Neville Agnew is senior principal project specialist with GCI Field Projects. A member of the Institute's staff for over twenty years, Agnew, a chemist by training, has served in several leadership positions at the GCI and has headed up a number of collaborative field projects. These have included work in China and on the Iraq Cultural Heritage Conservation Initiative, as well as the Southern Africa Rock Art Project. His newest project focuses on conservation and management for the Valley of the Queens in Egypt.
Francesca Piqué was formerly a project specialist with GCI Field Projects. Piqué, with a background in both chemistry and wall paintings conservation, worked on GCI projects in China, Benin, Israel, the Czech Republic, and Tanzania, as well as Italy (her native country). Now based outside of Florence as a conservation consultant, she continues to work with the GCI on the Organic Materials in Wall Paintings project and on the project at Herculaneum.
Thomas Roby is a senior project specialist with GCI Field Projects. With a background in archaeology and conservation, Roby worked as a private conservator based in Italy for fifteen years, prior to joining the GCI in 2001. Since coming to the Institute, he has managed the GCI's Conservation of Mosaics In Situ technician training program in Tunisia. He also served as the GCI's senior project conservator on the development of a conservation plan for the hieroglyphic stairway at the Maya site of Copán in Honduras.
They spoke with Kathleen Dardes, head of GCI Education, and Jeffrey Levin, editor of Conservation, The GCI Newsletter.
Kathleen Dardes: From the beginning, education and training have been an important part of GCI Field Projects, which seeks to advance conservation practice through model field projects around the world. In all of these projects, the GCI works with local partners to enhance expertise and to ensure the sustainability of the work. Obviously, training contributes to that.
Since the three of you have been greatly involved in GCI Field Projects, we wanted your reflections on these efforts. In other words, what issues has the Institute been trying to address through the training that has been part of these projects; what approaches have you found to be most successful; and where should training out in the field go in the future?
Neville Agnew: Let me start by saying that there has been a shift in the Institute's approach to training in conservation in the field and in field projects. The GCI's former Training Program [1985—97] organized formal courses directed mainly at midcareer professionals and covering a variety of topics—intensive courses that ran from one to three weeks. This was very valuable, but it explicitly excluded technician training. So that group was a focus of our early training in our field projects. Our approach has broadened more recently to address in more pragmatic ways several levels of education and training.
At one level, it's decision makers. We try to fulfill this not necessarily through training, but we do try to influence through the collaboration, so that we achieve a common understanding. At the mid-stratum—which is the old stratum of midcareer professionals—there's still some focus. And then, thirdly, there is technician training. Very often these are the colleagues who do the work on the ground, so it's important to build their knowledge and skills.
One of our approaches is repeated course work with the same group, because one inoculation of training is seldom effective in the long run. You have to focus intensively on pretty much the same group and carry them through the process, so that they begin to adopt a new way of doing things and develop a good understanding of conservation principles and practice.
Francesca Piqué: I feel that the thinking behind GCI training is also related to the sustainability of our effort. If we work at a site in China or in Africa addressing a challenging conservation problem with our local partners—an effort that takes a lot of resources and a lot of time—we want to ensure that the results are sustainable over time. So training the local professionals, at all the different levels and in all aspects of the project, is essential. Also, we know that often the one-shot treatment is not effective enough, and that monitoring and maintenance are essential. It is important that we involve, through training and education, the local partners, so that after a project is completed, the results can be monitored and maintained by prepared professionals.
Ideally, everywhere we do a project, we should create a legacy of conservation experts who understand deterioration and are able to request help or do remedial treatment if the need arises. A good example of this is the St. Vitus mosaic project in Prague, where the post-treatment monitoring and maintenance of the protective coating for the glass mosaic are crucial. In this project, the conservation team included senior and experienced Czech conservators working with junior conservators, who would be able to learn and continue to pass on the knowledge and requirements for the monitoring program. The monitoring continues to be carried out regularly by a senior and a junior conservator.
