Focus on sustainability at the 2019 AICCM National Conference

by Claire Olsen, Collections Registrar, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

The Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials (AICCM) National Conference is an annual event that brings together members and allied professionals from Australia and beyond to meet, discuss ideas and projects in the world of conservation.

The 2019 AICCM Conference ‘Making Conservation’ was held at the Arts Centre in Melbourne from 13-15 November. My attendance was made possible by a Professional Development Grant from National Services Te Paerangi and the support of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Arts Centre Melbourne, venue for the 2019 AICCM conference. Photographer Claire Olsen

I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land in which the conference was held, the  Boon Wurrang and Woi Wurrang (Wurundjeri) peoples of the Kulin Nation, and pay respect to their elders past, present and emerging, and to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Under the overarching title ‘Making Conservation’, each day centred on one of three specific themes: Making Conservation Connected, Making Conservation Sustainable and Making Conservation Innovative.

I hoped to come away with some practical solutions that could be implemented to mitigate the environmental impacts our practices have. Conservation practices have a direct link to sustainability – we are often working to preserve heritage and objects; however, as a profession the work we do can often have an environmental impact.

One of the talks I was looking forward to was ‘Implementing the Bizot Green Protocol for Loans’ presented by Amanda Pagliarino and Carolyn Murphy.

Implementing the Bisot Green Protocol for Loans presentation. Photo Claire Olsen

In 2019 the Council of Australian Art Museum Directors (CAAMD) voted to adopt this protocol, which provides environmental guidelines for lending between member organizations. The Bizot guidelines, which align with the AICCM Environmental Guidelines, broaden the environmental parameters for works on loan, with the purpose of improving the energy efficiency of HVAC systems.

The adaptation of these protocols is an acknowledgement that practices within museums and galleries need to change and develop in the era of sustainability.

Many galleries and museums are committed to sustainable practice – after all it is built into the very practice of caring for items and preserving culture – but most policy and loan agreements still contain very strict guidelines for the display of items. It was hoped that organisations can establish new guidelines for loans, within parameters that work for their specific collections. I look forward to being part of further conversations regarding Bizot Green protocol here in New Zealand, including how we can develop these whilst mitigating risk to items in our collections.

Example from the Bizot Green Protocol (Bizot 2015)

Read more about the current AICCM Environmental Guidelines

MaryJo Lelyveld (National Gallery of Victoria) presented on the currently in development AICCM Sustainable Collections wiki. This resource will collate publications and case studies (some of which were presented at the conference) relating to sustainable practices in conservation.

I think this will be an excellent resource for knowledge sharing so keep an eye out for announcement of the wiki launch from AICCM.

MaryJo Lelyveld presenting at AICCM 2019. Photo Claire Olsen

Other papers presented on the second day of the conference looked at some of the materials museum professionals use, and ways we can make potentially harmful chemical and solvent treatments more environmentally friendly.

This included a lightning talk by Sheldon Teare (Australian Museum) on using composting as a sustainable method for preparation of osteological specimens, a presentation of research by Jessica Walsh and Dr Nicole Tse (Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation) looking at the use of ‘green’ chemicals for the cleaning of painted surfaces and removal of natural and synthetic resin varnishes from oil based paintings, and research from Rehan Scharenguival  and Sheldon Teare (International Conservation Services and Australian Museum) on alternative biocides for fluid preserved specimens in glycerol.

A highlight of the conference for me was looking at ways of connecting communities and conservation. Whilst environmental sustainability is a big issue given climate change, sustainability does of course encompass economy, people and society.

A standout presentation for me was from Erina McCann and Jade Hadfield (Tiaki Objects Conservation and Museums Victoria) on the Pacific Cultures Collection at Museums Victoria, which encompasses 20,000-23000 artefacts and over 8000 images. The presentation looked at Museums Victoria’s development of a framework for understanding and increasing awareness of culture during the redevelopment of the Te Pasifika Gallery, including how the museum went about engagement and two-way sharing with knowledge holders and community representatives. 

The presentation of their guiding document talked of the collaborative nature of collection management, conservation and collection care and aligning policy and procedures to ensure Pacific perspective and philosophy are a focus in operational procedures.

Sharing of knowledge was a continuous theme throughout the conference. One of the key questions raised was:

  • How are we/should we make conservation inclusive, collaborative, visible, accessible and connected across communities?

This of course is a two-way process and it was highlighted that as conservation professionals it is imperative that we share our knowledge, but it is also our obligation to learn and develop our knowledge about, from and with indigenous communities.

With sustainability a major theme of the conference, the AICCM took steps to reduce waste produced. This included BYO bags, pens and notebooks for delegates, conference materials produced from recycled water bottles and cardboard offcuts from the State Library Conservation Lab, use of vegetable based inks and reuse of any non-recycled materials. These practices are things we can all pick up in our everyday working life.

Moving forward I hope that we can develop further environmentally sustainable practices in New Zealand, particularly in regard to the waste we produce. An example of this could be a Nitrile Glove recycling scheme.

This is just a small snippet of presentations from the conference, please be in touch if you’d like more information on anything from the conference.  

Check out the full programme from the 2019 AICCM conference

Being able to attend the conference enabled me to build on my knowledge of sustainable practices in collection care, but also highlighted the need to ensure policy and practices are continuing to develop and shift and to ensure meaningful engagement in sustainability – environmentally, socially and culturally.

I look forward to using the knowledge shared at the conference to help implement and develop on current policy within the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, and within the broader conservation community.

Find out more about the Professional Development Grant from National Services Te Paerangi

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