Thanks, Ellen, for letting me write a guest post on your blog. The amount of conservation information you’re sharing here is impressive; I really can’t think of anyone who is putting as much treatment and research information out as you. It’s as if you’re running your own conservation publication for the state of Alaska!
Also, I think it’s fascinating that you and I can be connected in a meaningful way without having met in person or chatted on the phone. After all, you’re way up there in Alaska, and I’m here in Indianapolis. To make this point visual, my friend, Tascha, in the IMA Photography department, made the image below.
In recognition of the upcoming AIC Annual Meeting being held in Los Angeles that is dubbed “Conservation 2.0 — New Directions,” I thought it would be a good idea to put out some thoughts on “New Directions.” Following this post, on Wednesday Ellen will be posting over at my home blog at the IMA and then on Friday Daniel Cull will posting at The Dan Cull Weblog. We’ve all agreed to address potential “New Directions” for AIC.
Of course, to me, it makes total sense that I publish this post here in Alaska. In many ways I think it is projects like Ellen’s blog that are beginning to change the landscape within the conservation profession and point to new directions. I’m not just talking about starting a blog and telling people what you do, but it’s the capacity for anyone in the world to use a very powerful printing press basically for free. The ability to share information about art conservation is changing dramatically.
Fair Warning: this post is only going to get longer.
First, let me start with some math. I’ve started to add up the cost of my attending the AIC Annual Meeting next week.
- I’ll be gone from the IMA for 4 days. (I’m not going to attach a dollar number to my absence, because, frankly, it’s not quantifiable. Just ask my co-workers while I’m gone: they’ll tell you how priceless I am.)
- My AIC registration and travel expenses will run just over $2000.00. (This does not include my annual membership dues of about $150 per year.)
While I joke that my 4-day absence is partially unquantifiable, certainly for conservators in private practice this number is fully quantifiable and very serious. Compared to other professions this may not be a lot of resources, but in these lean economic times it sure feels like a lot of institutional resources just for one dude to go to a meeting. To this end, I say thanks for the support, Indianapolis Museum of Art!
But that’s not the real issue or question here. The real questions are: why do I need to go; what do I get out of it; and could it be improved?
I’ve come up with five reasons why I need to go:
- Sharing Information (either by giving a presentation or listening to them)
- Institutional and Personal Prestige
- Workshops & Tours (Professional Development)
Let’s go through these five reasons one by one.
1. Sharing Knowledge
I think of this as the “core” of the meeting and usually consists of me sitting in a hotel conference room watching or potentially giving a Power Point presentation on a certain topic. Is this an efficient delivery method for information? All of a sudden, no, not really. Now with improved technology and social media applications anyone can give a presentation from anywhere to anyone and they can be recorded and shipped around the world at any time of the day through these Interwebs. Take for example two presentations that my 5 and 8 year old kids recently put together.
The Collaborative Approach: This winter my 5 year old daughter and I made this PPT about the plants in our house. She took all of the pictures and then chose how her PPT slide show should look, and since she’s not able to write super well, she dictated to me a bit about each plant and I typed it in (you can click down there in the bottom right corner to make the slide show go “full screen”).
My 8 year old son has experience making PPT presentations from his 1st and 2nd grade classes.
He made this presentation all by himself. What he came up with is a very brief paper on the history of Sea Monkeys. I uploaded both of these PPTs to Slideshare, which unfortunately cuts out his animated and audio-rich transitions between slides. Even without his clever transitions, even without hearing his audio transitions (bang!), you are still able to learn something about Sea Monkeys. [As an editorial aside, I fear that he concentrated a bit more on style rather than content, and I will explain that he is a vegetarian and was a little bummed to learn that Sea Monkeys were primarily used as commercial food before being employed into household use.] Nolan has agreed to make his PPT presentation available in case you want to hear and see his amazingly enhanced transitions; you can download it here.
I hope it’s clear by now how easy it is to make and then to share PPT presentations. And these are just the most basic ways to share slide presentations that you normally watch while sitting in a conference room. Here’s a link to presentation that has the speaker’s audio over the slides. There are other interesting & free programs that allow you to do some fairly complex and innovative things; for example Nina Simon’s Museums and the Web 2009 Workship Presentation, “Going Analog” can be downloaded from Prezi here.
If you think about it, a blog post can be the combination of a presentation and a “post print.” But instead of a printed catalog, you can have images, video, audio, links, etc. So, what’s the advantage of me actually being in the room while I listen to someone give a presentation? Why do that at all?
