WCG February 9, 2013 Program
Rebecca Fifield’s lecture, “The Gang’s All Here: Current Changes for Collections Care”, wasn’t just a talk—it was a call to action! More than once, Fifield mentioned that she was interested in “systems.” Theoretically, museum workers, from the curator to the security staff, depend upon one another to keep the “machine” running. However in practice, we face a multiplicity of problems that stop us. Rebecca, collection manager at the MET Museum in NYC, moved the discussion from large scale museums to small historic homes, embracing the essential role that collection care professionals hold and must expand on.
Held on February 7, 2013, at the Museum Studies Center of the George Washington University, it was a robust attendance, with over 78 people. While most attendees were conservators, at least a third came from the collection care, registrar, and student fields. Rebecca’s talk was inspirational to both the conservation professionals and the collection care sector.
Some of her main points covered:
#1: We need to better define collection care – among ourselves, and to others. We need to discuss its importance to all museum functions and the visitor experience. The titles of “Collections Care” or “Curator” are vague. We need to define what it is we do and don’t do. There is either too much weight or too little weight on any given job title in the museum field. On one hand, people are stretched; taking on jobs they are not trained for or have no experience in. On the other hand, some are not trusted or given the responsibility to exercise the skills they possessed.
#2: We need to better support ALL collection care practitioners through mentoring, mid-career training, and advancement opportunities. Fifield desires a space for dialogue and exchange including all stakeholders in museum fields. Inter-museum mentorship can prepare workers for the middle of their career. We need to figure out routes for advancement and upward motion through this dialogue.
#3: We need to keep developing collection care resources (like collections risk assessment!) that build skill, improve collection care, and nurture the collaborations between all museum professionals. We need more support and communication. If we learn about each other’s jobs we will be able to better define our own. If we continue to train and learn, we will be able to do our jobs into the future. If we communicate with our peers, we can map new strategies for success and expansion.
#4: We need to get the public involved! We need to demonstrate to our administrators that this is an area of interest to the public and potential supporters. We need to gain more external support, possibly through private “backstage” tours and “foster an object” projects. We should all be talking about how to find the right way to say “Yes.”
Fifield said one of her favorite sayings is: “Collections Care is not a la carte”—and it’s true. We must insist that Collections Care is not a luxury, passive activity, nor is it “make work.” It is only as strong as its weakest component. Many of us in the museum field have our eyes on the small things. The big picture requires change and collaboration.
Written by Lorenza Lattanzi, Conservation Intern, February 2013