During the 2023 spring semester, BACC collaborated with the Museum Studies Program of San Diego Mesa College to integrate conservation knowledge into their curriculum and highlight the role of art conservation within the larger museum ecosystem.
The Mesa College project is part of BACC’s larger Workforce Development Initiative. Funded in part by the Conrad Prebys Foundation, the initiative aims to engage students at all educational levels in conservation. This is essential in building a more diverse conservation sector. When considering potential careers, few students know conservation is a career path. This is especially true among communities whose cultural heritage has been underrepresented within cultural institutions and who have been excluded from arts and conservation access. Home to one of the few museum studies programs in Southern California, Mesa College’s student body is 71% BIPOC. The program is led by artist and curator Alessandra Moctezuma.
The lack of awareness about conservation and preservation among the public parallels the systemic lack of arts education in this country, which predominantly affects schools with a larger percentage of non-white students, low-income, and English learners. This initiative seeks to help address these inequities by working with majority BIPOC schools to expose their students to conservation as a potential career path. The programming is developed by Associate Paintings Conservator and Programs Manager Bianca Garcia, with support from Executive Director Leticia Gomez Franco, Kress Conservation Fellow Annabelle Camp, and former graduate intern and current WUDPAC Fellow, Adriana Benavides. Over the past year, the programming has taken multiple shapes, as we have responded to the needs of our educational partners.
BACC has partnered with the Mesa College Museum Studies program previously, hosting students on tours in our lab spaces. However, these have been one-time interactions without opportunity for in-depth discussions and hands-on activities. Additionally, it is essential that program faculty have the materials and knowledge to incorporate conservation education routinely into their curriculum. Following a “train the trainer” model, BACC conservators established a series of conservation education modules that could be integrated into the accepted museum studies coursework. These modules included introduction to conservation, preventive conservation and sustainability, and the ethics of conservation. Each module includes a designated exercise for students and associated resources.
To test and further develop the curriculum, BACC conservators acted as visiting lecturers in the course, delivering modules on the introduction to conservation and preventive conservation and sustainability. Students were eager to learn about the field and pathways into conservation. As part of the hands-on exercises, they conducted condition assessments of objects from the Mesa College World Cultures collection and learned how to create archival enclosures for works on paper.
Following the lecture, the class had the opportunity to visit BACC’s lab spaces, see the ongoing treatment of paintings and textiles, and discuss conservation ethics and approaches. By first incorporating conservation knowledge into their course content, students were able to come to the tour prepared with a deeper understanding of the conservators’ work and many critical questions. Professor Alessandra Moctezuma noted that the initial lecture “turned on the students’ critical thinking skills,” ahead of their onsite visit to BACC, demonstrating the importance of multiple interactions with students as they are introduced to this complex and multifaceted field.
Following this pilot program, Professor Moctezuma is now prepared to integrate an introduction to art conservation into her syllabus, ensuring that generations of Mesa students will be exposed to the field, its value as a career path, and its role in the museum ecosystem.
Throughout the 2022-2023 school year, BACC collaborated with Herbert Hoover High School to introduce students to art conservation and engage them in the treatment of “Girl Reading,” a sculpture located in the school’s library. The sculpture was carved by Donal Hord in the 1930s. Other works by Hord, which he carved in the 1930s as part of the Works Project Administration, can be found throughout San Diego.
The Hoover High Project is part of BACC’s larger Workforce Development Initiative. Funded in part by the Conrad Prebys Foundation, the initiative aims to engage students at all educational levels in conservation. This is essential in building a more diverse conservation sector. When considering potential careers, few students know conservation is a career path. This is especially true among communities whose cultural heritage has been underrepresented within cultural institutions and who have been excluded from arts and conservation access. Located in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego, Hoover High’s student body is 99% BIPOC. All student participants in the project are part of the 11th-grade Sustainable Academy of Building and Engineering (SABE) program.
