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Sandra Smith
Head of Conservation

Sandra Smith

Sandra Smith, Head of Conservation (click image for larger version)

It was invigorating to see the Report of the Museums Association Inquiry into 'Collections for the Future' and the June 2005 'Museums Journal' explore and reconfirm that 'collections are central to everything that museums do and all that they might achieve'.1 Whilst this is music to most curators and conservators ears, I was also pleased that the inquiry reinforced that 'on focussing on collections ... (This) does not represent a rejection of the current emphasis on the needs of the museum user'.2 Museums have come so far in making themselves accessible, inclusive and diverse that this is an opportunity to extend the experience through creatively interpreting and presenting the collections. The acknowledgement 'that objects can change their meaning according to the needs of the viewer, altering their impact through time in a way that pure interpretation never can', highlights the need for the collections to be extensively researched and investigated.3 For many museums the traditional models of curatorial scholarship, where a curator had a deep and comprehensive knowledge of a specific collection have gone. The role of curators has changed, with excellence in communication vying strongly with excellence in scholarship and an acceptance that 'in many museums, conservators and those closely involved in education are likely to have a greater understanding of the potential of individual objects than the ostensible experts'.4 The skills and expertise required to meet the sophisticated and diverse needs of the museum visitor are now spread across a number of museum professions, and the 'new' museum team-based approach offers more potential to make different links and connections.

With this in mind I look at the articles in this edition of the 'V&A Conservation Journal' and appreciate all the more just how conservation and conservation science make that difference by ensuring the visitor can interpret objects (Bamforth) and in presenting collections in more visitor friendly ways (Derbyshire). Articles exemplify how the Department continues to contribute to collaborative research (Dokos et al, Burgio et al), education (Luxford et al) and professional development (Rivers et al, Kite).

Collections for the Future highlighted that 'there are not enough staff in museums with a focus on developing collections' potential and many museums do not have access to the expertise they need.'5 I was delighted therefore that the expertise of the Conservation staff was acknowledged in the recent round of promotion reviews, when Elizabeth-Anne Haldane (Textile Conservator) attained promotion to Senior Conservator (Band 4) and Jane Rutherston (Head Book Conservator) attained merit promotion on account of their international reputation, contribution to the profession and delivery of major Museum objectives.

The securing (subject to raising partnership funding) of £9.75m from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the Medieval & Renaissance Wing (due to open in 2009), £350,000 of which is ear-marked for conservation, will enable the Museum, and the Department, to continue to make a significant contribution to the visions embedded in the Collections of the Future.


1. Collections for the Future, Report of the Museums Association inquiry, Museums Association, 2005

2. Collections for the Future p.3

3. Jones, M., Show and Tell, 'Museums Journal', June 2005, p.24-27

4. Johnson, N., Wanted: new breed of curator, 'Museums Journal', June 2005, p.16-17

5. Collections for the Future p.5