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Electron libre

Ride the wave

Free speech
Kate Seymour

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In 2020, the word "wave" has been mostly associated with the coronavirus epidemic. In choosing this title for an interview with the ICOM-CC chair, Kate Seymour, we made a gamble: to rise above and overcome the crests that are still threatening us.

1MVB : First of all, Kate, thank you for taking the time for this interview.
Your training as an art historian and conservator of easel paintings (University of Northumbria at Newcastle) and your background, closely linked to Education (SRAL, University of Amsterdam, University of Maastricht) make you a rare and particularly interesting profile for CeROArt readers. This profile was also of interest to ICOM-CC, which has with you chair with field experience in several domains. Let us congratulate you on this nomination.

2Thank you, Muriel, for interviewing me and for your congratulations. I appreciate greatly the opportunity to speak to CeROArt readers and provide some background to ICOM-CC, our mission and role within the conservation field and some of our Committee’s plans for the next three years.

3This is my second term on the Directory Board of ICOM-CC. Over last three years, I served as Liaison between the Directory Board and our 21 Working Group Coordinators - that was a steep learning curve and really brought to light the extent and depth of the reach of our Committee. We have just over 4000 members and our numbers grow yearly. This expansion shows that our Committee is about bringing people together who have a similar interest - preserving and conserving our mutual cultural heritage.

4I very much enjoyed working on the Directory Board over the last three years and so decided to stand again in 2020. I’m able to do this because of the support given to me by my institute SRAL and our partner organisation the University of Amsterdam, where I teach conservation theory and practice. The election ‘went well’ and I was elected to serve on the Directory Board for another three years - this time in a different function. It was a great privilege to be nominated as Chair for this triennium. I am looking forward to this new role and using my experience from the past years for the benefit of the Committee.

5I am also looking forward to working with our team - the other 7 members of the Directory Board and our 21 Working Group Coordinators. We are a global group and come from different backgrounds - practicing conservators, museum professionals, educators and conservation scientists. This is important as we have different voices that represent the professions of our wide ranging members. It is important not to get bogged down in local issues, to take your own experiences and rise above them to see the bigger picture – to see over the wave ! Our group has the capacity to do this and thus to lead our 21 Working Group Coordinators representing our membership.

6I am also especially going to enjoy getting to know more about ICOM, our parent organisation, and the vast ICOM network, and how our Committee fits into this large organisation. As Chair, I will be representing the Committee at the ICOM General Assemblies and on the ICOM Advisory Council. It is important that the conservation field be well represented within the museum sector and I will rely on advice from our members to let our voice be heard within the ICOM network.

7And I think this is where my personal profile can come into play - through my work as a conservator, educator and researcher I have developed the ability to connect people and to encourage divergent groups to share experiences. I have worked on different projects in many corners of the world and these experiences often allows me to see problems from different perspectives. And of course, this leadership role is a team effort - perhaps this is a contradiction in terms, but intended as such - as Chair I will represent the Committee and our vision. The ICOM-CC network is the perfect conduit for interpersonal relationships to be prioritised. Our network provides a support group that gives advice and mentorship so that the conservation profession can collectively work towards a mutual goal. And it provides a voice for those that care for our cultural heritage for others beyond our profession to hear.

8MVB : the work within the ICOM-CC Directory Board is collegial; but can you tell us, as a chair, what are the actions you are going to prioritize?

9This ICOM-CC Directory Board has eight members. Our geographical spread is pretty wide from east coast USA to Japan. We also have experiences in different areas - our members are practicing conservators, museum professionals, educators, scientists and researchers. This gives us the ability to pool knowledge and insight, as well as our global connections, to promote our Committee and assist our members in their daily activities. We are also a fun bunch ! I have know some of the other members for years and that strengthens our ability to work together for the benefit of the Committee.

10What are we going to prioritise? Well, we will be focusing on the daily business of our Committee - helping our Working Groups to develop programmes of interest for their members and adapt to this new post-pandemic world, but also working towards our larger activities - collaboration and participation at the ICOM 2022 General Conference in Prague and our next Triennial Conference in 2023. The Triennial Conferences remain the pinnacle of our Committee’s activites - this is where our members get together to present and discuss their latest work and research, and plan for future projects. Bringing conservators and those related to the conservation profession together remains paramount to our Committee. Organising such an event for around 1000 delegates at which 150 peer reviewed papers and 100 posters are presented takes time!

11This Directory Board is also committed to furthering our connections within the ICOM family. Max Friedlander mentioned that ‘conservation is an essential necessity’ and this is never more true. Collections, even in lockdown, need constant care and resources should be allocated to ensure these means. Connecting our Committee to others within the ICOM network brings this point to the fore. Our dedication to forging and strengthening links within the International Committee community will, I hope, allow the museum sector to continue to acknowledge the importance of collection care.

