By Caroline Roberts, Conservator
These past few weeks have been horrific, and have made me question things I’d previously taken for granted. Among them is the idea that a person in my profession should remain neutral, objective, and scientific in their approach to preserving cultural heritage. As I see other conservators grapple with ethically problematic projects — like the removal of graffiti left by peaceful protesters — I’m beginning to understand the limits of this approach. None of us can fully separate our work from our values. We conservators can and should be active participants in determining how to make our country’s often painful cultural heritage accessible for the future while supporting the need for people to speak out, reject hate, and heal. And now more than ever we need to ensure that a greater number of Black, Indigenous, and people of color are part of this decision-making.
The American Institute of Conservation’s Equity and Inclusion Committee has presented the field with guidelines for how to increase diversity in our profession. The ECPN-HBCU mentorship program, along with similar programs run through the conservation graduate schools, is matching students from underrepresented groups with mentors in an effort to actively recruit at the undergraduate level. And Sanchita Balachandran’s Untold Stories initiative seeks to make the conservation profession more representative of the heritage we preserve. There is still a lot of work to do, and we need to acknowledge the barriers that remain in place for people of color pursuing careers in conservation. We have a responsibility to sustain these efforts, for the good of our profession and for the future.