MaryJo Lelyveld, AICCM President

The AICCM plays a critical role in supporting the conservation profession in Australia and by extension ensures the preservation of Australia’s cultural material.

As documented in the 2015 Annual General Meeting reports, this has been achieved over the past year through:

  • Events: three AICCM workshops with a total of 94 attendees; a joint conference with the Australasian Sound Recordings Association (ASRA); a National Conference with 150 delegates and many regular regional state/territory meetings.
  • AICCM Newsletter: published tri-annually, including the launch of this, our first e-news.
  • AICCM website and social media: weekly updates to the website content, twice daily posts on Facebook that have taken us to over 2015 Likes; creation of a new (paid) Website Manager position; and almost doubling our Twitter follower-ship to 171.
  • The Bulletin: successful transfer of publication to Routley Taylor Francis with delivery of two full editions and an increase in full text downloads from 107 in March to 8705(!) via the FreeAccess offer presented in April.
  • Professional Membership: 15 new applicants taking the number of professional members to over 100.
  • Grants and Sponsorship: securing an $8,000 grant from ADFAS towards the provision of training workshops, provision of four National Conference student travel bursaries and the ‘Outstanding Research in the Field of Conservation’ award.
  • Committees: revision of Conservator Statement and Technician Statement.
  • Advocacy and community events: inclusion in Heritage Week.

This is a great achievement from a primarily volunteer run organisation and builds upon a forty year history of professionals with both passion and technical expertise seeking to promote cultural materials preservation. Yet we are at a particularly interesting juncture in which agents of change are shifting the nature of our practice. Take for instance the planning of this, our first e-news edition of the Newsletter. This edition is the culmination of several years’ discussion within National Council, two online surveys of members and several months’ work to get us here. The interesting point is that it took several years to decide to do it and only a few months to get the job done. Why several years? There are a range of reasons including shifting priorities; the time taken to consult with you, the membership; securing the knowledge and skills to get the job done; and evaluating options to ensure the job is done properly. But underlying all of these reasons was an initial hesitancy to change what had always been and by all accounts ‘worked’ (printed format) to that was new but, as the years have progressed, has become the norm (e-news).

The reasons for AICCM’s shift to an e-news format are numerous, with the change expected to provide many more benefits than harms. These benefits include the ability to disseminate content more broadly (both geographically and across different audiences), integrated images, links and other media, more timely content, financial savings and the ability to have news content searchable via the web. This was evaluated against the negatives, primary of which was that in no longer being a paginated publication, it would be read and archived differently. Ultimately however, the decision became one of whether the move would further the key aims of our organisation: to promote the advancement of materials conservation and the cooperation and exchange of information and ideas between those concerned with the conservation of cultural material. We believe that by transitioning to an e-news format, the AICCM Bulletin will ensure its value as an important communication tool for the Australian conservation profession and those who find our work interesting.

On a similar note, these agents of change are shifting the nature of practice and also forcing the profession to engage more actively in areas that do not follow traditional conservation form. It was these challenges that were highlighted at the recent National Conference through the theme Illuminating the New: Contemporary practice and issues in materials conservation. As you will read from the conference reviews within this edition, the topic served to highlight emerging issues and new contexts of practice through a range of practical case studies and projects.

‘But is it conservation?’ is a question I have heard asked by conservators faced with preserving ephemera and new media collection material or in instances where preservation efforts are social in orientation (used in the broadest sense to include any engagement with people) rather than specific to the artefact. The AICCM defines cultural material as ‘items of cultural significance’ but it is additionally described as ‘moveable’ in the document. If we take the Oxford Dictionary definition of ‘item’, meaning ‘an individual article or unit’, to be synonymous with ‘object, artefact, bit, element, constituent, component…’ the preservation of bits (and moveable bytes), along with the experiential and oral history components of cultural material is indeed just as relevant as the tangible. In his 2005 publication Contemporary Theory of Conservation, Muňoz Viňasterms describes these emerging aspects of practice as ‘informational preservation’. He also notes that ‘Since its inception, conservation has not only reacted to theoretical and social needs by adapting its techniques and principles, but also by redefining its field of operation’. The profession of conservation is not static. It is shaped by forces within and out.

The question we should be asking is not ‘is it conservation?’ but ‘how is conservation (materials preservation) relevant in these changing contexts?’ Are we making effective use of our knowledge, expertise and ways of seeing and knowing cultural materials to ensure that our colleagues and the public see the work that we do as important? And, by looking from the outside in at what is deemed relevant and important by others (be they employers, clients, makers, or culture and legacy at large), are we addressing their needs? Are we really undertaking this work for future generations (as is so often the justification), and if so, how can we be sure that future generations will value what it is we do?

The three essays by Prof. Robyn Sloggett, Director of the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation; Julian Bickersteth, Managing Director of International Conservation Services; and Colin Macgregor, Manager, Materials Conservation of the Australian Museum (summaries of which are contained within this e-news) were presented in full at the 2015 AICCM National Conference. They offer a starting point to address some of these questions and I thank the authors for allowing us to include them here. By providing us with longitudinal observations of change within the profession and industry, the authors provide us with their perspectives on critical challenges and future opportunities. I invite those interested to respond to these essays or add your own thoughts and comments to continue this conversation in the next edition of the AICCM Newsletter.