Thomas Roby: I agree that for long-term sustainability, mixing formal training and informal training is important. In the Institute's Mosaics In Situ project in Tunisia, the idea was to focus on technician training, where, through a shorter program of study, we could begin to produce personnel who could work on sites on a daily basis. We've luckily had the opportunity in Tunisia—after the formal training, which lasts for two years—to return to the sites where our trainees have been working and to work with them in addressing new or more challenging situations that they might not be prepared for, or to help them establish their work in a new site. It's extremely important that there be continued mentoring and long-term support for the people we're training.
Piqué: I would add that when we work in a new country, we often deal with new problems and materials, and it's been useful for us to have this close interaction with the local experts because there is a lot to learn from them. We definitely learn what is available locally, how they use their materials, and how they have dealt with problems, as well as learn about different conservation methods that they may have. This aspect of exchange is very important because it enables us to develop an intervention together with the partners.
Jeffrey Levin: That's an important point. Neville, could you talk more about this interaction and how it builds a larger base of knowledge for both sides?
Agnew: Our training in the context of the field projects themselves has been informal because the objective is to undertake the project collaboratively. We involve our partner organization in the methodology of the work and the thinking behind the methodology. Certainly we learn from themparticularly from their way of doing things but also from their understanding of their own culture and history, which is very informative to us and influences our thinking. An example would be the ways in which local communities have cared for rock art in southern Africa. They have a vested interest in taking care of their rock art, not only for tourism and economic reasons but often for traditional ceremonies. We have realized that to be effective, we have to adopt a multi-pronged approach to bring the partner staff into the equation and to influence them in a systematic way for the better.
One way in which we have been able to create a sustainable effect is through bringing partner organization staff to the Institute here in Los Angeles. This builds them into the project in ways that are of value to both sides. If you put yourself in the place of technicians or site managers in Africa or China who are descended upon by a team of Getty people to do a collaborative projectthey have no real sense of where we're coming from and our professional context. So having them come to the GCI to work with us is an effective bridging mechanism.
Another way of striving for success is through mentoring on a regular basis. For example, our mentor in Egypt has a PhD in architecture and regularly visits our wall painting and site management teams in Luxor to spend a couple of days with them. From the project's perspective, mentoring is important not only for its educational component but because it maintains the project's momentum between campaigns.
Dardes: In the initiatives of my department, GCI Education, we've also seen the value of using mentors, although we use them in a somewhat different way. I am always curious about how people respond to mentors. I think there must be some compatibility between the mentor and the learner.
Agnew: It's a good question. I think it depends upon the personality of the mentor. A mentor should be able to communicate in a way that is nonthreatening and should be seen by both sides as a communication link, gaining the confidence of the team.
Piqué: It is essential in projects to keep the momentum going. For example, in a project with two fixed campaigns per year, we would leave trainees a set of conservation or documentation and monitoring activities to be done in between campaigns. Nevertheless, it was hard to maintain the peak of the activity of campaigns after the GCI team left, and communication was difficult and costly. Nowadays, it is much easier to be in touch remotely, and the moment a trainee finds himself in a difficult situation or needs some advice and technical support, he can use communication tools like email, videoconferencing, and even Skype, which is free. Communication technology has advanced significantly compared to ten years ago, when we were working on the bas-relief project in Abomey. Then, even a phone call was difficult.
Levin: Tom, how have you dealt with this challenge of maintaining momentum?
Roby: Our approach has been to organize specific campaigns for generally six weeks twice per year, but between these formal campaigns, work assignments are given, and we have tried to have one of the teachers visit the sites where the trainees are based to ensure that the assigned work has been carried out satisfactorily.
We have also organized a review, or refresher, campaign to bring the trainees together again after several years. And when the trainees are going to work in a new site, we generally make the effort to be with them and to try to coordinate their work from the beginning, in terms of documenting mosaics and organizing materials. This has been done in Tunisia with technicians, where they've lacked the supervising person, who would be the conservator.
Levin: Are there other lessons you've learned over the years with respect to organizing this training?
Roby: We started off expecting all of the trainees to be able to do all of the different aspects of mosaic conservation and maintenance, but we've come to realize that it's perhaps best to select trainees who will be able to be a bit more specialized in different aspects of the work. They still should have the basic background and even practical training in all aspects of the work, but now we look for people with different educational backgrounds so that they'll be more adept at different operationscreating a team not of specialists but of individuals with skills in different activities. There is an optimum level for, say, a technician who's mainly doing manual work, and then there's someone with a higher educational level who would carry out much of the documentation.