12With this in mind, we have already reached out to other ICOM International Committees to collaborate on Special Solidarity Projects in 2021. ICOM has reallocated funds to focus on the challenges museums face during and after the COVID-19 crisis. ICOM-CC has applied for a grant, along with four other International Committees, to ‘train the trainer’ in facilitated risk management workshops. We hope to hear in January that our application is successful. We also intend to join with ICOM-Costume to participate in their Solidarity Project Clothing the Pandemic: Bringing Repository and Collection online. Resiliency, Community, Unity: Creating Networks Through an Online COVID-19 Facemask Exhibition.” These projects aim to improve the resilience of museums exploring promising case studies and new models for museum practice in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis that could be used elsewhere. The ICOM-CC Directory Board hopes to spearhead these programmes.

13MVB : ICOM-CC is growing steadily, with more members and more specialties. This is, of course, a proof of the vitality of conservation, but does it also pose challenges, and if so, what are they?

14The ICOM-CC membership is growing each year - we have currently just over 4000 members. It is difficult to pinpoint an exact number as the membership path, and registration, is complex. Many members (and prospective members) don’t realise the difference between ICOM and ICOM-CC. Coming from the conservation profession, members may think that joining ICOM automatically means they are a member of our Committee. Not so - the pathway to becoming an ICOM-CC member is a little more complex.

15Members join ICOM via their National Committee and then they can select one of ICOM’s 32 International Committees as their main committee of interest (They get voting rights within this selected committee) as well as a few other International Committees as a interested party. There is a form to fill in to do this which can be found on the dashboard of the ICOM website using your login (​login). There will be a ‘how to join’ section in our next issue of On Board (January 2021), the online newsletter from the ICOM-CC Directory Board. Joining ICOM-CC, provides members with a web account and the ability to join our ICOM-CC Working Groups.

16We have 21 Working Groups within ICOM-CC - which our members can select at will via registration on our website. Using the ICOM-CC login (different from the ICOM website) brings you in contact with these Working Group and their activities. There are no limits to how many Working Groups you can join!

17Some of our Working Group are specialist and others are very general. We have a wide range of interest groups that do, as you mention, ‘hyper-specialise’ in conservation related aspects of a certain materiality (such as ‘Metals’ or ‘Glass and Ceramics’ or ‘Paintings’), but we also have a number of Working Groups that are very broad and cover overarching topics (such as ‘Education and Training in Conservation’ or ;Theory, History and Ethics in Conservation’ or ‘Preventive Conservation’). This means specialist AND generalist knowledge can be shared and exchanged.

18Each of the Working Groups produce an annual newsletter and many organise activities for their members - we are seeing a trend over the last few months that these are becoming more frequent as the hosting of virtual events become more commonplace. Some of our Working Groups are hosting regular ‘virtual café’ or ‘cocktail hour’ discussions. Many conservators are not specialists but as generalists they need specific information on conservation advice or practice - and this is where ICOM-CC can help. Our network, and past publications, can provide this assistance on a huge range of problems and solutions.

19So, to answer your question, what challenges does our growing membership bring? This vitality within our Committee does bring with it a challenge. We are all volunteers and, though supported by our home institutions, can only take on so much additional work. The sky is NOT the limit, but we do value activity, especially high quality activities. The dedication of our team, Directory Board members, Coordinators and Assistant Coordinators, needs to be managed to ensure we are representing the conservation field to the best of our abilities and the vision of our parent organisation, ICOM.

20MVB : IIC is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year; what wishes do you have for this association, do you have plans to collaborate with them? In your opinion, what is the specificity of ICOM-CC compared to IIC?

21ICOM-CC wishes to send our sincere congratulations to IIC on their 70th Anniversary!

22ICOM-CC has a close parallel relationship with IIC - from our conception to our outreach. We celebrated our 50th Anniversary in 2017 with a publication outlining our history. Looking back on this, while reading the latest News in Conservation (Issue 81, December-January 2021) that celebrates the past 70 years of IIC, I see many of the same names and faces. Our foundation date (1967) is a little younger than IIC, but in fact our genesis was in the same post WWII years as IIC. The ICOM Commission for the Care of Paintings was formed in 1948 and the Museum Laboratories followed in 1950. These two early ICOM focus groups formed the foundation of our Committee.

23Our two organisations service the conservation field in different ways that are non-competitive and complimentary. There have been many valiant attempts over the years to find a way to join forces, but in essence our format and structures inhibit such collaborations. Though the idea for a joint conference is raised over and over again! I think we should value the richness of having two such eminent organisations serving the conservation field!

24On the surface, having the two organisations may seem to be superfluous but when we dig down into details we are historically and institutionally different. I respect and value these differences and feel, as a long-term member of both, there is room and need for these different view points.

25One of my first actions as Chair was to reach out to the heads of similar committees and institutions. Julian Bickerseth and I have met and discussed ideas for collaboration for the near future. We both agree that each organisation has its own benefits and we should be mutually working towards the needs of the conservation profession - this does not necessarily mean joint activites. We aim keep the dialogue going and assist, when needed, our sister organisations.

26MVB : Historically, IIC was Anglo-Saxon and ICOM-CC was more "continental". Despite the controversies and frictions of the 60s, we see that people like Brommelle or Philippot tried to keep in touch, to make joint sessions to precisely conjugate approaches and sensitivities. In your opinion, do these distinctions still make sense, or is globalization tending to erase them?