One of my friends at work pointed out that another reason to go to a conferences like the AIC Annual Meeting is that it’s like going to the movies; you just go there to take it in. This friend pointed out that not everyone is like me and just interested in searching and finding answers to questions. Perhaps I’m a product of Google search. Truly, the point of this post isn’t to say that conferences don’t have value, it’s mainly to question what this value is and if there are ways to make them more useful and more inclusive for more people.
Maybe the reason you’re willing to travel to the AIC Annual Meeting or any other professional meeting is because you really want to or need to do some networking. And what’s better than pressing some flesh, chatting up some clever colleague, and handing out some business cards? Wait, but maybe Facebook is actually just as good for networking as meeting in person. Try this: search Facebook for any conservator in the world that you know of and ask them to be your “friend.” If they are using it today then maybe they will be your friend and maybe they won’t. While I have no data to back it up, anecdotally I know that I’ve made about the same number of meaningful connections through Facebook and other social media applications than I’ve ever made in the sum total of all of the conservation meetings I’ve attended. What if AIC really encouraged it’s members to communicate using social media applications like Facebook?
Okay, and you can’t say I’m not honest, I admit that there’s a *BIG* difference between meeting someone in person and friending them on Facebook. But what’s that difference worth? Right now, the cost of Facebook = only your time and effort; the cost of attending an annual meeting = significant resources.
3. Institutional and Personal Prestige
Of course it’s always good to list presentations and papers you given on your C.V.; and the more prestigious conference the better. But, I think this is more an outcome of the system rather than an intention. What if certain blogs became prestigeous places to share information and you could list the ones for which you’ve written on your C.V. ? But how could blogs become places like that? Well, I think they already are. Perhaps AIC and other conservation associations could encourage people to use blogs to share information by giving awards to blogs that are consistently excellent. Or maybe conservation associations could start publishing through their own blogs. Some time ago, I put some of my thoughts together in this blog post about this if you want to know more about that idea, or to find out how to win a “Conservy” next year.
4. Workshops & Tours (Professional Development)
It’s impossible to argue against the importance of completing workshops and even local tours associated with AIC. These are essential experiences for conservators. There’s tons of information and techniques out there; having the opportunity to attend a workshop or visit another conservation lab is absolutely crucial to what we do, and though I’m a pretty techno-friendly guy, I can’t think of how the usefullness of these have been changed by the Internet.
Considering the complexity of new technologies in conservation science, materials analysis, etc, etc, the need for workshops has only increased.
*AIC & FAIC do a fantastic job of supporting workshops throughout the year. *
I really like you, conservation vendors. This field wouldn’t be the same without you. But, I’m not sure I’m really willing to pay to meet you and see your products. Usually you pay (marketing fees) to meet me.
Having said all of this, I very much am looking forward to attending the meeting in a couple weeks. I think it’s going to be useful, but I’m not convinced that with the current structure it’s going to continue to be as useful as it could be.
Radical Ideas =
Welcome to the Radical Ideas section of this post. In short, one of the things that is changing about our society — thanks to technology — is that institutional systems and bureaucracy are becoming a lot less useful for groups of people that *want to work together*. Conservators want to work together, share information, and solve issues. It’s in our best interest to work together; we’re smarter, more efficient, more accurate, and just plain better when we work together as a large, inclusive, and friendly group. It’s also in our shared interest to have a unified voice when we have an issue that is important.
Sharing information is now incredibly easy and cheap to do and can be done anywhere at anytime on the Internet. My ideas have a commonality in that they are an effort to remove the institutional framework that was constructed by AIC in the past 30 or more years — when we desperately needed it. Now, what we desperately need are the systems that will allow and encourage us to work together to share information, build information systems, and solve the biggest and most current issues in our field. The result would be the potential for AIC and other associations to push the structure away from the institutional core put it back into the membership to solve as a totally inclusive group.
We are a gigantic group of competent experts that needs to be more connected on a regional and global scale. We need to find a way to be a lot more inclusive and allow for more members to participate, and we need to do more of it on a year-round basis.
I have blatantly stolen many of my ideas from the Museums and the Web Conference (MW2009) that I attended recently here in my fair city of Indianapolis. This conference has been going on for the past 12 years and is run by 2 people (and a large program committee).
