Preserving Collection in the Age of Sustainability: A course of the Managing Collection Environments initiative
Q&A by Tegan Anthes (Preservation Australia) and Amanda Pagliarino (QAGOMA)
Preserving Collections in the Age of Sustainability is a three-phase course developed by the Getty Conservation Institute and is part of the Managing Collection Environments initiative. The course was open to mid-career to senior level professionals in conservation management, collection management and facilities management roles within the cultural sector. Australia is fortunate to have three representatives participating in the course: Amanda Pagliarino, MaryJo Lelyveld and Tegan Anthes, along with 15 participants from five other countries.
The aim of the course was to “disseminate recent research and thinking on technical aspects of environmental management” and to enhance critical thinking, analysis, decision making and influence within an institution. In the first phase of the course participants were tasked with information gathering. Participants working within their own institution or for an institution were required to collect a range of information on building fabric, passive and mechanical air conditioning systems, collection, and environment and this information was then used during the intensive workshop.
The intensive workshop was conducted over a two week period in June at the Pennsylvania Fine Arts Academy, Philadelphia. It provided participants with an in-depth review of current knowledge, research and practice in the fields of material/environment behaviour, risk management and sustainable collection care. The workshop was delivered by a range of professionals from the Getty Conservation Institute, Image Permanence Institute, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Colonial Williamsburg Foundations and several private businesses including Walt Grimm Associates, Watson & Henry Associates, Wendy Jessup Associates, and Magic Hat Consulting.
The final phase of the course is distance mentoring which aims to support participants as they implement projects within their institutions or with their clients. These projects were defined in action plans drafted during the workshop and are specific plans developed by the participant to address sustainable initiatives. Each action plan is varied but includes implementing some of the new strategies and tools that were shared during the workshop.
Q. ‘Preserving Collections in the Age of Sustainability’ is a three-phase, long course delivered over a period of 9 months. The three phases include 10 weeks of online activities and extensive reading; a two week intensive workshop; and the final phase of distance mentoring which finishes at the end of this year. What are your impressions of the course?
TA – I have found the course extremely interesting and engaging at many levels. Each phase has highlighted new ways of approaching my work and broadening my knowledge in this field. The three phase structure allows the course to be distributed over a long period of time and therefore time away from the studio is reduced. The two week intensive was thoroughly stimulating and the opportunity to connect with other participants was a very rewarding.
AP – I have invested in professional development and training throughout my career and the MCE: Preserving Collections in the Age of Sustainability long course is for me the most enabling, influential and satisfying program that I have participated in. The quality of the trainers and the material presented is exceptional. The three-phase course structure is also very appealing, particularly the lengthy mentoring phase. To learn, plan and then move into a period of implementing goals with the support of a mentor is an extraordinary opportunity.
Another aspect of this course that I find really impressive is an approach to learning that was built into the structure and delivery of the program, and that is the aim of building a supporting community. This is working really well. Over the two week workshop the delegates connected, worked and socialised together and are communicating regularly with each other through a forum set up via the GCI internet portal.
Q. 10 instructors and 18 delegates from America, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Sweden and Brazil participated in the two week intensive workshop which was held at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia (5-16 June 2017). The workshop program included a wide range of lectures, case studies, activities and group work. What were some of the highlights of this intensive?
TA – Several specific presentations were particularly interesting – Vincent’s presentation on how to manipulate the data logger data into various graphs I think will be most useful, however it will require some practice in excel. The use of case studies to apply the new knowledge was also very enjoyable. This was often within groups and it was fascinating to see how the different backgrounds approached the situations. On the second last day we were required to take part in a role play and this highlighted the different perspectives that various roles have within an institution and provide a great level of insight into all the stakeholders.
AP – A highlight of the course for me was the structure and what that afforded participants. Firstly, the wealth of knowledge in the room – 10 instructors all with vast experience in their respective fields. Secondly, the length of the workshop – what a privilege to work uninterrupted and concentrate for two weeks on a single issue, learning and absorbing new and useful information.
I agree with Tegan that Vincent Beltran’s presentation on data analysis was a standout as were the lectures by Michael Henry about the behaviour of built structures and systems learning.
Q. One of the principle objectives of the course was to “provide participants with updated and refreshed technical knowledge to analyse and communicate collection risks.” How did the course achieve this objective?
TA – Analysis and communication of collection risks was address thorough a site visit and group work at the Penn Museum. Each group was tasked with undertaking a risk assessment of a designated area. We were asked to use the ABC =MR risk assessment tool during this process.
AP – The case study visit to Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania offered a great opportunity to channel the learning into a practical exercise. Also having the opportunity to listen to Head Conservator, Lynn Grant discuss the challenges of managing an extraordinary university study collection that is housed in multiple buildings of various ages and design, most of which are passively ventilated, was fascinating. She mentioned that in summer, due to the heat and humidity, bottles of water are handed out to visitors before they set out to investigate the museum galleries – that is a challenging environment for visitors and collections!
Q. As a new training initiative the GCI has implemented a mentoring phase that will run for 6 months. Although the mentoring program has only recently commenced, how has this influenced your work and the progress of your individual projects that were developed in the early stages of the course?
TA – I feel that the mentoring phase is critical to ensure that participants apply their new knowledge within their workplace. The mentoring phase is to assist the participants in fulfilling their action plan. So far I have found this extremely useful in keeping me on target and providing support and guidance in the action plan.
AP – I have never had a mentor so this has been a new and rewarding experience for me. The process of talking through ideas and obstacles with a mentor is very helpful, revealing and enlightening. It is also really immersive when you are in a mentoring meeting – the time completely disappears. I am looking forward to seeing my projects develop over the next six months in conjunction with the mentoring process.