-> Interventive Conservation

All heritage professionals have one objective in common: to pass on the legacy of past artists whose names have been forgotten to future generations. 50 years ago heritage conservation followed rules that were very different to those of current conservation-restoration practices, and today their actions are considered as “maintenance” rather than conservation. The concept of “interventive conservation” did not exist until the early 1990s. This relatively new idea originated in English-speaking countries which then spread, gradually amalgamating different interventions1.
The Association des Restaurateurs d’Art et d’Archéologie de Formation Universitaire (ARAAFU) played a large role in disseminating this concept in 1992 by organising an international colloquium on the theme of UNESCO in October of that year. Since then, this discipline has created a number of new jobs, many of which are direct jobs that have been created in the field of expertise, based on high-level university education2; these have in turn generated induced jobs in the design and sales sectors for specially adapted tools. Like many other areas relating to conservation, the direct, indirect and induced jobs in this sector have made an important economic contribution3. Furthermore, it has helped expand the network of people with diverse roles who all contribute to conservation in different ways. Various industrial producers, computer specialists, biologists and mediators (guides, lecturers) etc. complement the academics. Their combined actions have gradually justified the issues associated with preventive conservation in the eyes of the public.
This open-minded approach and new conviction that managing disasters is a collective effort and not just the responsibility of specialists, is probably the contributing factor to prolonging this united dynamic. During safety committees, emergency professionals sometimes brutally become unavoidable partners. This poses a contradiction between the need to store objects in “compatible” materials, often plastic (polyethylene, polypropylene etc.), however these produce thick smoke if burned during a fire making it hard for fire-fighters to intervene, and preventing harm befalling people in public buildings. Certain solutions have been found during meetings such as “The Blue Shield”. However there are still other questions to be considered: what use is a perfectly air conditioned space once it has been flooded? The fundamental desire to pass on the legacies of these objects necessitates asking the question. There are many ways cultural property can be damaged: during wars when enemies aim to destroy the cultural roots of a city as well as the people, museums being flooded, fires devastating prestigious buildings etc. Therefore moving an object requires a partnership between a diverse range of people: emergency professionals, law enforcement, people who work in transportation, insurance and journalism etc.
Similarly, we know that a great deal of irreparable damage is caused by mistakes, negligence or lack of appropriate storage facilities for flammable products. Storing chemical products incorrectly can cause a disaster by polluting the workspace for whoever uses them. The risk of triggering occupational illnesses, sometimes long-term, and the risk of destroying objects entrusted to us for restoration in under-equipped organisations are both equally important issues to consider. “Preventing disasters in storage areas for cultural property” coincides with the desire to perform our job while respecting the “health and safety of people and their environment”. These are the titles of two colloquiums led by the LC2R in 2000 and 2013, both sponsored by UNESCO and the Minister of Culture. These colloquiums demonstrated that good quality work conditions for heritage professionals ensure a higher standard of work. Therefore it is regrettable how little importance clients or towns place on protective equipment for conservators (both personal and collective) when they are invited to tender a bid. Occupational health and safety is not included when evaluating the candidates ; when faced with the choice in a difficult economic situation, they primarily focus on new tools for treatment. It could be said that for some people in charge, the method and quality of the treatment takes precedence over conditions in which the work is executed. Since the circle of participants contributing to heritage conservation is growing, security is increasingly becoming everybody’s concern. If everybody supervises the sanitary conditions closely while intervening on the works it will become a collective protection of the works themselves.
It is gratifying to see that Europe is placing a greater emphasis on occupational health and safety thanks to the Joconda Project and the success of the meetings in 2007 and 2010 on the same theme. These last meetings helped us to prepare and organise for the 2013 colloquium “Conservation-restoration and the health an safety of people and the environment”. 25 countries were represented as well as a variety of professions, such as architects, conservators, university graduates, salesmen for conservation products, head of collections, chemists, doctors and work accident prevention technicians. This allowed an exchange of ideas and a synthesis between prevention of “internal” and “external” risks. These two types of risks complement the other forms of conservation (conservation-restoration and preventive conservation), and when they are amalgamated they for “interventive conservation”. These terms are not neutral and, like preventive conservation, they were inspired by fire fighting terminology. The “prevention” officers aim to limit the frequency and severity of disasters before they happen, whereas “interventive” officers aim to prepare the interventions when prevention measures have failed.
The first international colloquium dedicated to this new discipline will be held in Paris in November 2016, at the UNESCO premises, at the instigation of the LC2R. It will be called “Interventive conservation: studying, conserving and enhancing the value of works while protecting people and the environment.” Several preliminary seminars have already been organised on three continents, designed to encourage researchers and their associates to consider practical solutions for all heritage professionals (archaeologists, curators, physicists and chemists, conservators, health professionals, industrial and emergency professionals). Interventive conservation also aims to eliminate statutory, professional, national and cultural differences, by only considering what is common to all.
Therefore its influence will be universal.


[1] Evidence of this change can be seen in ICOM’s (The International Council of Museums) committee proceedings for conservation which are assembled under the heading of “preventive conservation”, however previously they had been divided into groups such as “climate control”, “infestations”, “lighting”…

[2] In France a DESS (Diplôme d’Études Supérieures Specialisées), became a Master’s, dedicated to this discipline at the Université de Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

[3] H. Passamar’s work

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