July 13, 2020
We, Black art conservators, stand in support of #BlackLivesMatter. Our hearts go out to the family and friends of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Dreasjon Sean Reed, Manuel Ellis, Rayshard Brooks, Elijah McClain, and the countless other Black lives that have been lost due to police brutality and systemic oppression. We share in the feelings of fear, frustration, anger, grief, pain, and loss that Black communities are experiencing currently and have felt for years. We see how Black lives are dehumanized chronically in our society, and how too many museums and cultural heritage institutions perpetuate this dehumanization. Conservators help shape what our society values by making decisions on what to preserve, whom to include in our work, and therefore whose stories we remember. We, conservators, must hold ourselves, our field, and our institutions accountable for the long-term, systemic failure to uplift Black voices and document the Black experience truthfully.
We do not accept the inconsequential statements of solidarity that some cultural heritage institutions continue to make today. Many ineffectual promises of diversity and inclusion have been made over the decades while also tolerating or allowing the institutional erasure of the history, culture, art, and labor of Black communities. A statement of solidarity means nothing without a commitment to immediate and long-term action. We are encouraged by those allied colleagues who finally are recognizing this and who have been speaking out for the need to transform our field. To best support Black communities one must advocate for all BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) as we all continue to experience discrimination and none of us can be left behind. True BIPOC solidarity would mean that conservators immediately:
ACKNOWLEDGE the ways in which they are complicit in and continue to benefit from white supremacy, colonialism, and systemic racism.
ADDRESS the lack of diversity in positions of leadership in conservation, which has resulted in a lack of cultural context for museum collections and contributes to the devaluation of BIPOC cultures.
ENACT systematic change at every level in conservation by intentionally uplifting the voices and life experiences of BIPOC staff members, students, allied professionals, and artists.
INVEST in the preservation, research, and visibility of BIPOC material culture.
CALL for Confederate statues and other racist monuments to be removed from public squares. Support BIPOC communities’ agency to decide how and if these monuments should be preserved or interpreted.
BUILD independent, robust, and responsive structures by which racist incidents and aggressions experienced by conservators in the workplace can be reported safely and addressed swiftly in ways that support BIPOC.
ENGAGE with BIPOC communities by listening to their experiences and partnering with them in reciprocal relationships that advance the preservation of BIPOC material culture – making the same communities feel welcomed, valued, and heard.
REVIEW the salary ranges of conservators at their institution and ensure that BIPOC employees receive equitable pay. Cease the practice of offering unpaid internships.
Conservators must take immediate action to destroy the oppressive environment existing at cultural institutions based on the false tenet of white supremacy and eliminate systemic racism across the entirety of our field. It is long overdue for us to take giant leaps towards racial justice and truly begin to transform the field.
Shannon A. Brogdon-Grantham
Kuukua Anna Buduson