienced conservators in our office. The scheme proves to be successful as it is oversubscribed every year. Some experienced volunteers have in fact become not only our friends but also our ambassadors, helping us to spread the message of conservation further into the community.

School Culture Day Programmes

In collaboration with schools, the Conservation Office offers tailor-made, hands-on workshops to secondary school students throughout the academic year to complement their school curriculum with the concept of preservation and conservation of cultural properties. Students are offered a constructivist environment to learn, examine, expand their own understanding in conservation and to explore in ways that pique their curiosity and be encouraged to make their own experience in conservation.

Conservation Office on Facebook

Further to the launching of our website years ago, we have created a Facebook account since 2010 to encourage dialogues with the public audience besides helping to change the prevailing perception that conservation is restricted to a ‘behind the stage’ activity (if this is still the concept in the society). It is through this unique experience of connectivity between our Office and the public users that conservation can be seamlessly woven into the daily lives of the community, enabling unlimited transmission and dissemination of knowledge and information from the Office to the community and vice versa.

Conservation Clinic

For the first time ever, our Office will be offering free specialist consultation to the public who bring in their objects of sentimental values as one of the programmes of our upcoming ‘Muse Fest HK 2015’ to be held this summer. Through participating in a 30-minute ‘clinical’ practice on their collections under the guidance of conservators after ‘consultation’, the public can experience for themselves the fun and challenges of the profession.

The IIC 2014 Hong Kong Congress

It is with such aspiration and optimism that the Conservation Office was fueled to move forward and take on the challenge of staging the IIC international conference for the first time in Southeast Asia in 2014. As some 500 delegates from worldwide bid farewell to the 2014 Hong Kong Congress by the end of last September, the Conservation Office, being the organizer of the event, was heartened and relieved to see the smiling faces of the delegates, yet pleased and delighted to witness the fruitful outcome of the technical discussions, in particular the IIC/ICOM-CC joint declaration of guidelines on museum environment. As a matter of fact, the concerted effort of our staff, participants, speakers, stakeholders, sponsors, the local public, etc. throughout the planning process and the event delivery had seamlessly pushed the Conservation Office from the back of house to the front stage, making it more visible from a national or international perspective. Apart from creating a platform for academic exchanges as well as developing conservation networking, the event has unexpectedly strengthened the professional ties between IIC and our Chinese counterparts as exemplified by the recent establishment of the IIC International Training Centre for Conservation (IIC-ITCC). In partnership with the Palace Museum in Beijing, IIC will be delivering the inaugural workshop of this path-breaking training initiative this coming autumn in Beijing.

Running these new initiatives has no doubt created additional workload to our already heavy conservation commitments, yet the outcome that we have generated after years is by far fruitful, rewarding and far-reaching. The active sharing of professional knowledge helps the community in Hong Kong understand what conservation is, and this in turn supports the Conservation Office’s values and objectives of preserving the cultural heritage of Hong Kong. More importantly, broadening our communication and engagement with the public makes us more visible and accessible to the public which helps to generate a positive image on the profession as a whole and win their recognition for our endeavors.  By appreciating that a great deal of hard work goes on (at the backstage of museums) with the preservation of cultural heritage upon which our cultural identity was built, we hope our audience would eventually see that conservation is in fact the responsibility of everyone in the society and they will be able to get engaged in an active two-way communication with us about the value of conservation in Hong Kong.