By Kristin Kelly
Denis Byrne, an archaeologist and cultural heritage manager, came to the Getty Conservation Institute from Australia, where he worked at the Research Unit of the Cultural Heritage Division of the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service. He was interested in completing work he had begun years earlier on religious values and significance of heritage places in Asia, and he set out to examine differences between countries in Asia and countries with Western traditions.
In her time at the GCI, Isabelle Vinson, editor in chief of Museum International at UNESCO, Paris, conducted research on international heritage and the ways in which it is affected by universal international values and global market forces. Her residency led, in part, to professional relationships that resulted in the publication of joint simultaneous issues of Conservation, The GCI Newsletter (Conservation, vol, 19, no. 3) and Museum Internationalboth devoted to the concept and practice of partnership in heritage conservation.
Ulrich Birkmaier, conservator of paintings at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, came to the GCI to research the background and uses of Weber Academy Board, a painting support used frequently by American painter Marsden Hartley in the early twentieth century. While here, Birkmaier collaborated closely with conservators at the J. Paul Getty Museum, and made extensive use of the special collections at the Getty Research Institute; thus his Getty residency was truly cross- programmatic.
Byrne, Vinson, and Birkmaieras well as forty-seven additional professionalshave all been conservation guest scholars in a GCI program that began in 2000. In 200809, the Institute is hosting its ninth group: four heritage professionals from four continents.
The Conservation Guest Scholar program was created to fill a perceived need in the conservation field, and it is one of the few opportunities for senior professionals in the broadly defined field to pursue research and innovative thinking in areas of general interest to the profession. Meant to encourage new ideas and perspectives in conservation, with an emphasis on the visual arts (sites, buildings, and objects) and the theoretical underpinnings of the field, the program offers conservation professionals an opportunity to step away from their daily routines and responsibilities, providing them with the time and resources to research and write in their fields of expertise. The scholarschosen from a pool of applicants by a committee of professionals from both inside and outside of the Gettyreceive housing in the Getty's scholar housing apartment complex, a monthly stipend, a workstation at the GCI, research assistance, and access to the resources of the Getty. Residence in Getty housing allows scholars interaction not only with GCI staff but also with scholars from a variety of disciplines.
The program is one of the most wide-ranging and global GCI initiatives. From its first year, it attracted more qualified applicants than could be accommodated. To date, scholars have come from every inhabited continent, and they have worked on projects ranging from scientific laboratory research to analysis of the values of archaeological sites to writing and disseminating results from long-term research projects.
By the fall of 2007, a critical mass of scholars had passed through the program, and the GCI undertook a comprehensive survey of past guest scholars to determine how the program had affected them, what they were doing now, and how the work they had done at the Institute was being communicated to the world.
The GCI was also interested in learning how the program could be improved. Over 90 percent of the past scholars responded, providing impressive lists of publications and accomplishments directly related to their time spent at the GCI. Because of this input, certain small adjustments are being made to the program. It is also clear from the feedback that over its ten years, the program has had a notable impact on the conservation field.
Tom Learnernow a GCI senior scientist heading up the Institute's modern and contemporary art researchwas a 2001 guest scholar while a conservation scientist and conservator of twentieth-century paintings at Tate in London. (Five past GCI scholars have joined the Getty staffthree are at the GCI, one at the GRI, and one at the Getty Foundation.) "My residency as a GCI scholar gave me dedicated research time, away from the day-to-day distractions of life in a museum," Learner says. "I was able to make the most of the analytical laboratories to monitor the effects of cleaning on acrylic paints. Additionally, the scholars formed a true community, and I have remained in close contact with many of my fellow scholars."
Aparna Tandon, then a curator and conservator at the Amar Majal Museum and Library, Jammu, Kashmir, and now a project specialist in the collections unit at ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property) in Rome, describes her experience at the GCI as "the opportunity for me to interact with top professionals and to refine my thoughts about preventive conservation as they apply to the broad and diverse cultural heritage of India."
Gilberto Artioli, then of the University of Milan and now of the University of Padua, spent six months conceptualizing and writing a textbook on scientific methods and cultural heritage, with a goal of integrating conservation science into the curriculum of conservation programs. "The program gave me the valuable time to think and to launch this cross-disciplinary publication project," he says. "The GCI provided an exceptional and diversified forum for initial brainstorming." Artioli's book, with contributions by others, will be published by Oxford University Press.
Olga Pizano, a cultural heritage consultant from Colombia who was part of the GCI's first group of guest scholars, notes that her time at the Getty gave her "the opportunity to further understand the role of the international protection instruments in the legislation and management of cultural heritage in Colombia. Since then I have developed a critical position in relation to the conventions and charters, and I have shared it with students and colleagues in Colombia and other countries. The results of my work have been published in several books and magazines."
The application deadline for consideration for the academic year 200910 was November 1, 2008. Received applications are being distributed to the review committee, and it is clear, again, from their quality and quantity that the program is filling a need in the conservation field. As a major commitment of the GCI and its Education department, the Conservation Guest Scholar program will continue to assist professionals in advancing the practice of conservation by affording them the time and resources to create and disseminate important research.
Kristin Kelly was formerly assistant director of the GCI Dissemination and Research Resources department.