Conservation United Kingdom

Second chance for UK textile centre

After closing the programme in Winchester in October 2009, it is set to reopen in Glasgow

london. A new textile conservation centre set to open this autumn at Glasgow University means that “the UK regains its position at the forefront of textile care and treatment”, according to Kate Frame, head of conservation and collection care at Historic Royal Palaces, the largest UK employer of textile conservators. The move follows a series of blows to UK conservation programmes; last year, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal College of Art abandoned their joint post-graduate conservation training programme while Southampton University closed its textile conservation centre last October (see link).

The Textile Conservation Centre Foundation will hand over the assets of the former centre in Winchester, including equipment, the library and intellectual property, to Glasgow University which will create laboratories for the new programme.

A two-year Masters in Textile Conservation and a one-year Masters in the History of Textiles and Dress will launch in September alongside PhD programmes. The university’s existing Masters course in Technical Art History, Making and Meaning will also be available at the new centre. Students will have access to textile collections held by Glasgow Museums, the National Museums of Scotland and the university’s Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery.

“Without this training, we were facing a future without a skilled work force,” added Frame. Other leading conservation experts have applauded the move including Dr David Saunders, keeper in the British Museum’s department of conservation and scientific research, who noted that the development is essential “for the future of high quality textile conservation training in the UK and for closer collaboration between conservators and art historians”. Jerry Podany, president of the International Institute for Conservation, added that “this is a bold, smart move” but warned: “The closure at Southampton University was a wake-up call; it showed that resources in heritage preservation are at risk.”

The textile centre, which opened in 1999, was forced to close partly because of its inability to fund itself. Unlike European programmes which are government subsidised, British universities require high student-teacher ratios to ensure that courses are self-funding; a subject such as conservation is a resource-intensive activity, with small class sizes.

“There’s nothing in the general funding environment that would make things significantly different in Scotland,” said a spokesman for the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council, the country’s government body responsible for funding the country’s higher education institutions. “Postgraduate tuition fees will have to be paid [fees for 2010-11—one-year masters, full-time: £4,250 for UK/EU students, £10,750 for international postgraduates; two-year masters, full-time: £12,000 all students], so there will be a business decision about the level of fees and the number of students needed to break even. Glasgow will have a business model in place that sustains the centre in the long-term.”

Professor Nick Pearce, head of history of art at the University of Glasgow, responded: “We are confident the new postgraduate courses in textile conservation and dress and textile history to be offered from September will be financially viable…we will be developing funding to support a number of conservation-based research projects, some of which will be in collaboration with institutions abroad.”

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