The public image and understanding of museum conservation in the UK
A recent influential research report, It's a Material World (Jones and Holden, Demos, 2008) explicitly linked the low public profile of the conservation profession with its lack of public and governmental support. The authors identified the two principal strands in strengthening the relationship between the conservation profession and the public:
- improving our professional status in the eyes of the public and of fellow professionals in other fields;
- reaching out to the public to increase understanding of (and therefore support for) what we do. Conservators in the UK are continually urged to engage the public in their work and this has resulted in a large number of recent outreach initiatives, ranging from blogs to exhibitions, and from visitor centres to volunteer projects. But although conservators are putting the message about conservation out there, there has not been any evaluation about whether or how the public receives this message, and about whether it is effective in increasing public support.
I will explore the public image of conservation in three ways:
- Conservation's self-image: what stories do conservators tell about themselves (e.g. on museum websites, blogs or through outreach projects)? What do they hope to gain from this?
- The public's explicit understanding: what do public surveys and focus groups tell us?
- Prevailing cultural stereotypes: how are conservation and conservators represented in fiction and in the media? I will also examine the many relationships between the conservation profession and the public, and examine the prevalent hypothesis that:
Increased outreach leads to increased public understanding, which leads to increased public support, which leads to increased funding/political capital for conservation.
- MA, Philosophy, University of Cambridge, 1999
- MA, Principles of Conservation, UCL, 2003
- MSc, Conservation for Archaeology and Museums, UCL, 2005
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