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AIC 2010 Notes: Archives Conservation Discussion Group

Archives Conservation Discussion Group

Thurs., May 13, 2010, 8:30-10:00 a.m.

ACDG invited several conservators and asked them to share their experiences working in the current economy in a session titled “Working in an Unstable Economy: Experiences and Insight on the Conservation of Paper-based Materials in the Private Sector.” The panelists all work in the private sector either in regional centers or as conservators in private practice.

First to speak was Michael Lee, Director of Conservation, Etherington Conservation Center. His talk, titled “Operating a Regional Center in the Private Sector During and Economic Downturn,” focused on managing through difficult times. His advice, however, is not just for down times but is solid advice for all conservation managers.

Lee focused on the business aspects of managing, keeping employees happy, avoiding management pitfalls, and defining expectations. The bottom line is that a business must run efficiently and effectively and the decisions are not always easy to make, especially when it comes to managing people, but you must remain flexible.

His basic working principles as a business manager are:

  • Treat everyone fairly and equally
  • Fit the skill level with the project
  • Set the billing rate for the level of skill required
  • Assure the allocated time is correct for the project
  • Define and meet your client’s needs
  • Develop client profile
  • Provide client value for products and services
  • Make sure total expenses do not exceed earnings
  • Properly manage cash flow
  • Reinvest in your company

Lee also outlined his principles for working with clients:

  • Maintain your professionalism
  • Do not compromise on quality
  • Provide good advice to clients
  • Give the client options
  • Let the client make final fiscal decision
  • Earn their trust

Susan Lunas, owner of Many Moons Book Conservation, presented a talk titled “Bound and Determined” that focused on keeping the business going during down times. She emphasized that conservators where many hats and they must be creative when setting up their workshops and finding customers. She showed pictures of her studio and explained how she used non-standard materials for her set up, such as a shower floor as a washing sink, and the shower door as a light table. She also spoke about marketing and how conservators in private practice need to take it seriously.

Wendy Bennett, owner of Wendy Bennett Fine Art Paper Conservation, presented “Conservator, Sell Thyself” which focused on ways to build a brand for your business. Her advice:

  • Build a strong online presence and keep it up to date
  • Develop print materials and use your logo to brand them
  • Get your name out there, show your portfolio, get into the news
  • Barter services to keep expenses down
  • Make yourself visible, teach and attend classes
  • Join preservation fairs (an “antiques road show” for conservation)
  • Donate your services for silent auctions/fundraising efforts
  • Seek out grants

Jim Pines talked about the “Conservation Treatment of the Assembly Collections,” work he did while contracting at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA). The project was a joint project with CCAHA and the State Library of Pennsylvania and was funded by an IMLS State Libraries grant. CCAHA contributed content for the grant and when it was awarded, they were given the contract to do the conservation work. At the end of his talk he spoke briefly about how CCAHA markets themselves through their website and print materials.

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