Conservators told to follow Star Trek captain’s orders
At Icon’s triennial conference in Glasgow this week, the oft-repeated message was “engage” and “make it so”
By Emily Sharpe. Web only
Published online: 12 April 2013
“Take every opportunity to tell people what you do,” said Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish government’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs at opening of “Positive Futures in an Uncertain World”, Icon’s triennial conference at the University of Glasgow, on Thursday 11 April. “The sector needs to get smarter about shouting about culture.” Hyslop’s message was repeated by other speakers at the conference, including the chancellor of the university, Kenneth Calman, urging the assembled crowd of conservators to talk to politicians, captains of industry and the public about the importance of heritage preservation.
“The excellence of our profession often remains a longstanding secret,” said David Leigh, a conservator and Icon’s representative on the National Trust Council’s art panel, alluding to the fact that the job of a conservator has been traditionally a backroom activity. In the current economic climate, however, where resources are limited and cutbacks in staff and budgets have become a fact of life, one of the best ways to make a case for heritage preservation is to engage with the public. “You need to articulate the relevance and importance of your work… and maximise the opportunity to share your expertise,” Hyslop said.
Some organisations, including the Historic Royal Palaces, have become old hands at engaging with the public. “It has been critical for conservators to hone their communication skills in recent years,” said Kate Frame, the head of conservation and collections care at the Historic Royal Palaces. The organisation’s transition from a government body to a charitable one in 1998 meant the conservation staff had to take on broader roles. One way they engage with the public is through activities such as the popular “Ask a Conservator” programme, where conservators explain their work.
Calman ended his plea for conservators to become more involved with the public by instructing the audience to follow two commands from a captain—not a captain of industry, but a captain nonetheless—Jean-Luc Picard from the USS Enterprise: “engage” and “make it so”.
A full report on the conference will appear in our May issue.
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