What is Conservation?
Conservation is all actions aimed at the safeguarding of cultural heritage for the future. The purpose of conservation is to study, record, retain, and conserve as appropriate, the culturally significant qualities of an object with the least possible intervention. Conservation includes examination, documentation, preventive conservation, preservation, restoration, and reconstruction.
Based on their training and experience, and guided by a Code of Ethics, conservators are able to propose how best to care for and treat an object in a given situation, and how far a treatment should go.
Conservators employ the principles of preventive conservation which includes actions taken on the object’s surroundings to prevent damage from the agents of deterioration. The most prevalent causes of deterioration are from physical forces, thieves and vandals, fire, water, pests, pollutants, light, ultraviolet radiation, incorrect temperature, incorrect relative humidity, and dissociation.
Conservators practice the philosophy of less is more. Too much conservation work may lead to a loss of information about how an object was made and what has happened to it. Conservation does not imply putting the object back into pristine condition. The degree of intervention is decided in consultation with the owner or custodian.
Conservators respect the object’s history. Preservation of the object is not necessarily limited to the original materials. Early repairs and modifications, or traces of use such as wear marks on tools, may have historical significance.
Conservators understand materials. Materials used by a conservator must, as much as possible, be removable in the future and must not contribute to future damage. Many materials, including many plastics, papers, adhesives, fillers, coatings, and detergents do not meet these criteria.
Conservators will distinguish conservation repairs from the original. Although treatments are often inconspicuous, it should always be possible to recognize, upon close examination or by other means, the difference between the original material and a repair. Treatment documentation plays an important role in denoting something original to the work and something that has been added.
Conservators produce written and photographic records of their work to document the condition of the object before and after a treatment, as well as the treatment itself. This information serves as a reference for the owner, custodian, researchers or future conservators.
Become a Conservator
A conservator has the education, knowledge, ability, and experience to formulate and carry out conservation activities in accordance with an established Code of Ethics. Practicing conservators are often designated according to areas of specialization, e.g. objects conservator, paintings conservator, textile conservator, paper conservator, furniture conservator, as well as conservation scientists. In Canada, training in conservation is typically pursued at an academic institution, with further experience acquired through internships and professional development opportunities.
Conservation Training Programs in Canada
Academic programs in Canada may focus on conservation exclusively or may include courses on collections care as part of a broader program of study. A successful career in conservation requires a thorough understanding of art and material history as well as sciences (chemistry and physics in particular), which form the basis of decision-making within the context of accepted conservation ethics. Program focus may vary in terms of experience in conservation treatment, overall collections care, and other associated activities. Admission requirements and enrolment numbers vary by educational institution; CAC recommends exploring the different areas of conservation and evaluating each program individually to decide on a course of study.
- Algonquin College: Advanced Diploma, Applied Museum Studies
- Athabasca University: Certificate, Heritage Resources Management
- Athabasca University: Post-Baccalaureate Diploma, Heritage Resources Management
- Carleton University: Graduate Diploma, Architectural Conservation
- Fleming College: Graduate Certificate, Cultural Heritage Conservation and Management
- Fleming College: Graduate Certificate, Museum Management and Curatorship
- Queen’s University: Master of Art Conservation, with specializations in Paintings, Paper, Artifacts, or Conservation Science
- Ryerson University: Master of Arts, Film + Photography Preservation and Collections Management
- University of Victoria: Professional Specialization Certificate, Collections Management
- Willowbank School of Restoration Arts: Diploma, Heritage Conservation
Find a Conservator
Conservation professionals are specifically trained in the preventive care and active stabilization of objects in their chosen specialization. When selecting and employing a conservator, choose a conservator that you feel confident will provide the best possible care for your object or collection. CAC recommends that those seeking the advice of a conservator visit the website of the Canadian Association of Professional Conservators (CAPC), which is a non-profit organization that conducts a peer-reviewed accreditation process as a requirement of membership.
The CAC Ad-Hoc Advocacy Committee is an ad-hoc committee which seeks to promote awareness of heritage conservation at local, provincial, and federal levels, in an effort to provide new opportunities to emerging and established conservation professionals through the creation of new legislation, policies and funding programs.
