Volume 13, Number 2, May 1991, p.10

Conservators should commit time and effort to institutional politics and financial management

by Terri Schindel

"A person does not enter the field of art conservation for the love of money." This statement we have heard over and over from our student days, until presently, we hear ourselves repeating the statement to prospective conservation students.

But the realization that money--or lack of money--dominates every decision every day of a conservator's career becomes vividly clear with the first budget crunch, loss of a big contract or payroll reduction. And although administrators of the institution where a conservator is employed may inform him or her that money is the bottom line, many conservators choose to ignore the vital money-political issues that govern many decisions concerning our profession.

We cannot assume, however, that our institution's administration understands or cares about our commitment to the cultural patrimony of the nation. It is our responsibility to inform them exactly what it is we do and why it is important. We must educate them and voice our opinions when there are problems. When there are institutional financial problems, we must be involved in devising solutions and openly hash out the problem with our clients and conservation colleagues.

Although we, as conservators, knew we would have to become politically involved to some minor degree, we thought we could leave the major battles for financial security to the trained administrators. But can we afford to relinquish our power to the institutional economist, financial consultant or administrator with no art or conservation experience?

Do we wait silently, hoping administrators will respect our budget requirements? Do we silently suffer from budget and staff cuts, and heave a huge, worried sigh of relief when the administration enforces cuts in departments other than our own? Or when it is our own department that is reduced, as mine was recently in the Textile Department at the Rocky Mountain Regional Conservation Center, do we simply seek employment elsewhere?

Those of you who know me personally know that I did not sit silently waiting for the axe to fall on my department, but throughout my 31-month affiliation with RMRCC, I have been in a constant dilemma over the time requirement that is necessary to devote to the financial-political issues governing this profession. Having gone the whole nine yards at the RMRCC, I'd like to take this opportunity to tell those of you who are in institutions where you face uncertainties due to financial and political turbulence: yes, you should enter the financial-political arena.

While the majority of trained conservators have excelled at loving and conserving artifacts, how many conservators are also experienced business/political players? Let's take our heads out of the sand and organize training seminars for conservation business practices, economics, financial planning, time management, grant writing, leadership and ethics to allow us to be more effective in influencing the way conservation is managed in an institutional setting.

Terri Schindel, Chief Conservator
The National Museum of the U.S. Army
c/o Center of Military History, Attn: DAMH-MB Washington, DC 20374-5088

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