Customising Significance

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Significance International (SI) has been privileged to design and deliver three special training sessions for heritage professionals in Australia and Belgium recently. Click here to go to our Significance resources webpage, updated to support these events.

Masterclass No. 1.

In July, Associates Roslyn Russell and Andrew Grant researched and co-presented a two-day Masterclass to heritage professionals from a range of transport related organisations in Sydney, New South Wales (NSW). Roslyn and Andrew prepared content about large technology objects, cultural landscapes and social significance, of relevance to those working with current NSW laws.

The aim was to build on the group’s diverse range of professional background and experience in areas like significance assessment and management and to provide a forum where experiences could be workshopped and different ways of practice shared. All participants were either from NSW transport agencies and service providers, or the NSW Heritage Division - which has a statutory role in heritage conservation.

It was a good experience all round, as this photo attests.

                          Transport Heritage Masterclass, Sydney, July 2015

Sydney Transport Heritage Masterclass, July 2015.

From left: Back row - Andrew Grant (Sl Associate); Jennifer Edmonds (Transport Heritage NSW Ltd); Lucy Hampton (Heritage Division - NSW Office of Environment and Heritage); Denis Gojak (NSW Roads and Maritime Services); David Ward (John Holland - Country Regional Network); Ian Berger (NSW Roads and Maritime Services); David Percival (NSW Roads and Maritime Services)

Front row - Dr Roslyn Russell (SI Associate); Rachel McMullan (NSW Roads and Maritime Services); Verena Mauldon (NSW Roads and Maritime Services); Gretta Logue (Sydney Trains); Craig McPherson (Sydney Trains); Shikha Jhaldiyal (Heritage Division - NSW Office of Environment and Heritage)

Masterclass No. 2.

On the other side of inner Sydney in August, SI Director Veronica Bullock presented two one-day workshops to materials conservators at the State Library of New South Wales (SLNSW).

It was an opportunity to delve into a favourite field – the valuable contributions conservators can make to significance assessment. The repeat workshop enabled Ms Bullock to connect with all members of this sizeable Collections Care department. These sessions were a nice complement to the training Veronica delivered last year to SLNSW curators.

The theory component of these masterclasses drew conservators back to the letter of codes of ethics and practice, and to the non-physicochemical aspects of their charges. Exercises included the ‘workshopping’ of fascinating in-house case studies.

The State Library already has four items / sub-collections registered with the Australian Memory of the World Program, so staff at the Library are clearly tuned into significance assessment and the value of a good statement of significance making an argument on behalf of an object.

An item from one of these listings, the last nineteenth century positive made of the largest glass plate negative in the World was discussed. It is a panorama of Sydney Harbour from The Holtermann Collection. Given that positives of better quality can now be made digitally from the negative, how much time and resource should be expended upon treating (e.g. de-backing, cleaning), potentially retouching and archivally re-housing this historic positive? Determining the degree of significance of this object helps to answer this question.

Masterclass No. 3.

On the other side of the world in September, Veronica delivered a short-day version of our ‘whole collection’ significance assessment training, to a diverse range of Flemish heritage professionals.

Significance 2.0 [archived website, please double click] is a very different approach to movable cultural heritage for these professionals, who represented organisations ranging from State-run fine arts and archive institutions, to religious heritage organisations, and on to digital and scientific research institutes.  

A musicology sub-collection of about 200 items held on the premises of FARO (Flemish Interface Centre for Cultural Heritage) provided the basis for the main research exercise in the afternoon. 

Many participants were impressed with how quickly a group tasked with different roles can prepare a first draft 'statement of significance' of fair quality.

Thanks to Prof. Marc Jacobs, FARO Director and UNESCO Professor of Critical Heritage Studies and Intangible Heritage for hosting and participating in this event.

...and an associated Policy Engagement 

The Flemish Government is reviewing its cultural heritage policy and legislation. Minister of Culture Sven Gatz has commissioned a number of cultural heritage consultations, which Head of the Division of Culture, Marina Laureys, has brought into effect through energetic Senior Policy Officer Karen Jacobs. Government representatives wanted to learn more about the Australian significance assessment approach. Veronica was happy to oblige.

As part of this review Veronica delivered a lecture at FARO to policymakers and influencers on the morning following the Masterclass, alongside colleagues Dr Tessa Luger (Dutch cultural heritage agency (RCE), and lead author of Assessing Museum Collections (2014)), and Prof. Yves Segers (Centre for Agrarian History), who had used both Significance 2.0 and Assessing Museum Collections in work at the Centre. This important day of discussion was facilitated by Karen Jacobs, and is one of four such investigations within the space of two months.

Click here to read the special issue of the FARO magazine prepared around this review, including a small article in English about Veronica (pp. 12-15) and significance assessment in Australia [.pdf download]. Note also the article by Veerle Meul (pp. 5-10), who has been very supportive of significance assessment generally (see 'Safeguarding the Significance of Ensembles: value assessments in risk management for cultural heritage', International Council of Museums - Conservation Committee 15th Triennial Conference, New Delhi, 2008 Preprints, purchasable here). The points Veerle makes in her article provided a shape for the discussion on the second afternoon amongst Dutch and Flemish colleagues.

Veronica was almost overwhelmed with her hosts’ hospitality. All the very best with your deliberations!

Posted on Wednesday, October 14, 2015 (Archive on Thursday, July 6, 2017)
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