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Today we bear witness to hateful racism, police brutality, and oppression, our efforts turn to a series of action items aimed to address systemic racism in our profession and across the Nation. We must work together toward a more equal and just society at-large and across the cultural heritage sector. Within our Program we recommit ourselves to condemn the injustices fueled by systemic racism and to take concrete action toward greater equity and inclusion - to listening always, ongoing training and full-day workshops in race, discrimination, diversity, equity, and inclusion; diversifying our courses, syllabi, guest lectures, and field trips; exploring collections that share diverse stories, and amplifying the voices of black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) in cultural heritage and beyond.
We must constantly challenge, evaluate, and educate ourselves to do better. Our profession has the capacity and responsibility to strengthen cultural understanding, to give a voice to the voiceless, and to ensure that through our advocacy and the actions of examination, documentation, analysis, treatment, and preventive care, the missing, lost, and/or distorted narratives of underserved communities are marginalized no more.
A 2018 demographic survey of art museum staff has identified, as an urgent need, the diversification of those working in the museum field. This past summer has included several WUDPAC initiatives that are an effort to be part of the solution.
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Abigail Rodriguez, an art conservation graduate student, helps to preserve a collection of photographs of iconic Puerto Rican boxers owned by The House of the Boxer, a nonprofit that celebrates the rich history of boxing on the island. UD students worked on this project in January. Photo by Evan Krape for UDaily.
Photographic materials are a composite of organic and inorganic materials—finely-divided metallic silver particles, light-sensitive organic dyes, gelatin and egg-white binder layers, thin paper supports—readily affected by inadequate environments and poor storage, handling practices. Many of these collections are at-risk.
Our January 2019 project with the Fisk University Library involved the conservation treatment and stabilization of 300 (primarily) silver-gelatin photographs owned by Fisk university, depicting campus life. These fragile images required surface cleaning, binder consolidation, mending, and flattening. We also helped to preserve a collection of 80+ photographs owned by The House of the Boxer in Puerto Rico, a treasure of prized images treasure by the San Juan community. To further assist the island of Puerto Rico we organized 3-day workshop in photograph conservation with the Puerto Rican National Archives and the FEMA, Joint Recovery Office that was both theoretical and hands-on—nearly 100 individuals were registered. Two additional workshops will follow when face-to-face teaching is safe. See video of the workshop on our web site.
For more than a decade we have partnered with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Library Alliance, Lyrasis, the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA), and the Image Permanence Institute (IPI) to preserve at-risk photographic and audiovisual materials held in HBCU member institutions. Funded by the Mellon Foundation, this initiative helped care for HBCU special collections including irreplaceable documentation of the African American experience in the 19th and 20th centuries that reflect monumental themes from slavery to Black Lives Matter. This past summer, WUDPAC and the HBCU Library Alliance manage seven eight-week competitive preservation internships for HBCU undergraduates in leading research libraries that include Harvard, Yale, the Library of Congress, Duke, UVA, Humanities Research Center (at University of Texas), and Winterthur.
Phebe Pankey removes grime from the Tuskegee Legacy Museum’s diorama depicting the Harlem Hellfighters’ brave exploits during World War I. Photo by Joyce Hill Stoner.
Since 2017, the University of Delaware (UD) Art Conservation Department and Winterthur Museum have partnered with the Alliance of HBCU Museums and Galleries and Yale University to offer an intensive summer program of study for advanced undergraduate students enrolled in HBCUs. In its first three years, this “Two-week Introduction to Practical Conservation" (TIP-C) took place in person at the Winterthur Museum. In 2020 and 2021, the program was converted for online delivery and renamed DIP-C for distance learning. The program introduces students to careers in art conservation as they engage in learning about conservation from a variety of practicing professionals. In TIP-C, students had the opportunity to execute the examination, documentation, analysis, and treatment of a multi-media diorama from the Tuskegee University. In DIP-C, students delved into conservation philosophy, ethics, and preventive principles. Since the inception of the program, eight dioramas have been conserved at Winterthur, the Lunder Conservation Center, Smithsonian Institution, Fisk University/Shelley Reisman Paine, and Buffalo State College Garman Art Conservation Department.
Our effort last summer, was focused on educating WUDPAC and WPAMC faculty, alongside Winterthur conservation, academic programs, library, and registration staff. Dr. Adam Foley, Director of Diversity Education, Assessment, & Outreach in the Office of Equity and Inclusion at the University of Delaware, presented two half-day session. The first focused on addressing issues of social justice in the classroom environment, and was attended, for the most part, by those who are teaching on a regular basis. The second, Museums and Libraries Aren’t Neutral: Sites for Social Justice, was attended by 35 staff members. This is part of a larger training initiative designed to address issues around race, implicit bias, allies, and the need for systemic change.
Past initiatives include:
WUDPAC continues to seek, implement, and support opportunities to engage in community-level dialogues designed to deepen mutual understandings of the value of cultural heritage preservation and the obstacles that hinder future conservators-in-training. We continue to promote diversity in both our student population and in cultural areas of study and will work closely with the President's Diversity Initiative. This is a primary and essential goal.
You can follow the work of our students, alums and faculty at:
Instagram: @ud_artconservation www.instagram.com/ud_artconservation
Facebook: "University of Delaware Art Conservation Programs" www.facebook.com/udartcons
Twitter: @UD_ArtCons Twitter.com/UD_ArtCons
UD website: www.artcons.udel.edu