As reported in the previous newsletter, the Agora's values and benefits inquiry is yielding some important insights into the role conservation plays in society. This inquiry links the GCI's central mission of advancing the conservation field with some of the significant issues facing contemporary society: the myriad faces of globalization, efforts to renew civil society, the quickening pace and politicization of cultural change, and the challenges and opportunities posed by new technologies.
Building on previous meetings and discussions, the ongoing values inquiry is proceeding with in-depth examinations of such topics as the processes by which objects or things come to be considered "heritage" and the role of conservation among those processes; the idea of "universality" (i.e., are some heritage objects meaningful to all people, regardless of their cultural differences, and does heritage play the same role in all societies?); and the implications of these issues for conservation practice. As these investigations progress, the Agora will continue to organize multidisciplinary discussions and exchanges, undertake research through partners, communicate findings, and work toward a major conference in the year 2000.
An inquiry into the economics of conservation is also under way. Economic values are extremely influential in shaping heritage conservation decisions. As this influence grows, the imperative to understand the assumptions, logic, and tools of economics is ever greater. In December 1998, at the Getty Center, the GCI convened an Agora meeting for cultural economists, conservationists, and other heritage specialists. Organized in collaboration with Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Netherlands, this meeting was a keystone in the Agora's effort to shed light on the critical economic factors that shape conservation decision making.
By creating dialogue between cultural economists and experts from heritage and cultural fields, the Agora aims to challenge and strengthen economists in their ability to address conservation issues, while helping conservation professionals better understand the contributions of economists. Specifically, the goal is a fuller understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of using economic analysis in conservation decisions.