Simply put, Museums and the Web attempts to produce a conference that provides the attendees the information that the attendees want to talk about. The conference is the platform and the attendees themselves are the conduit to each other. They do this by having an open call for papers and then letting the program committee identify what the general topics and issues are that are raised within the papers. Doesn’t it make more sense to have the structure of a meeting be developed around the topics & issues, not have the other way around by having some committee identify a topic and then have people fit their ideas to that?
So, finally, here’s my list of suggestions. While they are numbered, they aren’t necessarily in a specific order.
- Stop sending me postcards in the mail.
- Stop sending me the AIC Newsletter in the mail.
- Stop sending me JAIC in the mail.
- Stop sending me c.d.s filled with PDFs in the mail.
- Honestly, please stop sending me these things in the mail, escpecially the c.d.s filled with PDFs.
- Put all of the print stuff into an electronic format and stick it on the Internet somewhere and make it searchable and available to everyone for free all the time.
- Get rid of Specialty Groups.
- Yep, get rid of everything that has anything to do with Specialty Groups. The chairs, co-chairs, chairs emeritus, separate meetings, etc. Have them all work together on the Annual Meeting program and shared issues.
- Because Specialty Groups are in their very nature limiting, the only other alternative is to make more Specialty Groups. For example, I’d probably spend most of my time in a Specialty Group that dealt with Modern and Contemporary art, but instead I spend my time trying to figure out how to maximize my time attending all of the disparate talks at the Annual Meeting. I’m sure most AIC members spend a lot of their time jumping around from group to group.
- *Totally change the structure of the Annual Meetings*
- Take a page out of the MW2009 conference book and stop having “Issue Focused” meetings and let the members decide what the issues are by the papers that they submit to a nameless and issueless Annual Meeting Program Committee. The Program Committee’s job should be to group the papers into similar topics, identify the most pressing issues, and decide how many of the papers can be presented. Meetings would become topics-based meetings and remain fluid and evolving.
- Devote at least 1/3 of the Annual Meeting to a “blank” session, one without any pre-defined topics or issues. Leave it blank until the members stand up and make open calls for individual sessions about current issues. Have these break-out sessions meet for an hour or two and then present on what they discussed or learned and where future research needs to be focused.
- Encourage the folks in these sessions to work year round on the issues that the identified.
- Redefine Annual Meetings to be places that are all about the personal exchange of information and the generation of new ideas through personal conversations. I have no idea if this is possible, but try to move the conversations that happen in the hallways and over dinner and drinks into the Annual Meeting. After all, isn’t that where many of the most interesting conversations happen, anyway?
- Video tape the whole or parts of the Annual Meeting and put it on the Internet.
- This next one is big. Stop having “Poster” sessions! Please. Pretty please? While the information shared on those posters is often very good, it is almost immediately lost and practically irretrievable after the meeting. (And here, for the first time, I make an idle threat on a blog: if poster sessions still exist next year someone — and I’m not saying who — is gonna put up a “Poster” that rather explicitly explains why “Posters” are horrendously inefficient methods for sharing information in the 21st century.) All things considered, personally it’s a bit of a toss up which I’m less in favor of: poster sessions or a c.d. filled with PDF files that arrives by postal mail.
- Here’s a solution: turn Poster Sessions into Blog Sessions.
- Get rid of the Emerging Conservators Professionals Network (ECPN) and make all of AIC one thing with a goal of sharing and creating current information and solving today’s issues.
- Put the folks from ECPN on the Board and the Programming Committee. If you want to find a way to include “Emerging” conservators, just include them.
- Eliminate membership. If we stop using print publications and start making it all available on line, we should just make it available for for free. And if we’re all using social media applications to stay networked and connected, the benefits for membership dramatically decrease. Plus, AIC would not have to organize and produce a directory and keep all that information accurate. The members would have to do that themselves through a shared internet-based platform. The added benefit is that everyone in the world would be able to see what is produced by AIC the moment it is produced.
- Make Annual Meetings yearly convergences for finding “New Directions.”
- Get rid of the list serves and change them into working wikis that are solving problems and recording the results. For example, what if we all stopped sharing information about exhibition case design through list serves and started to share it inside of a wiki. It would be like the difference between passing sand back and forth and starting to construct a pyramid.
- Encourage members to make their papers super cool to hear in person. Make them engaging and like performances instead of places where people read from a script in a hotel conference room (yes, I know, easier said than done). But, wouldn’t it be cool if our presentations were as good as Ted Talks? Presentations that you want to hear in person.
- I think that’s all the ideas I have. Let me know what you think. Blast back. Your my peers so give me a review.