Core Documents

Code of Ethics

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The first formulation of standards of practice and professional relations by any group of art conservators was produced by the IIC-American Group (now AIC) Committee on Professional Standards and Procedures. Formed at the second regular meeting of the IIC-AG, in Detroit, May 23, 1961, the committee worked under the direction of Murray Pease, conservator, Metropolitan Museum of Art; other members of the committee were Henri H. Courtais, Dudley T. Easby, Rutherford J. Gettens, and Sheldon Keck. The Report of the Murray Pease Committee: IIC American Group Standards of Practice and Professional Relations for Conservators was adopted by the IIC-AG at the 4th annual meeting in New York on June 8, 1963. It was published in Studies in Conservation in August 1964, 9(3):116–21. The primary purpose of this document was: “to provide accepted criteria against which a specific procedure or operation can be measured when a question as to its adequacy has been raised.”

The first formulation of a code of ethics for art conservators was adopted by the members of IIC-American Group at the annual meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on May 27, 1967. It was produced by the Committee on Professional Relations: Sheldon Keck, chair; Richard D. Buck; Dudley T. Easby; Rutherford J. Gettens; Caroline Keck; Peter Michaels, and Louis Pomerantz. The primary purpose of this document was: “to express those principles and practices which will guide the art conservator in the ethical practice of his profession.”

These two documents, The Murray Pease Report: Standards of Practice and Professional Relationships for Conservators and the Code of Ethics for Art Conservators were published in booklet form by the IIC-AG in May 1968 together with the Articles of Association of IIC and Bylaws of the American Group.

In 1977, the Ethics and Standards Committee (Elisabeth C. G. Packard, chair; Barbara H. Beardsley; Perry C. Huston; Kate C. Lefferts; Robert M. Organ; and Clements L. Robertson) was charged with updating the two documents to reflect changes in the profession. The 1968 format was retained, except that the more general Code of Ethics was placed first as Part One, followed by the Standards of Practice as Part Two. These revised versions of the code and standards were approved by the Fellows of AIC on May 31, 1979, at the annual meeting in Toronto. This document was amended on May 24, 1985, at the annual meeting in Washington, D.C., to reflect the addition to the AIC Bylaws of procedures for the reporting, investigation, and review of alleged violations of the code and standards and of mechanisms for appealing such allegations.

Between 1984 and 1990 the Ethics and Standards Committee, responding to further growth and change in the profession, and following on several years of AIC discussion on the issue of certification, was charged by the AIC Board to work on more substantial revisions of the document. This was done by soliciting commentary from the specialty groups and also from the membership via issues sessions at the annual meetings in Chicago (1986) and Cincinnati (1989). Following this, a document consisting of a new simplified Code, prepared by the committee, and a revisedStandards, prepared primarily by the board was presented to the membership for discussion at the 1990 annual meeting in Richmond. The consensus of the membership at the meeting was to continue the revision process. During these important years, the members of the committee were, Elisabeth Batchelor, chair; Robert Futernick; Meg Loew Craft (until 1989); Elizabeth Lunning (from 1987); Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro; and Philip Vance (until 1986). In 1989, the committee added corresponding members Barbara Appelbaum, Paul N. Banks, Steven Prins, and Elisabeth West FitzHugh.

In 1990, the AIC Board charged a newly appointed committee to assess the role and use of the code and standards and as well to analyze specific difficulties within the documents themselves. The committee first undertook an in-depth comparative analysis of the documents organizing them topically and relating them to other codes of ethics both in conservation and in other professions. Between September 1991 and May 1992, the committee produced five lengthy discussion papers on basic issues as supplements to the AIC News (prior to November 1991, the AIC Newsletter). From these papers, the committee compiled an extensive body of membership and specialty group commentary, supplementing that obtained previously. It then began the creation of a new revision, the first draft of which was published in the September 1993 AIC News following a discussion session at the 1993 annual meeting in Denver. A revised draft was published in the May 1994 AIC News and discussed at the 1994 annual meeting in Nashville. A final version of the revised document was prepared and was approved by AIC Fellows and Professional Associates through a mail vote in August 1994.