We've also adjusted how we do the training because, in many cases, the educational tradition of the country emphasizes memorizing and learning things by rote. We've tried to not get caught in the trap of providing, let's say, a manual of how to do things. It's extremely important to consider every situation and every mosaic individually and determine the appropriate treatments by applying principles, not recipes.
Agnew: So you're emphasizing analysis and decision making?
Roby: At the technician level, it's difficult to get the kind of analysis that you would expect of a conservator. But decision making about what are going to be the correct ingredients for making an appropriate mortar for a specific repair operation and situation? Yes. The amount of time we spend doing practical work with them helps build up their competence. For sure, with certain individuals who have a strong commitment and skills, we've seen that they can, at the end of a minimum of two years, begin to approach things on their own and appropriately adapt the methodology they've learned to different situations.
Piqué: In the Abomey project, we carried out training at two different levels. Our communication with the conservation trainees was in French, the country's official language. But when it came to training the technicianslthe people who would be responsible for the regular monitoringwe decided that this training would be done effectively through the conservation trainees who spoke Fon, the local native language. The conservation trainees were the bridge between us. We prepared the course material, but it was actually the conservation trainees who passed on the information to the technicians directly in their language and in an effective manner.
Agnew: That's a very interesting way of doing thingshaving the involvement of a trainee group in teaching. Because that's actually how you learnthrough teaching.
Piqué: It's so true. It was really effective for the conservation trainees to train the technicians. They felt that they had absorbed the concepts and the methodology of the work and were ready to pass it on.
Dardes: One of the things the GCI Education department is doing is taking people who participated in a previous course and bringing them in as teaching assistants for new courses, so that they can, as Neville said, learn how to teach and learn to use our materials and resources as they partner with more experienced teachers. That's been extremely useful because it does, slowly but surely, build an education infrastructure.
Agnew: One of the problems that we've faced wherever we've workedparticularly in countries where there's a tradition of rote learning and more top-down decision makingis that both conservation technicians and even conservation professionals are often expected to do physical interventions on cultural material. That is their job. And they are judged by that activity. What you tend to see is a haste to intervene. The approach is not first one of measured assessment, diagnosis, testing, and then, finally, intervention. In China, the China Principles [a GCI collaborative project that developed and promoted national guidelines for conservation and management of China's cultural heritage sites] has been a valuable tool in beginning to convey the importance of doing the assessments first. The last thing you do is intervene, not the first. It has been a huge challenge to break that mold and to inculcate a systematic methodological approach.
Piqué: That's absolutely the challenge. If we are working with and training at the level of the technicians but they don't have managers or supervisors who understand and support new ways of workingsuch as a methodology that doesn't embrace immediate treatment but favors stopping and thinking firstthen it's impossible for training to be effective, and we risk losing all results.
Roby: In Tunisia we've seen lots of examples of technicians who've been expected to intervene immediately and quickly. They're often judged, as Neville said, on the amount of treatment work they're able to do, not on the quality. We try to address this pressure by having meetings on site among the site directors and the technicians and to have them work together to develop a program of intervention that is based on prioritieswhich in turn are based on an assessment of conditions at the site.
Piqué: Another typical problem is that trained professionals later leave their positions and move on to higher posts with different responsibilitiesand therefore what they've learned cannot be used in the context in which they were trained. We've experienced that in projects in China and Benin. We've had people who were trained to do a specific type of work and who later were moved to another department, so the training is lost to the original context. This is why education must be done at all levels, so that the people who decide where they go do understand the importance of their role in their position, with the knowledge gained through our collaborative project.
Agnew: There's an old adage about planting three seedsone for the crow, one for the drought, and one for the crop. The attrition rate among trainees, through leaving their jobs, is often high. One has to have sufficient numbers of participants trained over a sustained period of time to hope that a few get through those various filters and challenges, so that you do have some who later will be influential.