Lack of awareness about conservation and preservation among the public is closely tied to a systemic lack of arts education in this country, which predominantly affects schools with a larger percentage of non-white students, low-income, and English learners. This initiative seeks to help address these inequities by working with majority BIPOC schools to expose their students not only to conservation but the broader arts ecosystem and career paths. The programming is developed by Associate Paintings Conservator and Programs Manager Bianca Garcia, with support from Executive Director Leticia Gomez Franco, Kress Conservation Fellow Annabelle Camp, and former graduate intern and current WUDPAC Fellow, Adriana Benavides. Over the past year, the programming has taken multiple shapes, as we have responded to the needs of our educational partner.
The Hoover High programming was inspired by a request for treatment of Hord’s sculpture, which is carved from white onyx. Prior to its current display in the school library, “Girl Reading” was displayed outside for decades. It was therefore very grimey, stained, and has lightly carved graffiti in numerous areas.
When contacted for treatment, BACC turned the opportunity for a contract into an opportunity to educate students on the field of art conservation and the role of preservation in sustainability. SABE English teacher, Julie Millen explains the importance of the project within the larger Sustainability curriculum: “Sustainability is about keeping what we love and what’s important for the world alive and well. For us, preserving art is more than just preserving objects; it’s preserving history, culture, and all of the things that make humans special, and that’s worth sustaining; it’s worth preserving; it’s worth keeping.”
BACC conservators worked with the educators to build a curriculum that integrates history, English, engineering, and chemistry, while investigating the history and care of the sculpture. BACC began by presenting to the 100 11th-graders participating in the SABE program to introduce them to conservation, where it fits within the arts and culture ecosystem, and the questions we must consider prior to undertaking a conservation treatment.
Following this initial introduction, students came to the BACC labs in Balboa Park to gain a better, first-hand understanding of conservation practices and decision making. Students participated in hands-on activities in paper conservation, received a tour of the paintings conservation lab, and learned about the agents of deterioration. Students engaged in conversations on conservation ethics and ways to mitigate the agents of deterioration currently affecting “Girl Reading.”
Following discussions with students, teachers, and alumni and based on testing conducted by BACC conservators, the statue was cleaned with student assistance. Conservators Bianca Garcia and Annabelle Camp selected a methyl-cellulose poultice for cleaning, which students helped to apply and remove. The cleaning formula selected was nontoxic and allowed important cleaning concepts, such as chelators, surfactants, pH, and capillary action to be demonstrated and explained to students. Students were eager to engage in cleaning and demonstrated a clear pride in preserving the school’s cultural heritage, as well as shock at how much grime came off of the sculpture surface!
Additionally, because the sculpture was treated in situ, students outside of the SABE program and teachers were able to observe as they entered the library and ask questions. BACC conservators were also interviewed for the school news, ensuring that knowledge of BACC and the field of art conservation reached the entire student body.
The Hoover High collaboration resulted in the successful treatment of the sculpture. More importantly, however, it empowered the students to care for this sculpture they are accustomed to seeing daily, encouraging them to become increasingly committed to and engaged in the preservation of other art and cultural heritage throughout their communities.
From the Bottom Up: Balboa Art Conservation Center Seeks to Develop a More Diverse Future for the Field
By Bianca Garcia, Leticia Gomez Franco, and Annabelle Camp, Balboa Art Conservation Center
(Text originally published in Volume 45 Number 1 of the Western Association for Art Conservation Newsletter)
In November 2022, The Mellon Foundation released their latest report on Art Museum Staff Demographics, and conservation was once again shown to be tied for the unfortunate title of “least diverse sector” in the museum field. At 80% White, the sector’s demographics match that of Museum Leadership and is similar to the demographics of museums’ collections departments at large which is 77% White (Sweeny et al. 2022). There are likely many factors contributing to this, including the barriers to conservation education and the general lack of awareness about conservation among the public. When considering potential careers, few students know conservation is a career path. This is especially true among communities whose cultural heritage has been underrepresented within cultural institutions and who have been excluded from arts and conservation access.
