With recent disasters, such as the wildfires in Australia and the devastation of the north eastern Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the climate crisis and the effects it is having on our planet and society. As the U.S. and foreign governments struggle to come to a consensus on climate action, individuals and institutions are beginning to take to the streets and make their opinions heard in the ongoing battle against climate change. Today, cultural heritage institutions have joined the discussion. In October 2019, cultural heritage professionals from across the world convened in Edinburgh for the launch of the Climate Heritage Network, a group of institutions and businesses that seek to support the engagement of heritage professionals in executing climate action plans and contributing to the goals of the Paris Agreement. The risk of cultural heritage in the face of climate change has also become part of the larger international discussion due in part to mainstream coverage of the Venice Floods and the recent launch of the Google Heritage on the edge project, which allows people to virtually tour at-risk cultural heritage sites.
In a field dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage, conservators especially cannot stand idly by as museums, built heritage, and private collections are threatened by flooding, thawing ice, and fires. AIC has joined the Climate Heritage Network following a position statement in September 2019 clearly affirming the board’s belief in climate change and support of related advocacy and research. Much of this work has been undertaken by graduates of the University of Delaware undergraduate program in Art Conservation and the Winterthur/ UD Program in Art Conservation. Four alumni will be presenting in the Sustainability Session at AIC 2020. Their topics include archaeological conservation in the rapidly changing environment of Southwest Alaska, sustainable methods for preserving clothing in extreme environments, and energy-saving measures in modern museum buildings. Four of the eight members of AIC Sustainability Committee are WUDPAC students or alumni. Additionally, WUDPAC alumna and Chief of Conservation at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Amber Kerr, has helped to organize the upcoming two-day symposium Stemming the Tide: Global Strategies for Sustaining Cultural Heritage Through Climate Change. It will include influential talks by heritage leaders including Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch, as well as breakout sessions. It will conclude with a dialogue session led by IIC President Julian Bickersteth, which is open to the public.
The symposium, which is now open for registration, represents a valuable collaboration between professionals in a variety of cultural heritage disciplines. Other ways to get involved in saving cultural heritage from the risks of climate change can be found in resources provided by the Sustainability Committee as well as organizations such as Ki Culture and Sustainability in Conservation. Also stay tuned for the upcoming ECPN Webinar on Climate Change (dated TBD).
While there is still work to be done, it is inspiring to see cultural heritage professionals unite and act in the face of the ongoing climate crisis. Although the world’s climate continues to change, our dedication to preserving its cultural treasures must not.
WUDPAC Class of 2022
Student Member, AIC Sustainability Committee