Ultimately the success in countries in which we work relies on having professionals formally educated in conservation. That's difficult for us to undertake. One experiment that I've been involved with is setting up a master's degree course in China between Lanzhou University and the Dunhuang Academy, with the participation of the Courtauld Institute of Art and the GCI. To bring together the four partners and to obtain the approval of China's state administration took some years to do, but the university is on its second class of students now. The objective is to train a professional cadre of conservators, because in China, as elsewhere, professionally educated conservators are very rare birds. The long-term objective is to create a sustained program that serves all of Chinanot just the Dunhuang Academy. The Institute's involvement is for two three-year cycles of master's degrees. If it doesn't take after that and cannot live on its own, we would let it go.
Levin: China, of course, is a very large country with substantial resources, and it can certainly sustain the existence of that kind of program. Is that possible in some of the other places where we work?
Agnew: We've never tried to do it elsewhere. In some instances it could be possible, but each would require time and careful negotiation. Part of the problemand this may reflect a problem in conservation generally in such countriesis that the intake students for the course at Lanzhou University often fail the national entrance exam. That tells us that a lot of people in China have taken on conservation work without a sufficient level of education to qualify for a national university-level degree. That's startling. We've overcome that by encouraging the Dunhuang Academy to give intensive coaching to prospective students to get them through the entrance exam and into the master's degree program.
Piqué: Conservation has become a highly scientific discipline compared to what it was a few decades ago. The level of knowledge that a conservator should ideally have is much higher than what it used to beprimarily hands-on craftsmanship knowledge of how material behaves. There is no doubt that the scientific approach is a good thing, but on the other hand, because we're shifting toward the theoretical approach, we start to see a lack of good conservators who know how to treat material in a compatible and minimal way. At the end of the day, one of the hardest parts of a conservation program is the development and implementation of a sound, long-lasting intervention to address a particular conservation problem. Hands-on conservation experience cannot be learned from a book but requires practice over a long period of time.
Agnew: But, Francesca, you have to have a person who has enough formal education and training to be able to make the decisions and then provide the right input to the technicianwhat the approach should be and how the intervention should be done. Conservation still suffers from its history. It has less academic credibility in universities than the long-established areas of the arts and the sciences, for example. It just doesn't have that. Nor does it attract people who could make more money in, say, computer science and similar disciplines. It's got a lot stacked against it. This is why we come back to the need for a multipronged approach that includes things like technician training, midlevel career education, and university standard programs.
Roby: A problem we face is that many people in different parts of the world who get formal university training in conservation often end up not being the ones to do the actual intervention or manual work. There is a big divide between the people who actually do manual work and the professionals who don't. A conservator has a profile that should bridge that gapcombining an academic background with manual skills and the desire to be on site.
Agnew: We can hope that the person who has professional knowledge and understanding of how to conserve and manage would be the person in charge of determining what kind of intervention should be done, and would be the person who can direct the operations of well-trained technicians in implementing those decisions.
Roby: The situation we find in Tunisia is if we have a conservator recently trained, that person may be able to make the decisions about treatmentbut is not going to be the person who can actually train the technicians, by example, manually. He or she won't have the practical experience. So, ideally, yes, it would be the local conservator who does the training of the technicians. But it will take years of experience after their training before they can train others.
Levin: Related to some of the things we just talked about is the objective of fostering networks of professionals. This is something that the GCI Education program is trying to do. Has this been a part of any of the education efforts of GCI Field Projects?
Agnew: The objective of the Southern African Rock Art Project was to look regionally at the twelve southern African countries to develop site management plans for rock art, and to be more strategic by bringing in participants from different parts of the region to work togetherwith the expectation and hope that they would stay in contact with one another and share knowledge and information. The other thrust of the project has been to provide training skills at the local level, which qualifies participants to serve as guides to rock art sites. We've done training courses in the impoverished Clanwilliam area in southern South Africa for young people who have no formal trainingand also in the north, in Mapungubwe, where we've trained park rangers who are generally well qualified in the natural environment but have no experience as guides for rock art sites. So it's a many-part endeavor.
Levin: What are some of the things that we should be doing as we refine our efforts with respect to education as part of our field projects?
