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13th ICOM-CC Triennial Meeting – Rio de Janeiro

Lynda Hillyer
Head of Textile Conservation

For the first time in its history, the ICOM-CC triennial meeting was held in Latin America – in the Cidade Maravilhosa (the Wonderful City) of Rio de Janeiro and was attended by nearly 500 delegates from 64 countries. The V&A was represented by Jonathan Ashley-Smith, Alan Derbyshire, Boris Pretzel, Lynda Hillyer and Philip Westebbe, a Furniture Conservation Intern.

The invitation to hold the conference in Rio came from ABRACOR (the Brazilian Association of Conservators and Restorers) and was seen as a significant milestone in the growth and recognition of the conservation profession in Latin America. In Brazil, organisations which protect the heritage began to emerge in the 1930’s, training courses in painting and paper conservation were set up in the 1960s, while training in other disciplines expanded greatly in the 1970s and 1980s.

A whole day of the conference focussed on the involvement and interest of local communities in helping to preserve the cultural heritage of Latin America. In one village in Peru, for example, local businessmen, schoolchildren and tourists were encouraged to visit an archaeological site. One class of children spent several months raising money to conserve a single excavated textile from the site.

A total of 137 papers were presented in 22 simultaneous working group sessions and 34 posters were exhibited. The range of subjects covered, and the discussions within the working groups, makes the triennial meeting one of the most important events in the conservation calendar. Perhaps significantly, the Preventive Conservation Group held four sessions; in one, led by Jonathan Ashley-Smith, Stephan Michaelski and Vinod Daniels debated whether ICOM-CC should be seen as a body that sets standards for the wider community and concluded that guidelines were a more appropriate way forward. There were discussions on the effects of internet learning on conservation training in the Education and Training Group as well as practical, ethical and research papers in nearly every discipline. This year, for the first time, some of the papers were published in Spanish and were available on CD. The two volumes of pre-prints were dedicated to Agnes Timar-Balazsy who died in 2001 and who contributed so much to ICOM-CC. In a moving tribute to Agnes, Dinah Eastop reminded delegates of her unwavering vision, enthusiasm and the sheer quantity of hard work through which she achieved so much for the conservation profession. Tributes were also paid to Rikhard Hördal, Co-ordinator of the Education and Training Group, who also died in 2001.

What came out of this conference? May Cassar spoke of the great potential conservation has to empower people to enjoy objects; the focus is now on whole collections rather than on single objects and conservators need to view objects as part of a much wider social and historic perspective. The conference ended with a number of resolutions for the next three years – notably a recognition that conservation must reach beyond the museum world, raise its profile and engage more openly with the public.

The Rio meeting was memorable for its stunning setting, excellent organisation and the warmth and exuberance of our Brazilian hosts. The next triennial will take place in 2005 in The Hague.