The Recent Advances 2019 conference was a collaborative venture between Icon, the British Museum and ICOM-CC. 175 conservators working with ceramics and glass from 25 countries came together to participate in the 4-day event, which was focussed on showcasing current research, sharing knowledge and building professional relationships.
The conference kicked off with optional tours, including visits to the British Museum’s Conservation Laboratories and Islamic Art Galleries, the Wallace Collection, the V&A, and historic houses in London. Over the following three days 24 speakers contributed presentations and 40 posters were displayed in the foyer outside the lecture theatre allowing the presenters to discuss their research and ideas during breaks.
The social highlight was a dinner at the former United Service Club, a Grade I listed Georgian building designed by John Nash in 1828. Itineraries for self-guided post conference tours to Brighton, Bath and Oxford were provided so that delegates traveling from abroad could get the most out of their trip by visiting some of the UK’s most iconic collections in historic cities.
The conference came about because both Icon and ICOM-CC have special interest groups focused on developing knowledge and promoting high standards of ceramics and glass conservation. Icon’s Ceramics and Glass Group committee (IconCGG) and ICOM-CC’s groups began planning the conference two years ago, so it was a major commitment of time and effort. ICOM-CC organised the call for papers, reviewed and edited them, and digitally produced the conference preprints; each delegate received a hard copy of the book at registration. The British Museum provided the venue and logistical support and Icon provided cashflow for the conference by covering the initial expenditure, while the IconCGG committee were the local organisers.
This conference was much larger than a typical IconCGG event and we learned a great deal from it. An important early decision was to clearly articulate the responsibilities between the three parties in a formal contract. The IconCGG committee would recommend this for future events of this scale because it helped to clarify roles and to resolve misunderstandings, which were inevitable for an event with a two-year lead-in time and multiple partners. Individually, committee members gained skills and experience in project management, budgeting and negotiating between the priorities of multiple organizations. This experience will be useful to many of us as we continue to pursue our careers in conservation.
On refection the key conference outcome was bringing conservation professionals from across the globe together to exchange ideas and forge new relationships. This helped Icon to achieve its strategic priority to support excellence through building knowledge, high standards and valuing the profession. Conservators who might not have travelled to the UK before were able to visit world class collections in London and to develop professionally from exposure to cutting edge conservation research in their specialism. This outcome supports Icon’s strategic objective to contribute to the development of knowledge and high standards worldwide by supporting the exchange of information and expertise with new partners. Publishing the conference preprints was particularly significant because of the limited amount of literature focused solely on ceramic and glass conservation. The conference will therefore have a lasting legacy in this respect.
The IconCGG committee and staff at the British Museum continue to receive positive feedback and thanks from delegates months later. As a direct result of relationships build while planning this event, the IconCGG is now organising a workshop on stain reduction in ceramics with conservators in Delaware. We are also beginning to plan our next conference, set to be held in October 2021 in Bath. We hope that many of the international delegates from 2019 will join us once again.