Agnew: One of the things that may have been neglected is distribution of training materials on a wider basis. We have a lot of good material. In the early days of the Training Program, it was determined that each training course would have to be tailored to a particular audience. There's a lot of value in that. The downside is that much of the material has not been made accessible and is moldering on the shelf. We have a huge volume of material that could be disseminated.
Dardes: This is a very important aim for our department. However, it requires us to make sure that we're not just disseminating odd bits that come out of our courses but that whatever we produce can be understood by future users, whether they're practitioners or other educators. We're looking at models of open source courseware and teaching materials to understand how people disseminate the products of their teaching. It's also been useful to see how some of these models foster the creation of a community of educators, where there's a lot of traffic back and forth of ideas and meaningful didactic resources.
Agnew: I agree with that absolutely. But I do have a note of caution. I remember when we were developing the research material that came out of the Getty Seismic Adobe Project, and someone said, "You know, you've written the book. Now it's as though you're walking next to a high wall and you toss the book over it. Hope One is that someone on the other side will pick it up. Hope Two is that that person will read it. Hope Three is that it will be understood. And Hope Four is that the person will be able to apply the knowledge usefully."
Dardes: You've made an important point, and this is why I discourage people from just sitting down and writing didactic materials for hypothetical courses. It never works. You have to plan the course, design the materials, teach the course, and then disseminate the materials. But disseminate them with the insights gained from actually using the materials in an authentic teaching situation.
Levin: Tom, are there some other things besides materials that you think are important to consider in future training that is part of GCI Field Projects?
Roby: The experience that I've had in Tunisia has shown me that when one is training people to actually do physical intervention on a work of art, it is a great responsibility. We've seen poor use of our training in some cases, but it has demonstrated that the people whom we train need to be the right people, people who have commitmentand that it's not just a way of becoming employed. In future training activities, we should pay more attention to the choice of individuals who will be receiving the training.
In the beginning in Tunisia, we were only training people who were already employees, because that was an insurance that they would continue to work. Then, as we continued, we increasingly trained people who were not already involved in government work. Fortunately, many of those people, in the end, were hired, but the choice of the individualand again, with the aim of choosing people who will provide an effective team of different skillsis extremely important.
Levin: And in that process, are you also looking at people who have the skills, ability, and willingness to be conveyors of informationindividuals who not only assimilate the information you're giving them but who can, over time, turn around and convey information to their own colleagues?
Roby: We've made significant attempts to do that, and we've involved the previous trainees in the current training activities. We've realized, though, that there's a certain amount of reluctance among the trainees, because some of them see their skill as what guarantees their employment. In some cases, we've seen a real reluctance to share their knowledge with other, younger people. But in other instances, we've seen trainees taking on this role. However, it doesn't replace a lengthy formal training process. There's quite a difference between being trained by the trainee and being trained directly by the formal instructors of the courses.
Piqué: I think we could improve training in GCI Field Projects by more effectively collaborating with colleagues with education and training experience. Once we are in the field, we are so involved with all the complex components that make up a field projectincluding developing intervention, documentation, and so many other logistical aspects of the projectthat it's not easy to give enough focused attention to training and education initiatives. Going back to the experience that we had in Abomey, having a colleagueValerie Dorgewho was responsible for the training aspect of the project was helpful. It did take a bit of our time and additional planning, but in the end, the results, in terms of education and training, were definitely there to be seen. And the training material was organized to be adapted for use in other projects in French-speaking countries, such as the mosaic conservation training in Tunisia.
Roby: In most of the situations we've been talking about, training is one aspect of a larger project, which has its own objectives. In Tunisia, we've had the luxury of training being the essential scope of the project. It didn't ever go beyond that, and in that way, it probably could and should have been within the GCI Education department. It has more in common with GCI Education activities than with GCI Field Projects.
Dardes: Our focus in GCI Education is certainly, as we grow, to be more involved with Field Projects, in those instances where there is a defined component of training. We can assist in taking that burden off these enormously complex projects, as well as making sure that the products of our training efforts are disseminated. We're also, by the way, looking at working more closely with GCI Science, because there's a lot of research coming out of that department that should be disseminated through courses and workshops. Only the fact that we are still a small department has stopped us from doing more of this. It's definitely in our sights to work with both Field Projects and Science in a more integrated way.