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Subject: Private practice in institutional lab

Private practice in institutional lab

From: David Harvey <dharvey>
Date: Tuesday, January 16, 2001
Anne Lane <alane [at] rhtc__net> writes

>One of the thoughts being bandied about our institution right now is
>the concept of establishing a dual-duty conservation lab as part of
>a proposed new storage facility in a renovated school building. The
>proposal is to hire a staff conservator who, in addition to caring
>for our own stuff, would take on private commissions using the same

I have read the initial responses to this thread with interest as I
had seen the effects of the introduction of private practice within
the institution I had been employed at for 15 years (I left last
year to take a position at a regional lab).

I agree with all of the previous postings of my colleagues. I
believe that the introduction of accepting private work within a
non-profit museum/institution has a corrosive effect of the staff
and their ability to care for the institution's collections.

Initially such an idea is attractive to management--conservation for
hire is seen as a battery that can energize a departmental budget.
In my former institution it was presented as a staffing strategy--one
in which post-graduate interns would be hired, have to conduct
contract work to pay for their salaries, and whatever remaining time
would be available for work on the institution's collections. The
staff was promised that the lab managers would not be involved in
the treatments/contracts etc. and that anyone on staff could refuse
the contract work if they thought it adverse to the treatments for
exhibitions or monitoring and caring for the collection. The staff
was also promised that they could still pursue private work on their
off time and that this would not constitute a conflict of interest
because it was recognized that the staff was paid below the salaries
established by a market survey.

Needless to say, what was first proposed shortly changed and
tremendous pressure was brought to bear on everyone to pursue
contract work. The scenario became reversed and lab managers were
then told to take on contract projects in order to gain the funds to
be able to hire interns to help with exhibition treatments in
addition to contract work. The staff was required to complete
conflict of interest forms. Such practice can also lead to conflicts
with curatorial and collections management staff because there is
less time to tend to their needs (Plus, their expertise was being
offered to clients as an incentive). Several of the conservators,
including myself, also thought that clients were being charged far
more than necessary for treatments. Since my departure last year I
have heard from several former colleagues that their labs have been
turned into "Cash Cows".

I can only urge you to really, really be careful when considering
this option. It is a slippery slope that is an attractive one for an
ambitious manager's career but just like a battery it can corrode to
the point that it oozes acid over all concerned.

David Harvey
The Art Conservation Center at the University of Denver
2420 S. University Blvd.
Denver, CO  80208

                  Conservation DistList Instance 14:39
                 Distributed: Monday, January 22, 2001
                       Message Id: cdl-14-39-002
Received on Tuesday, 16 January, 2001

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