Spring 2003 Issue 43
The one thing that the Conservation Department at the V&A cannot be accused of is a reluctance to change. As a guest writer of this editorial I am very familiar with change and all its consequences. Those of you that follow the staff chart (itself now changed from the very back page to inside the back page) will know that Jonathan Ashley-Smith has moved from the Conservation Department to the Research Department. For one fleeting moment, my name appeared as a temporary replacement for Jonathan, whilst a new appointment was to be made. I am happy to say that Sandra Smith has joined as the new Head of Department. You can see Sandra’s profile by looking at the ‘New Staff’ section of this issue.
Unchanging is the diversity of the work demanded of the Department, and, as usual, this is reflected in the Journal. Projects ranging from the preparation of teddy bears for exhibition at Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood to a detailed investigation of Hitchcock’s Metamorphosis or Transfigurative print, and on to a trans-European collaborative project for the production of light dosimeters, are all described in this edition. Such a diverse demand for diverse skills requires resourceful and adaptable skilled staff.
The implementation of the new Collection Services Divisional structure under Nick Umney is starting to have impact. Budgets are centrally located and there is a greater cohesion of the service providers. The danger is that we are all driven by the spreadsheet and that all that really matters is the ‘bottom-line’.
Financial constraints often dictate that as a conservator we cannot spend as much time or effort on a task as we might wish to. Our own enthusiasms do occasionally get the better of us and the thirst for knowledge alters our own perspectives. We must be clear that delivery of service is important. This delivery must be to clearly stated and agreed aims and objectives. Consequentially, the Conservation Department is increasingly required to justify itself and its output. This should not be seen as an aggressive act but more as a supportive and mutually beneficial process. The difficulty is in the culture change that is required with the existing staff to accommodate this new approach. However, such a change should not and must not be a one sided effort. Management must learn that individuals are being asked to become more target-orientated and this leads to very focussed output on behalf of the individual. Another way of putting this is that if the contract says deliver on a particular task and the individual delivers on time and on target then that is a well executed task: nothing more and nothing less – the true professional.
The future will hold other changes – some are difficult to predict. I have every confidence that the Conservation Department will be in a strong position to deliver on these changes even when faced with its own internal change culture.
Enjoy this edition of the Conservation Journal. It is the second edition to have the newly launched corporate style. As one of the editorial board – I know that the editorial team always welcome feedback on content or layout.