Besides a new simplified Code of Ethics and the creation of Guidelines for Practice to replace theStandards of Practice, the new document will be supplemented by commentaries, a detailed description of which was published in the November 1993 AIC News. The goals and purposes of the committee and the problematic issues it sought to address in creating the revision are described in the committee’s columns in the September 1991 AIC Newsletter and September 1993 AIC News.

Ethics and Standards Committee members during these years and involved in the creation of the revised code and guidelines were: Debbie Hess Norris (chair, resigned 1993); Donna K. Strahan (co-chair 1993–94, chair 1994); Carol Aiken (co-chair from 1993, resigned 1994); Nancy Ash; Dan Kushel; and Robert Espinosa (from 1993).

Elisabeth C. G. Packard, Chair, Ethics and Standards Committee 1977–79
Amended May 24, 1985
Revised August 1994, Dan Kushel, Member, Ethics and Standards Committee

PREAMBLE

The primary goal of conservation professionals, individuals with extensive training and special expertise, is the preservation of cultural property. Cultural property consists of individual objects, structures, or aggregate collections. It is material which has significance that may be artistic, historical, scientific, religious, or social, and it is an invaluable and irreplaceable legacy that must be preserved for future generations.

In striving to achieve this goal, conservation professionals assume certain obligations to the cultural property, to its owners and custodians, to the conservation profession, and to society as a whole. This document, the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works (AIC), sets forth the principles that guide conservation professionals and others who are involved in the care of cultural property.

CODE OF ETHICS

I. The conservation professional shall strive to attain the highest possible standards in all aspects of conservation, including, but not limited to, preventive conservation, examination, documentation, treatment, research, and education.

II. All actions of the conservation professional must be governed by an informed respect for the cultural property, its unique character and significance, and the people or person who created it.

III. While recognizing the right of society to make appropriate and respectful use of cultural property, the conservation professional shall serve as an advocate for the preservation of cultural property.

IV. The conservation professional shall practice within the limits of personal competence and education as well as within the limits of the available facilities.

V. While circumstances may limit the resources allocated to a particular situation, the quality of work that the conservation professional performs shall not be compromised.

VI. The conservation professional must strive to select methods and materials that, to the best of current knowledge, do not adversely affect cultural property or its future examination, scientific investigation, treatment, or function.

VII.The conservation professional shall document examination, scientific investigation, and treatment by creating permanent records and reports.

VIII.The conservation professional shall recognize a responsibility for preventive conservation by endeavoring to limit damage or deterioration to cultural property, providing guidelines for continuing use and care, recommending appropriate environmental conditions for storage and exhibition, and encouraging proper procedures for handling, packing, and transport.

IX.The conservation professional shall act with honesty and respect in all professional relationships, seek to ensure the rights and opportunities of all individuals in the profession, and recognize the specialized knowledge of others.

X. The conservation professional shall contribute to the evolution and growth of the profession, a field of study that encompasses the liberal arts and the natural sciences. This contribution may be made by such means as continuing development of personal skills and knowledge, sharing of information and experience with colleagues, adding to the profession’s written body of knowledge, and providing and promoting educational opportunities in the field.

XI. The conservation professional shall promote an awareness and understanding of conservation through open communication with allied professionals and the public.

XII. The conservation professional shall practice in a manner that minimizes personal risks and hazards to co-workers, the public, and the environment.

XIII. Each conservation professional has an obligation to promote understanding of and adherence to this Code of Ethics.

The conservation professional should use the following guidelines and supplemental commentaries together with the AIC Code of Ethics in the pursuit of ethical practice. The commentaries are separate documents, created by the AIC membership, that are intended to amplify this document and to accommodate growth and change in the field.

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