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Lisa Clifford presenting her poster at the conference!.
This September, I had the chance to go to Valencia, Spain, to present my summer research at the International Council of Museum's Committee for Conservation (ICOM-CC)'s Triennial Conference thanks to the Vicki Cassman Award. The theme of the conference was "Sustainability in Conservation, working toward a Sustainable Past", which fit perfectly with my research on Sustainability in Conservation (SiC)'s Greener Solvent Project. The members of the Greener Solvent, including Gwendoline Fife, Annalisa Marra, Izabella Gill-Brown, Karoline-Sofie Hennum, Rosie Grayburn, and I, submitted a research poster for ICOM-CC's poster fair.
As this event was my first time ever attending a conference, I was both really excited and confused about what to do at conferences. Even my familiarity with ICOM-CC was low, so it was perfect that the first day was slated for introductions to the organization and its theme of sustainability. I especially appreciated the time to say hello to the other attendees. The first day was located at the Palau de les Artes, a beautiful building in the heart of the major park that runs through the city. Valencia is known as the City of the Arts and Sciences, and the Palau, along with the other buildings nearby, definitely looked straight out of a futuristic society. This city was the perfect venue for this kind of conference, as it has a strong scene, not only in art (the lace, the tiles, the architecture, the music...), but also in many progressive sustainable practices such as widespread public transport systems with zero carbon emissions. The city heavily reflects the themes of the conference it houses.
During the middle of the week, there were talks from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM with breaks for coffee and lunch. Each of the talks was half an hour, and five occurred simultaneously. All of the talks were further divided into the ICOM-CC working groups, which include Ceramics, Education, Scientific Research… and about twenty more groups. My main goal during these talks was to attend at least one talk from each working group, so I could understand how each was aiming to improve sustainability in its own field.
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Different sides of the city: left is in the historic center, right is in the District of Arts and Sciences. (Images: L. Clifford)
My absolute favorite talk was one from the Scientific Research Working Group about atomic oxygen. Not only did this talk relate rocket science and NASA to conservation (I used to want to be an astronaut as a kid, so this was SO COOL), but it also connected strongly to the sustainability theme. It focused on how atomic oxygen works to remove dirt and grime without removing other layers of media. This solution would diminish the need for potentially harmful solvents. The speaker, Tomas Markevicius, even had a slide that concluded why this is an important step in sustainability in conservation. Some of the presentations that I went to could have connected their research more clearly to the theme, as the purpose of the conference was to explore different paths in sustainability, but not this one. Even the audience of attendees seemed very engaged in this topic as well, as their questions for the speaker were plentiful and challenging.
Lisa and her mom and enjoying the Spanish Fall (85 degrees).
During the middle of the week, there was a poster fair. It was held next to one of the main auditoriums. For our poster, I scored us a great spot so that people could come up and read our poster as they walked out of a talk. There were about sixty posters up, and I took my time looking through all of them. They were also split into different working groups and featured some interesting topics. I had a couple favorite posters, but I especially liked one from Minot State University, which discussed indigenous remains in university collections. It focused on a cataloging project that asked for collaborators instead of indigenous experts, which in their observations, led to a deeper and more long lasting relationship with the volunteers. Some of the other posters had paper handouts of the abstracts, which I thought were particularly helpful for demonstrating those posters' information. Since all of the posters were presented at the same time as the talks, it would have been super helpful if people could have grabbed a smaller version of the poster to bring with them and read.
My work for the Greener Solvent Project was to build a database of solvents commonly used in the conservation field, with information on each solvent's impact on a conservator's health, safety, and their environment. The database currently contains sixty solvents. Its goal is to inform conservators of the dangers of the solvents they use, as well as provide potential alternatives that are more environmentally friendly. This research was part of the poster's contents, which also included information and images from Sustainability in Conservation's Greener Solvent Handbook, edited by Gwen Fife.
I learned a lot from the whole experience, but my main takeaway of the entire experience was just about how important it is to collaborate, network, and listen to different perspectives. The conference attracted attendees from all over the world and from many different disciplines within conservation. It was very refreshing to hear so many new voices and so many stories I had never heard before.
When I wasn't attending the conference, I spent most of my time at the beach, watching sailboats go by and swimming in the warm Mediterranean sea. I also explored Valencia's historic center, which has old markets, churches, museums, and towers to see. And of course I ate lots of good food, like Valencia's most famous dish, paella!
I'd like to take a moment to thank everyone who helped me get to Spain. To Gwen Fife, Rosie Grayburn, and Annalisa Marra, for bringing the goals of our zoom meetings to fruition; to Maddie Hagerman, Nina Owcarek, and Jocelyn Alcántara Garcia, for being friendly faces in a new place; to my mother, who shared the two-person only paella with me; and especially to Vicki Cassman, whose legacy made this wonderful experience possible.
If you're interested in more about ICOM-CC's Conference in Valencia, SiC's Greener Solvent Project, or my database work for the Greener Solvent Project, here are some links!
ICOM-CC's Conference in Valencia's Webpage
SiC's Greener Solvent Project Webpage
My Blog Post about the Greener Solvent Project Database
Vicki Cassman Award page
— Lisa Clifford, UD Class of 2024 (art conservation major, art and chemistry minors)
SiC's Greener Solvent Poster.