The Advocacy Committee also works to advance the museum and heritage-related articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) (Articles 5, 11, 12 and 31) and the museums, archives, and commemoration calls-to-action of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) (calls-to-action 67 to 70, “Museums and Archives”; and 79 to 83, “Commemoration”.
The Advocacy committee engenders a conservation advocacy strategy founded on public awareness campaigns, outreach to related communities and stakeholders, as well as public and private lobbying. The committee works on a system of community collaboration by providing advocacy tools and programming that empower CAC members to advocate within their own communities.
It takes a whole community to effectively increase public awareness, make an impact with stakeholders, and be heard by our elected policymakers. For this reason, the CAC Ad-Hoc Advocacy Committee has put together a collection of resources for CAC members to support their own personal advocacy efforts within our field.
The Advocacy Toolkit will provide you with a range of tools and resources to help you reach out to others about conservation. Whether you are giving a public presentation and want to supplement it with advocacy talking points, are wanting to speak out to your local councilors or MP about a conservation issue you are concerned about, or are simply looking for ideas on how you can make the importance of conservation heard, you will find resources here to support you.
The Advocacy Toolkit includes [Member login required]:
- A list of “25 Ways to Advocate for Conservation”
- Presentation Slides on Conservation and Advocacy
- Federal Lobbying – Letter to MP Template
- Municipal Lobbying – Letter to City Councilor Template
- Examples of Elevator Speeches
- Guide to Using Social Media to Highlight your Conservation Department or Practice
- Guidelines for Writing Press Releases
- Useful External Resources
- Tips for Writing a Land Acknowledgement
September 2020 – Summary from the Survey Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 on Canadian Conservation Professionals: Part I
The Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property (CAC) and the Canadian Association of Professional Conservators (CAPC) present a summary of the data collected from conservation professionals regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their lives and careers. Responses were collected using an online survey software between May 4th and June 7th 2020. A follow-up survey will be distributed the last week of September 2020.
August 2020 – Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM)
In August 2020, CAC received a request from the Friends of the RSM for support in their efforts to advocate for a suitable facility to house their Research and Collections department. In response, CAC wrote to the Honourable Gene Makowsky, Minister of Parks, Culture and Sports, to urge him and the Government of Saskatchewan to take the necessary steps to provide the RSM with an efficient and accessible collection care facility.
July 2020 – Statement in support of the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement
The Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property would like to make a public statement in support of the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement that began in the US and has since spread globally. The CAC condemns all forms of racial injustice, including police brutality and the systemic racism that permeates our society.
Over the past several weeks, the CAC Board members have taken time to listen and to educate ourselves, and we make a commitment to continue our education. We are aware that there is significant underrepresentation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour throughout the conservation field, and we make a commitment herein to do our best to support, and to actively encourage, wider inclusion in any way we are able.
Furthermore, we acknowledge that conservation, like other allied fields such as museology and archaeology, is a profession founded on a legacy of colonialism. Indeed, specific concerns relating to conservation are often used to justify the continued division of peoples and their cultural heritage, by the denial of access to heritage material and by refusing repatriation requests. This is unacceptable. The CAC Code of Ethics requires that we, as conservators, be governed by informed respect for the integrity of all cultural materials, while also recognizing our limitations. There must follow the recognition that people from different cultures and backgrounds should be taking part in the preservation of their material heritage. Barriers to the conservation profession (including financial, educational, institutional, etc.) create clear deterrents to diversification and to decolonization. CAC must no longer accept this status quo at the expense of Canadians of Colour and promises to engage in activities to increase the diversity and equity of our field.
CAC is committed to the following actions with the goal of driving positive change in our community:
- The financial support of the Reconciliation Working Group and the enactment of its findings and recommendations with the goal of including Indigenous peoples and perspectives in conservation.
- The development of financial aid initiatives aimed at supporting conservation students from underrepresented backgrounds.
- A commitment to support institutions in the creation of paid internships through advocacy initiatives.
- The development of an awareness campaign of conservation as a profession aimed at student groups from underrepresented backgrounds.
