From Conservation to Conversation: Rethinking Collections Care
Cultural institutions such as Museums claim to take a well-informed and strategic approach to care for valued collections, protecting and conserving the material evidence of cultural heritage in line with the overall institutional goals. Though the principles and values that inform such strategies, vary considerably according to context and they often do not reflect the original cultural context.
Care of collections and views on the appropriate preservation conditions continue to be subject of current debate, particularly in connection with collections from colonial contexts. Questions are asked regarding issues such as collections mobility, high costs, sustainability and the ‘green Museum’ and results of current research on principles of collections care deliver important impulses. So-called conservation standards, or perceived lack thereof, have been used by major institutions to argue against mobility of collections and have been experienced as factors in delaying exchange and use of collections as well as restitution.
The establishment of the Museum in the (colonial) European cultural landscape resulted in the establishment of largely Eurocentric ideas of conservation/preservation as standards in collections care. These ideas have been increasingly challenged from within the profession as well as outside. Over the past 20 years the growing involvement of indigenous and originating communities and a wider and critical public in questions of representation, presentation and preservation shifted the conservation practice away from exclusivity, moving the decision-making process towards inclusive multidisciplinary negotiation of ideas.
A conservation practice aiming to safeguard cultural material should also contribute to ‘cultural health’. Care of collections has to include conversations on interpretation and representation of culture which inform the appropriate care within a given context. Equally, questions about sustainability, architecture, climate conditions, storage and display inform criteria applied to manage risks to the tangible material of museum collections.
Within the context of World Cultures Collections in Germany, this two-day workshop wants to reflect on the ongoing development of changing conservation and collections care practices. Bringing together colleagues from the national and international field, we want to create a space for open communication.