Fear, Rules, and Collaboration in Conservation

by Joelle D. J. Wickens

Like a well-trained academic, I did a little research before I sat down to write this, my first blog post. (Well, very little research, so maybe I’m not so well-trained!) I learned a blog is often created with a particular goal in mind. I definitely have that. I want this blog to pull readers and listeners into thought and discussion about two, overarching questions – Who is a Conservator? and What is Conservation? Through this process, I hope we can continue to blur the current boundaries in the field of art and historic artifact conservation. With this blurring, I think we can find 21st century ways of doing things that may even evolve into 22nd century approaches to conservation.

This blog itself is blurring a boundary in our field. It’s not peer-reviewed. I have not asked authors to submit their ideas for content ahead of time. I have also not asked them to submit their completed work to the scrutiny of others who are already well established in our field. I have asked authors to write in first person, expressing their own thoughts and opinions, prompted by one of the following three questions: Are we working from a foundation of fear? Are we following the wrong rules? How do we enhance collaboration?  The only feedback I provide is suggestions of changes to clarify anything that isn’t quite clear to me. Why have I taken this approach? Because it is hard to blur boundaries and explore new ideas when the ideas that are being expressed are pre-processed by those already ‘in the club’. 

So, for the next 13 weeks I invite you to this site weekly. Every Monday, you will find a new post, by a new author. As you read, try steering away from deciding whether the author is right or wrong. Try asking yourself what new questions enter your world because of what you have just read. Try finding something in your experience that helps you connect to the author’s ideas. Try developing an idea that would help the author further evolve their own thinking, even if you don’t agree with the idea you develop. Have fun asking questions, and thinking differently. Don’t worry that by simply asking a question you are committing to anything, or staking a claim that what you have done in the past is wrong, or saying what you need to do in the future is different. Just play with the ideas and share some of what you come up with in the discussion panel to the right of each post. 

Next week we begin with Sarah Scaturro, Eric and Jane Nord Chief Conservator at the Cleveland Museum of Art, responding to the prompt: Are we working from a foundation of fear? 

Today, right now, ask yourself how you are feeling about openly participating in the discussions ahead. Are you fearful? I definitely fear how some colleagues will respond. Will they label me as odd or unintelligent? Will I make someone angry? Will they take my idea and call it their own? Will someone refuse to hire me somewhere down the road because of an idea I explore in writing today? So many things to fear in a small field that strives for perfection. Are you working from a foundation of personal fear? Come back next week. See what Sarah thinks. Share your thoughts.

Author Bio

Joelle D. J. Wickens is a daughter, sibling, wife, parent, educator, mentor, student, facilitator, preventive conservator…. Others identify her as disabled. She prefers phrases like, uses a wheelchair to navigate when outside of her home. She is an Assistant Professor of preventive conservation in the Art Conservation Department, University of Delaware, USA, and the Associate Director of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. Her current work in preventive conservation is dedicated to evolving the practice of the specialty to place social, economic, and environmental sustainability at its core.

    We are hosting a Zoom dialogue around this content on 10 February 2022 at 12.00EST. If you would like to join, please fill out this form and we will share the Zoom invite directly: