The principle of collective responsibility for the protection and conservation of cultural heritage forms the basis of international cooperative efforts to preserve that heritage. Partnerships among cultural heritage organizations, which have gained increasing legitimacy from a number of successful projects such as the recent reconstruction of the Mostar bridge in Bosnia, include a wide variety of participants and public-private collaborations. As heritage conservation becomes more complicated—sometimes involving development issues such as urban expansion and poverty reduction, as well as the preservation of identities, specifically for indigenous peoples—the partnership concept becomes all the more appealing, as well as complex.
It is in this context that partnerships have developed between UNESCO and its affiliated organizations and programs of the J. Paul Getty Trust. One project, Object ID, set up an international standard of information for the documentation and identification of objects in order to facilitate the rapid transfer of information in case of theft. Initiated at the Getty, it was established through the participation of the art trade, law enforcement, the insurance industry, and major heritage organizations, and is now managed by the International Council of Museums (ICOM), which was founded by UNESCO and remains affiliated with it (see icom.museum/objectid). Sharing information worldwide is a form of partnership that goes beyond selective actions and represents a change in the état-d'esprit: it builds a common ethical ground.
A second project is also emblematic of change. The creation of the top-level Internet domain (TLD), ".museum", in November 2000, resulted from the foresight and dedication of ICOM and Getty staff. UNESCO embraces and values the creation of the only sponsored TLD for cultural heritage, in view of its long commitment to place culture at the top of international agendas and its advocacy of initiatives that advance knowledge societies. At the same time, UNESCO encourages the significant participation of conservation research and operational institutes, such as the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), in partnerships that promote sustainable conservation approaches for cultural heritage.
Partnership is an essential element of project work at the GCI. The leadership of the Getty Trust recognized early on that appropriate partnerships offered an effective way to leverage limited resources, as well as—and equally important—to expand the capacity of the conservation community. In scientific research, no single institution can possibly address the diversity of questions posed by conservation problems. Even investigations of single issues benefit from the variety of perspectives and facilities that are possible in collaborative endeavors. The GCI has valuable partnerships with a variety of public and private institutions, studying questions related to modern paint materials, exhibition lighting of old master drawings, organic materials used in wall paintings, and variations in early photographic processes. In field projects, every GCI project has involved a partnership, usually with the agency or institution that is responsible for the heritage that is the subject of the project. Building a relationship of mutual understanding and trust—and shared objectives and responsibility—requires as much attention as addressing the particular conservation problems afflicting a site. Without such a relationship, a project will not succeed.
By "partnering" our two publications—Museum International and Conservation, The GCI Newsletter—on the subject of partnership, we hope to illuminate the varieties, value, and power of partnership in the museum and conservation fields, to distinguish where partnership is valuable and where it is not, and to emphasize partnership as a critical element of institutional work and policy. Beyond advancing the specific work of preservation and conservation, partnerships, by bringing different parties together for a common objective, contribute to the overarching goal of increased human understanding.
Timothy P. Whalen
The Getty Conservation Institute
Assistant Director General for Culture