Spotlight on Ayesha Fuentes, 2014 Award Recipient
Ayesha Fuentes is a recent graduate of the UCLA/Getty Master’s Program in the Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Materials. In 2013 Ayesha applied for and received a George Stout Memorial Fund Award to attend the 17th ICOM-CC Triennial Conference in Melbourne, Australia where she presented a paper on the on the use of metal shipping containers as storage for cultural materials. Ayesha currently lives and works in Bhutan.
My interest in translating my formal training and conservation knowledge to settings outside a conservation laboratory has inspired me to pursue research projects with broad practical applications. The poster I took to ICOM-CC this year - ‘Evaluating shipping containers as storage for cultural materials’ - is a topic that I feel many heritage professionals can relate to: working with available (and often limited) resources, finding inexpensive storage solutions, and disaster remediation. I believe conservation should be responsive to the needs of our profession as it is practiced globally in a variety of contexts, and ICOM-CC, as an international organization, was a great place to share and receive feedback on my research and general interests.
For me, the highlights of the meeting were almost entirely in my informal conversations with fellow professionals. This, to me, is the real benefit of being able to attend a conference like ICOM-CC. Papers and presentations are so much the better when they generate an interactive, dynamic dimension of person-to-person contact and live discourse.
I found, in speaking to my fellow emerging professionals as well as colleagues from outside Europe and North America, that I am not alone in my desire for a more practical focus and less specialized disciplinary language. Our scientific foundations have given us a basis for our decision-making but can prove alienating to those who don’t have that training. I think we need to find a way to communicate our decision-making processes that is less reliant on or makes accessible our specialized technical expertise. Risk management is at least one method for translating our knowledge and educating the communities we serve; this is something I hope to incorporate into my practice. I think it’s a credit to our profession that we have the capacity to respond positively and actively to criticism. We are a community of learners and that should be our greatest pride and motivation. Being at ICOM-CC gave me a chance to reaffirm this to myself and inspired me to stay involved, to help shape our profession as it emerges in a new generation of thinking.
I felt lucky to be one of the few emerging professionals present at the meeting and honored to share my work there. I had the chance to learn from and converse with professionals whose work I respect and admire. Our field is small and I have found that face-to-face introductions are invaluable opportunities for junior conservators. I hope to continue working in Asia (as I have in my graduate studies and internships) and it was great to meet other, established conservators with the same regional interest.
Grants that encourage participation at professional meetings are essential. Conferences like these need a broader range of participants, and more often. Diverse thinking needs representatives from different cultures, career trajectories, work settings, and educational backgrounds. If only those who can afford these meetings - through institutional support or otherwise - are those who consistently participate, our field will have a decidedly narrow focus despite our best efforts. Without a variety of members and their voices, our field will not grow sustainably and the audiences at these meetings will not represent our actual global constituency.
The George Stout Grant has given me an excellent opportunity to experience conservation as a global profession and to define myself in terms of what I learned and observed. I hope that such a chance is not rare for anyone who commits themselves to working in our field.