- The sharing of resources relating to anti-racism and cultural heritage through our website and various social media platforms.
- An open invitation to all Canadian conservation professionals to share their experiences of racial injustice anonymously so that CAC might continue to learn and develop initiatives to counter systemic racism within the conservation field.
March 2020 – Solidarity for the Wet’suwet’en People
The Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property would like to express respect, and offer our solidarity to the Wet’suwet’en people who, in accordance with their laws while living in their territories, are carrying out their responsibilities to protect the natural world and the cultural heritage inextricable from this world.
November 2019 – Canadian Collections Care Survey Summary Report
The Canadian Association for the Conservation of Cultural Property and the Canadian Association of Professional Conservators are pleased to announce the release of the Canadian Collections Care Survey Summary Report. The online survey was launched in May 2018 and collected data from 389 cultural heritage institutions. The survey collected information relating to human, financial, and material resources available to collections care; collection policies and procedures; threats to collections; collection access and use; and issues related to Indigenous cultural heritage collections. The survey results highlight the many valuable ways Canadian collections are utilized, as well as alarming gaps in resources required to ensure that these treasuries of cultural memory are preserved for present and future generations. The data from this survey can be used freely for advocacy, fundraising, and programming purposes. PDFs of the English and French versions of the Summary Report can be downloaded for free here.
November 2019 – Ask a Conservator Day
Conservators around the world are participating in Ask a Conservator Day, which will take place on November 4, 2019. This is a significant day: on November 4, 1966, the Arno river flooded Florence, damaging priceless cultural heritage. However, in response to the catastrophe, incredible efforts were made—and are still being undertaken—to conserve the items impacted by the flood.
Ask a Conservator Day follows in the spirit of that international collaboration and exchange of knowledge. We’ll be acknowledging and celebrating the growth of the field inspired by the response to the flood by creating an opportunity for people to engage with conservators on social media.
By using the hashtag #AskAConservator on social media platforms (such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), we can provide a holistic view of what conservation entails—everything from individual conservators working in private practice to multiple departments at large institutions.
To truly show a representative picture of conservation, we need your help! Please promote this event on your social media accounts and participate in any way that feels appropriate. This could include:
- making yourself available to answer questions about conservation on your personal social media;
- working with your institution to use their social media handles to engage with their audiences; or
- answering questions on a livestream from your lab
Use these sample social media posts to get started.
August 2019 – Interview on Kids Conservation lab featured in Muse magazine
In the July/August issue of the CMA’s Muse magazine, CAC’s Ad-hoc Advocacy Committee published an interview with Mauray Toutloff, conservator at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia (UBC). The interview focused on Mauray’s work collaborating with MOA’s public programming team and volunteers to create a Kids Conservation Lab as a part of Family Day activities. With the CMA’s permission, we’re pleased to share a copy of the article here. Click the link to learn more about MOA’s Kids Conservation Lab. We hope sharing stories like this one can act as inspiration for more collaborations between conservation and public programming departments!
February 2019 – New Brunswick Museum
In December 2018, the Provincial Government of New Brunswick cancelled the $50 million in funding committed to building new facilities for the New Brunswick Museum. Seeing as this decision puts both the heritage collections and museum staff at risk, CAC felt the need to write to the Honorable Blaine Higgs, the Premier of New Brunswick, as well as other members of the Executive Council, to urge them to reconsider.
See CAC’s letter to the Premier
Download the letter template to personalize and send to the recommended parties
Reconciliation Working Group (RWG)
October 2019 – Reconciliation Working Group Proposal (RWG) Membership Update
Membership survey closed on October 11th.
- Survey was extended twice
- 63 respondents, that is 17% of our membership
- 98.4% of respondents support the RWG project, and 1.6% do not
- Feedback and suggestions were received and will be compiled and summarized into a short report to inform the RWG once it is formed.
- Generally, really positive responses and constructive feedback from the membership! Many respondents have put their name forward as a potential working group member and have expressed their interest in volunteering. We will be following up individually by the end of November.
