By Jeffrey Levin

In our communications-centered age, it is difficult to imagine a collective endeavor that can thrive without the tools of communication. Conservation is no exception. Whether the objective is the development of new treatment techniques or preventive conservation strategies, greater collaboration between conservation organizations, or increased public support for conservation itself, communication is fundamental—communication internally among conservation professionals and communication externally to the larger public.

At the Getty Conservation Institute's inception, increasing conservation knowledge and awareness through communication was an important part of its mission. In its first few years, the Institute's efforts were directed primarily toward the conservation professional. More recently, the GCI, while not relinquishing that initial responsibility, has expanded its areas of communication to include the general public.

The Institute's early concentration on professional information exchange was in response to a generally recognized need to improve the collection and dissemination of information for conservation professionals. When the Institute was established, one of its stated goals was to become a resource by addressing the lack of access to a comprehensive collection of conservation literature and documentation and the lack of information about information. Through a variety of means, the GCI has worked to further an exchange between professionals, enhancing their awareness of work being done by their colleagues around the world, and of the concerns they share. This has been done, in part, through publications, conferences, workshops, and training courses.

The dissemination of information is not limited to conservation methodologies. Included in this effort is the heightening of awareness of threats to cultural heritage—such things as lack of disaster preparedness, the illicit trafficking in cultural property, and the threats posed by armed conflict.

Ultimately, though, professionals exchanging ideas among themselves is not enough. The preservation of the past depends upon the attitude of the public at large. Ignorance of the fragility of our cultural heritage—and indifference to its fate—contribute to its ultimate loss. The problem faced by those in cultural heritage conservation, like their counterparts in environmental conservation, is that they require support from the general public if they are to accomplish even a small portion of the enormous task set before them.

The conservation community needs to create within the larger community a sense of shared responsibility for the preservation of our cultural heritage. The environmental movement helped the public recognize that clean air and water and the preservation of forests were not abstract virtues but critical to the quality of life. A similar case must now be made for our cultural heritage. We can physically survive the loss of our heritage, but only at a tremendous cost to our sense of identity.

In the early 1990s the GCI began working to help enlarge the public's understanding of conservation and the need for cultural heritage preservation. The first step was in 1991, when the Institute altered the format of its newsletter in order to reach out to a broader audience. Since then, it has begun employing additional means with the same objective of educating the general public in order to create a larger constituency for conservation. Among these activities have been exhibitions dealing with conservation and questions of cultural heritage, and video productions depicting some of the Institute's special projects.

At the same time, through informal discussions, conferences, and courses, the Institute has been engaged in advocacy, helping those who make public policy become more aware of the things they can do to help preserve the past. The success of this advocacy is linked to public awareness—after all, decision makers are more likely to be responsive to conservation programs and policies when they know that the general public supports them. Communicating a sense of shared responsibility for the preservation of the past should become an objective of ever-increasing importance to the conservation community.

Jeffrey Levin
Editor
Conservation, The GCI Newsletter


Professional Information Exchange
by Jeffrey Levin

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Professional information exchange is a part of many different programmatic activities of the Institute. Three particular efforts were especially important during the GCI's first 10 years.

When the Getty Trust consulted with the conservation profession in the early 1980s about needs in the field, one area identified was improved access to information about conservation techniques and research. Despite a growing body of conservation literature, the many languages in which information was published, combined with important advances in related disciplines, made it difficult for practitioners to keep abreast of current thinking.

Conservation's most important bibliographic reference publication, Art and Archaeology Technical Abstracts (AATA)—established in 1955 by the International Institute of Historic and Artistic Works—was at the time produced by a part-time managing editor and an international network of volunteer abstractors and regional editors. Without a full-time staff and a computerized database, systematic coverage of the literature was virtually impossible.

In 1983 the Trust assumed operational and financial responsibility for AATA with a commitment to expanding its geographic and subject coverage and upgrading basic features such as cross-referencing, indexing, and keywords. Today AATA, produced by the Documentation Program of the GCI and published twice a year, is a database publication with computerized data management. Institute staff, assisted by over 80 international volunteers, compile and edit approximately 3,500 abstracts a year.

In another important effort, AATA and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and the Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) decided in 1985 to pool bibliographic references in a common on-line database. Shortly thereafter the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN), a program of the National Museums of Canada, agreed to undertake a pilot project to create an on-line database for AATA. The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI), a sister program to CHIN, became a key partner in this emerging network.

The Conservation Information Network (CIN) was officially released in September 1987. An important feature of the Network was that it allowed conservation professionals to conduct electronic dialogues with colleagues around the world. In 1990 the GCI began transferring responsibility for the network to CHIN, which today handles its operation. Recent technological advances in communications, including Internet access, have the potential for widening dissemination of CIN.