For people to understand and aspire to a career in conservation, they must first understand and feel comfortable with art. Viewed this way, lack of awareness about conservation among the public is closely tied to a systemic lack of arts education in this country. Overall, arts education in schools has seen a decrease in funding and attention throughout the United States. Total U.S. legislative funding for art education in FY2021 dropped 17.9% from that of FY2020, and this represents a 38.7% drop from FY2001 (Mullaney-Loss and Rhee, 2021). This, however, does not affect all schools equally. Schools with a larger percentage of non-white students, low-income, and English learners saw a significantly larger decrease in the time spent on arts education. Title I schools– a federal education program that supports low income students throughout the nation– "are less likely to provide quality arts academic resources for further study, i.e. college and career prep, and artistic rigor standards'' (Krudwig, 2021). How can students from across the demographic spectrum have the same opportunity to choose a career in conservation when they all have not had the same access to the arts? In addition to this, we have to address the perception that conservation is niche and exclusive.
To diversify the field of art conservation, we must make the field accessible to underrepresented communities. This has been recognized, and there is an ongoing effort in our field to do so. Some of the better known conservation diversity initiatives include...
FUNDS WILL BE USED TO TO SUPPORT AN INCOMING PAPER FELLOW AT THE CENTER
The Balboa Art Conservation Center (BACC) is pleased to announce that it has received $25,000 from The Conrad Prebys Foundation in San Diego to bolster BACC’s Conservation Fellowship Program in 2021. The project is one of 121 selected to receive funding in this, the foundation’s first-ever grant cycle, and BACC is honored to be among the inaugural cohort of grantees.
BACC’s Fellowships are an important component in training the next generation of art conservators. Historically supported through an endowment from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, BACC’s Fellowship Program has for decades provided recent graduates with the opportunity to gain highly coveted experience in art conservation in preparation for a full-time career in the field. In its ongoing commitment to create opportunities that are equitable, BACC has secured this additional funding to support the growth of our existing program into one that is truly competitive, accessible, and provides a livable stipend for the incoming paper fellow.
“The Balboa Art Conservation Center is grateful to have been among those selected to receive much needed support from the Conrad Prebys Foundation during these difficult times. After a year of impacted revenues due to the pandemic, organizations will be faced with the task of rebuilding and strengthening our workforce,” noted Leticia Gomez Franco, Executive Director at BACC. “The support from the Conrad Prebys Foundation comes at a time when the Balboa Art Conservation Center has made a commitment to shift into a model that fully supports diversity and inclusion. The funds will allow BACC to build a proper foundation and strengthen our Fellowship Program to benefit communities historically underrepresented in the field, ensuring that intentional inclusion is built into the organization's long-term vision.”
Support from funding institutions, especially those so committed to San Diego like Cornad Prebys, will be instrumental in ensuring organizations can rebuild after this past year. BACC is committed to supporting art conservation and cultural preservation’s incoming workforce, and is elated to find a partner in the foundation. “Conrad was adamant that his education was a catalyst for many of the successes in his life,” said Tony Cortes, board chair of The Conrad Prebys Foundation. “He would be ecstatic to see the foundation supporting organizations that inspire a love of learning and promote advancement opportunities within our region.”
Applications for the 2021 Paper Conservation Fellowship funded by the Conrad Prebys Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will be available beginning March 24, 2021 on BACC’s website.
For more information, or to request an interview, please contact Staci Golar at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 619.236.9702.
About the Balboa Art Conservation Center
With 45 years of experience, the Balboa Art Conservation Center (BACC) is the western region's premier non-profit art conservation facility, offering museum-quality conservation treatments, investigative technical imaging and analysis, and extensive preservation services for institutions and individuals. A nonprofit organization, BACC is located in the heart of Balboa Park. Learn more at www.bacc.org
Conservation can be a career choice that many may not even know exists, so our staff jump at opportunities to speak with students of all ages about this unique, rewarding and hands-on profession. Most recently BACC's Associate Conservator of Paper Sara Bisi did just this after being invited to talk with the "ART-104 Artists and Designers Today" class at El Cajon's Grossmont College this November.