- We also received a lot of interest from CAC members via email, not the survey
RWG was highlighted in the October issue of the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC) “News in Conservation”
- ISSUU version: https://issuu.com/home/published/nic-magazine-october-2019-issuu
- PDF version: https://www.iiconservation.org/system/files/publications/journal/2019/b2019_5.pdf
Cultural coordinators, managers, and/or advisors at First Nations, Métis, and Inuit cultural centers across Canada have been sent a survey, developed in consultation with established conservation advisors, to understand if the RWG is something they support, what their organization would hope to benefit out of it, and if they would like to be involved in the process. That survey will close November 15th.
- Our Go-Fund-Me campaign is currently at $1,895. Help us reach our $8,000 goal by contributing here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/art-conservators-for-truth-and-reconciliation
- Even a small donation helps! And if you can’t make a donation, it would be great if you could share the fundraiser to help spread the word.
- Donations are tax-deductible
- The First Spark funding application will be submitted in the next week
- Anti-Racism Action Program funding application is in the works for a December 17th deadline.
Translation: We need help!
- Via the membership survey we received a couple volunteers to help with translation. Translation is important for our membership. If you can write and read French, please note that we welcome volunteers to create and edit french translations. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you feel like volunteering.
- We are still seeking representatives from the East Coast and the Prairies
- Follow the project on Twitter (@rwg_gtr) and Working Group Wednesdays on Instagram (@cac_accr)
- As always, you can reach Julia Campbell-Such, Charlotte Parent, and Lauren Osmond for any questions, concerns, feedback, critique — we want to hear from you!
September 2019 – Reconciliation Working Group Proposal (RWG) Proposal
We are very pleased to announce that the CAC Board has approved a proposal put forward by the Ad-hoc Advocacy Committee to implement a Reconciliation Working Group (RWG) as of May 2020 to address how our organization should be contributing to and promoting reconciliation with the Indigenous Peoples of the territories in which we work.
The mandate of the RWG will be to develop a formal position for the CAC on the care and repatriation of materials of Indigenous origin, and to reflect this position in CAC working documents, which may include the Codes of Ethics and Guidelines of Practice. The group will be active for two years, and will involve engaged consultation, skill-sharing activities, meetings, and rich discussions. All activities will conform with the OCAP® (Ownership, Control, Access, Possession) principles of collaborative research with Indigenous communities developed by the First Nations Information Governance Center.
(1) To expand our conservation professional standards to respect Indigenous perspectives in cultural preservation.
(2) To establish a framework for a collaborative practice towards the care and preservation of Indigenous materials, including practical guidelines for providing access to collections and facilitating repatriations.
- 14-20 Indigenous and non-Indigenous conservators and stewards of Inuit, Métis, and First Nations cultural heritage who will volunteer or be nominated by their peers. Including three Co-Chairs from the CAC membership and three Secretaries from the CAC Ad-hoc Advocacy Committee.
- Membership will be subdivided into three regional groups: Western, Interior, and Eastern.
The timeline of our consultation process is highly dependent on the success of multiple grant proposals being submitted this fall. Volunteers to help with grant writing or editing are welcome and very much appreciated!
In the interim, we have launched a Go-Fund-Me campaign to help raise funds for a free workshop open to all CAC members and inaugural RWG meeting prior to the CAC annual conference in Hamilton, Ontario. Funds raised will also be earmarked for expenses such as OCAP® training fees and translation. Please show your support by contributing to this grassroots initiative!
- August-September 2019: Discuss direction of RWG with community and consultants
- September 2019-January 2020: Preliminary consultation survey of Métis, Inuit, and First Nations organizations throughout Canada to ensure that this project is mutually beneficial
- September-November 2019: Apply for funding
- November 2019-March 2020: RWG Membership nominated/invited and finalized
- April 2020: RWG Co-Chairs undergo OCAP® training
- May 2020: RWG Inaugural Meeting and Workshop at CAC conference
- May 2020- May 2022: RWG Consultation and Meetings
- July 2022: Final Report from RWG to CAC Board
- August – December 2022: Advocacy Committee integrates recommendations into working documents and guidelines
The complete project proposal is available here.