A third important effort in information exchange and advocacy has been in disaster preparedness. Because of the threat disasters pose to cultural heritage preservation, the GCI has been active in disaster preparedness and response. In 1985 it organized a meeting of international and U.S. agencies and museums to identify needs and to encourage communication between disaster planning organizations and cultural institutions. That meeting led to the creation of a steering committee that over the next three years pursued these objectives. Since 1985 the GCI—whose activities in disaster preparedness have included scientific research, training, publications, and emergency response missions—has helped organize other gatherings. These included a 1992 emergency planning workshop for museum directors and a 1993 international colloquium in Quito, Ecuador, on the seismic stabilization of historic buildings. Other conferences included one in 1990, on disaster response at the Library of the then-Soviet Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, and one in 1993 in Cairo, on Islamic monuments damaged by Egypt's 1992 earthquake.

Throughout its first decade the GCI has worked closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and others to put cultural heritage preservation on the national disaster response agenda. As the result of a 1994 conference organized by the GCI, FEMA, and the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property, a national task force on emergency response is now at work on a number of initiatives to assist cultural institutions to prepare for and cope with disasters.

Jeffrey Levin
Editor
Conservation, The GCI Newsletter


Exhibitions
by Mahasti Afshar

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The sight of a ruin lying in the wilderness or an object illuminated in a museum can inspire awe and appreciation for things beautiful and magnificent. But ignorance about an artifact's life history can leave us with a sense of detachment. While we may appreciate the art, we may not necessarily appreciate the artifice that went into its making or the ways to prevent its decay. This lack of awareness may turn many of us into "consumers" and cultural heritage into a disposable commodity. Educated in conservation's importance, we could—and some of us would—help preserve the legacy inherited from the past for future generations.

Exhibitions with a theme of preservation are an effective means of raising such awareness. Whereas traditional museum exhibitions have helped broaden art appreciation and attracted individuals and institutions to benefit their cause, innovative exhibitions geared toward conservation can expand the learning horizon and bring more resources to bear on the care of culture.

The GCI's first field project was the subject of a GCI-Getty Museum exhibition during the winter of 1992 and 1993. In the Tomb of Nefertari: Conservation of the Wall Paintings documented a six-year effort by the GCI and the Egyptian Antiquities Organization to conserve the 3,200-year-old wall paintings of Queen Nefertari's tomb in Upper Egypt. The exhibit included some 40 objects lent by U.S. museums, a life-size photographic replica of one of the tomb's most beautiful chambers, and panels illustrating the problems facing the conservators and the solutions they devised.

Encouraged by the exhibition's success, the GCI and the Fondazione Memmo, a nonprofit foundation, mounted Nefertari: Luce d'Egitto at the Palazzo Ruspoli in Rome from October 1994 to June 1995. Seen by nearly half a million visitors, the exhibition provided a context for the wall paintings through the display of more than 130 objects and didactic materials and artifacts explaining the techniques used both by the ancient Egyptian artisans and by the GCI conservators. An interactive virtual reality gallery allowed visitors to walk through the tomb as it appears today as well as at the time of its discovery in 1904; to learn the meaning of its images and inscriptions; and to gain awareness of deterioration problems and treatment methods. The virtual reality program has been demonstrated at numerous multimedia conferences and was installed at Epcot Center in Florida in December 1995. The Nefertari exhibition moved to the Promotrice delle Belle Arti in Turin at the same time and will remain on display until March 1996.

A GCI exhibition of a different kind opened at the Los Angeles City Hall in December 1994. Picture L.A.: Landmarks of a New Generation was a GCI public awareness initiative to draw attention among young people—especially urban youth—to the vital role played by cultural heritage in shaping personal and group identities. It displayed photographs taken by a group of eight participants—ranging in age from 10 to 18—from different communities in the city; they recorded the landmarks of their personal lives and neighborhoods as well as public heritage sites. The project generated enormous excitement among the young photographers who responded eagerly to the opportunity to express their views. Some went on to win awards, grants, college placement, and jobs related to the new skills they had learned.

Picture L.A. has traveled to other venues in Los Angeles and Chicago and is on public display at the Vice President's residence in Washington, D.C. A number of schools and community organizations have initiated similar projects, and plans are under way to duplicate the project in five other cities around the world.

The GCI is committed to pursuing a vigorous program of public awareness initiatives in the future. It is hoped that these activities will build alliances with the public and help create a new generation that identifies itself as a custodian of our common cultural heritage.

Mahasti Afshar
Program Research Associate


Documentaries and Multimedia Productions
by Mahasti Afshar

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The first Getty Conservation Institute field project—the conservation of the wall paintings of the tomb of Nefertari—was also the subject of the first video documentary on the GCI. Produced by the BBC in 1987 and titled Chronicle: Queen Nefertari, this one-hour documentary captured the delicate and painstaking work carried out during the initial stages of the six-year conservation program, in particular, the conservation team's first campaign to stabilize the areas of the wall paintings needing emergency treatment.

