I would like to thank Amber Kerr-Allison for encouraging me to write this text and for her help editing and translating it to English. The text is also available in Croatian.
In 1961, the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC) organized its first international conference in Rome. In September this year Vienna will host IIC's 24th Biennial Congress.
At the Istanbul Congress two years ago conservation students and recent graduates were, for the first time, given the opportunity to preset the results of their work and research through posters. Their poster presentations took place along with the poster presentations of professional conservators. Delegates were invited to speak to student authors and after the Congress all student posters were published on the IIC web page. A Student Poster Exhibition will also accompany this year's Congress. The exhibition aims to provide a look at emerging conservators' research and work experiences, as well as a platform for the exchange of ideas and knowledge.
IIC's 24th Biennial Congress will take place in Vienna, September 10-14
The evaluation process
Amber Kerr-Allison, paintings conservator at the Lunder Conservation Center in Washington D.C. and a member of the IIC Council, has served as chair on the Student Poster Committee of the Istanbul Congress and Vienna Congress. Last December she invited me to join the Committee, along with Lisa Gräber, assistant professor at the Institute of Conservation of the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, wall paintings conservator Maram Na'es, currently a visiting scholar at the Institute for Optics and Atomic Physics of the Technical University in Berlin, and objects conservator Anna Serotta, who works as a contract conservator at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Our task was to promote the student poster session to institutions across the globe, and then evaluate the poster abstracts submitted by the deadline. Thirty-two student abstracts were received and evaluated by the IIC Student Poster Committee, of which twenty "finalists" were selected. The committee members were then tasked with mentoring the finalists through the process of creating the posters. Final editing of the posters was entrusted to Joyce H. Townsend, IIC's Director of Publications and the chair of the Vienna Congress Editorial Committee.
Student author Caroline Roberts, Amber Kerr-Allison, Maram Na'es and me in Istanbul
After having reviewed each poster abstract, the Student Poster Committee was asked to evaluate and rank each submission based on several criteria points, which included: How effectively does the author convey the ideas and subject matter in the abstract? How well is the text structured? Does the subject relate to the theme of the Congress (The Decorative - Conservation and the Applied Arts)? What is its scientific relevance to the conservation field? Would the subject matter be interesting to a broad audience?
We had to provide a brief explanation for each score, and were asked to advise the authors on how they could improve their posters. Surprisingly (or not?), all members of the committee were pretty close in their scoring. We seemed to be unanimous about which subject matters were relevant, and which required some "polishing". Final ranking of all the abstracts was based on the averaged score for each category we ranked them by. The top twenty students were to be accepted, along with two alternates. Before the results were made official, we were asked to review and approve the rankings. At this point committee members were offered the opportunity to "lobby" for a particular author if we felt that they deserved to be among the top twenty. After the committee's approval of the rankings, the authors were informed about the results of the evaluation process.
Guidance and support
By the end of May we had received poster guidelines from the IIC Council, which our chair forwarded to the student authors. Then, each member of the Student Poster Committee was appointed as an advisor to five authors. I thought it was great that IIC leaves nothing to chance and that these young people were getting (our) full attention. I wish I had the opportunity to learn how to present a poster or a paper with the help of senior colleagues. At the IIC, participation in Congress is seen not just an opportunity to present the results of one's work to the community of experts, but also as an opportunity to broaden one's knowledge. Besides, one must keep in mind that many of the students have never made a poster presentation before.
Manuela Wiesend, 5th year student at the National Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart who will be presenting a poster on "cobweb paintings" (that is the topic of her diploma thesis), says that designing the poster was the hardest part for her. "I have never worked in InDesign before so it was quite a pain in the neck to get used to it. And it was very difficult to select images, because I've collected a hundred of interesting photos so far." The authors were asked to secure permission for data and images, but Manuela says that the "paperwork" was not very complicated.
Manuela was one of the five students I mentored, so I wanted to know how she decided to apply for the student poster exhibition. "A friend of mine from the University of Applied Arts in Vienna forwarded me IIC's call for student poster presentations," she explained. "I thought the topic of my thesis would fit quite nicely to the Congress theme 'The Decorative'". Manuela, who will be attending the Congress as a representative of her fellow students, thinks that German graduate programs need to show interest in communication and exchange on international level. "I am really interested in getting new suggestions and experiencing different point of views. Besides, I always wanted to present at an international conference." She feels that attending the Congress could also benefit her professional future. "After I earn my diploma in October, I would love to work abroad again. I already did a four-month internship at the National Galleries of Scotland. I hope to make new contacts in Vienna and create new opportunities for my future career."
Manuela thinks that it is important for students to know what is going on in the field, so she agreed to share her experiences from the conference on the IIC blog. She also plans to blog for the German Conservators Association (Verband der Restauratoren, VDR). "When I told my friend who chairs the student section of that Association that I will attend the Congress, she asked me if I would like to blog for their website. Of course I said yes!" An additional incentive came from the fact that many of Manuela's colleagues wanted to attend the Vienna Congress, but could not afford it. She thought it was very important to give them a summary of the conference.
IIC is committed to assisting its student members in attending congresses. All students were invited to apply for a grant from the Brommelle Memorial Fund. Manuela admits that she was not aware that this opportunity was available, but another student from my group, Kyriaki Tsirita, did receive the grant. As doctoral students are eligible to apply for the Brommelle grant, I, too, was one of its recipients two years ago. Thanks to IIC's support, I was able to attend the Istanbul Congress and to present the poster on the conservation works at the Peristyle of Diocletian's Palace. Attending that conference was an experience I will treasure for life.
Caroline Roberts (Winterthur / University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, WUDPAC) won the student poster prize
When I asked our chair, Amber Kerr-Allison, how this initiative was started she said that prior to the IIC Istanbul Congress in 2010 she was contacted by IIC President Jerry Podany regarding an opportunity to expand the poster session to include students. A select group of five emerging conservators were selected to serve on the committee, which would provide a peer review of the student poster abstracts. It was at that time that she was asked to chair the first student poster committee in order to facilitate the selection process and implementation of the Student Poster Session in 2010. She stated, "It was an amazing opportunity and honour for me to participate in this new initiative. The experience provided me the chance to collaborate with four other emerging conservators from around the world to form the first Student Poster Committee for IIC. We took our responsibilities very seriously and were so proud of the student authors and posters presented at the Istanbul congress in 2010. This is a remarkable opportunity for students to present their research, become engaged in a professional venue, and segue them into becoming conservation professionals and participating members of the IIC."
I believe that the Student Poster Session of the Vienna Congress will be as successful as the one held in Istanbul. In order to make that happen, your help/attendance is needed. Participation matters: it is what makes one a part of the global community of experts. More importantly, it gives one a chance to shape the profession.