The popularity of the Nefertari documentary, which continues to air on television channels worldwide, is proof of the power of this medium to educate the nonspecialist in a direct and entertaining way. A short version of the video, shown at the Nefertari exhibitions coorganized by the GCI at the J. Paul Getty Museum (1992-1993) and at the Palazzo Ruspoli in Rome (1994-1995), proved an effective didactic tool in an exhibition setting.

The success of the BBC video prompted the GCI to initiate a second Nefertari documentary in 1992, following the completion of the conservation and cleaning of the tomb's wall paintings. Produced by Televisa in association with the GCI, Nefertari: The Search for Eternal Life is a half-hour program that complements the earlier video by showing the brilliant colors and artistry of the ancient Egyptians revealed by the conservation of the wall paintings.

Quito at the Crossroads: Saving the Historic Capital of Ecuador is a half-hour video produced in 1994 as a public awareness component of a GCI field project. As with preservation work in other historic city centers, the effort in Quito necessitates participation by both specialists and the public. The video's chief objective was to help local authorities communicate to the general populace and the private sector the problems and opportunities inherent in the revitalization of Quito's magnificent but deteriorating colonial center. Thus, in addition to the preservation of the physical fabric of monuments, the video addresses the maintenance, renovation, and reuse of old buildings to accommodate modern-day needs; control of traffic and pollution; upgrading of public utilities and sanitation; management of street vending, as well as retail and warehousing establishments; and development of an infrastructure for cultural tourism.

Two other GCI documentaries are currently in production, both focusing on GCI projects. One documents the effort to preserve the bas-reliefs of the Royal Palaces of Abomey, Benin. The other features the conservation of The Last Judgment mosaic on St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague.

The GCI is also developing several CD-ROM projects, both for the conservation professional and the general public. The audiovisual data from GCI videos and CD-ROMs are periodically edited for inclusion in a digital multimedia program entitled Where in the World is the GCI?, originally produced in 1993. Plans are under way to format this program into an interactive kiosk where users can navigate themselves through the network of GCI activities. This and other multimedia productions will be used by the GCI to help the public discover the fascinating world where diverse disciplines and interests converge to safeguard our cultural heritage.

Mahasti Afshar
Program Research Associate


War and Greed: Threats to Cultural Heritage
by Jeffrey Levin

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The loss of cultural heritage cannot always be ascribed to natural forces or to human negligence. Sometimes what is at work is more overt or intentional. Because cultural heritage embodies the aspirations, beliefs, achievements, and history of communities, it can become a pawn when peoples clash in armed conflict, destroyed as a way to demoralize and defeat. Even when cultural objects or places of significance are not specifically targeted for destruction, they can be victims of war, damaged or obliterated because they stood in the way of some military objective.

Cultural heritage is also threatened by greed. Illicit trafficking in art and artifacts is a worldwide and continuing problem, fueled in part by wealth (collectors willing to pay for items regardless of how they were obtained), unscrupulousness (dealers eager to profit from this market), and poverty (poor people who derive their livelihood from looting archaeological sites). Vast amounts of cultural patrimony have disappeared from their nations of origin as the result of these interlinked and all-too-human factors.

These threats to cultural heritage are particularly troubling because human action is the cause. For that reason, the Getty Conservation Institute has engaged in several efforts to bring about greater awareness of these issues, in the hope that those within and beyond the conservation community will be moved to respond.

At the 1992 spring meeting of the Materials Research Society, the Institute coorganized a five-day symposium that included a session on the protection and loss of cultural heritage during warfare. Papers presented at the session offered perspectives on the protection of art and structures during historic and recent conflicts, including the Gulf War and the war in Croatia. The GCI presented a paper offering suggestions for strengthening the 1954 UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

In 1993 the Institute provided financial support for an International Council of Museums (ICOM) mission to the Republic of Croatia to survey war damage to Croatian museums, galleries, and collections. The mission's report was published by the Council of Europe in 1994 and its findings subsequently summarized in this newsletter. A similar mission, also supported by the GCI, was undertaken in Lebanon in fall 1994. The mission surveyed conditions at a number of the country's important archaeological sites and reported on the status of the National Museum in Beirut, which was badly damaged during the civil war. Both of these efforts documented the significant loss of cultural heritage as another casualty of brutal conflicts.

The problem of cultural heritage theft and illicit trafficking was addressed as part of a major conference on cultural heritage in Asia and the Pacific, coorganized by the Institute in Hawaii in 1991. The subject was again discussed at some length in a GCI-organized follow-up meeting two years later in Sri Lanka. These gatherings are part of the Institute's efforts to create networks of professionals who can regularly exchange ideas on how to respond to the continuing threats to cultural heritage.

Jeffrey Levin
Editor
Conservation, The GCI Newsletter