27ICOM-CC’s Triennial Conference and IIC’s Biennial Congress coincide every 6 years. A natural marriage - you may think. But the individual natures of both meetings mean that the differences do far out weigh the chronological overlap. ICOM-CC conference themes are broad and our parallel sessions for 5 Working Groups allow many voices to be heard at our conferences. This format allows for attendees to dip in and out of sessions that are of particular relevance and interest. This promotes diversity and cross pollination. We see that many authors present at both meetings.

28ICOM-CC’s Triennial Conferences also comprise our General Assembly and allow room for sessions dedicated to running the Working Groups and our Committee. This lends an individuality to the conference that would be lost if our meetings coincided.

29Personally, I believe that our two organisations should focus on areas of similar interest. We have seen effective collaboration in the past when statements are formulated - for instance the 2014 joint declaration on environmental guidelines. Here we can enhance the impact and outreach by providing the conservation field with a united front. I look forward continuing dialogue with IIC and to future support of the conservation profession.

30MVB : Does this globalization sufficiently allow alternative, emerging voices to be heard? How can we encourage a "decentering" of our concerns, of our vision?

31As you mention, ICOM-CC has a global membership base. This brings diverse voices to the table whether that be as Coordinators or Assistant Coordinators of our Working Group or in the output of our Working Groups - newsletters, conference sessions or publications. The benefits of having one problem approached from different angles and points of view is vital and part of the core benefits of ICOM-CC. Within ICOM-CC, we see globalisation as a means to allow alternative and emerging voices to be heard. We strive to broaden our membership base and ‘de-centre’ our concerns. We try to actively reach out to under representative areas to expand our network and to allow these different opinions to be included.

32ICOM-CC is part of a larger NGO and is lead by volunteers. This means our product is very different from that of organisations that have a budget and staff for activities. However, our outreach is global and far more extensive than our membership base. We encourage our members to share their latest research, developments and practice with our community and to participate in dialogue. This allows voices from different regions and backgrounds to be heard.

33Moreover, our Publications Online Platform (​), that houses our repository of publications is free and open access. This hub allows interested parties to download and use information as needed. The resources for the conservation field and partners housed within this repository are vast. Whether you are interested in the history of our field, materiality, case studies, best-practice methodologies or conservation science - the answer to your question lies within this searchable free database of literature. And it is expanding to include past Working Group Interim Meetings publications.

34MVB : You have a long experience in the field of training. Do you see a role for ICOM-CC? If yes, what is it? With existing organizations (ECCO, ENCORE?) Or rather as a place of reflection, especially in the specialized group?

35ICOM-CC has 6 generalist Working Groups, of which ‘Education and Training in Conservation’ is one. This focus group represents those interested and/or involved in education and training in conservation throughout the world. Our focus is on where, when, and how conservation is taught and learnt, especially within the museum sector. As a consequence, we are involved in the following: formal degree programmes; continual professional development (CPD); workshops; outreach; conferences; pedagogy; internships; exchanges; research proposals and requests. A broader outlook than just the training of conservators.

36The Working Group is led by a Coordinator and assisted by up to 6 Assistant Coordinators. This managerial team represents and coordinates the members needs and current interests. The focus is broader than solely the education of conservators at a formative stage and encompasses how conservation is communicated to the museum visitor of all ages. ICOM-CC is a committee within the museum network and where else can we capture the interest of the next generation of conservator professionals and thus diversify our field further! So at the 2017 18th ICOM-CC Triennial Conference in Copenhagen, we encouraged papers on how to reach children visiting museums through exposing them to conservation and our profession. I think the profession needs to focus more on this typology of experiences in order to increase diversity within the field.

37The Working Group programme is drawn up on a triennial basis by the current managerial team. This process is currently underway (December 2020). And while it is not the role of the Chair to interfere, I do hope that team considers some outreach to spark the curiosity of our next generation! At the same time, we are seeing a sergeancy in conservation and conservation training globally. I would hope that the conservation profession is able to adapt training models to local requirements and needs. This would make a nice paper for the 2023 Triennial Conference!

38MVB : -You are taking office at a difficult time, in the midst of a global pandemic that has forced us all to rethink our way of life and also our way of functioning. Do you see anything positive in these upheavals?

39Indeed, this is a difficult time for the conservation profession and the cultural heritage sector. This global pandemic has effected everyone personally and professionally. However, in a strange way, the pandemic has unified the conservation profession. And I see this as a positive outcome in this time of upheaval. And we should make best efforts now we have arrived at the top of the wave, not just to stay afloat but to use the momentum and surf towards a brighter future !

40Globally, we have seen a plethora of webinars and lectures hosted online over the past year (2020) dealing with every topic under the sun. ICOM and ICOM-CC have also contributed discussions topics. One excellent example is the webinar on ‘New Challenges for Storage in Museum Collections and Corona (COVID-19) and museums: impact, innovations and planning for post crisis’. This was recorded and the video can be found on the ICOM website (​en/​news/​webinar-challenges-collections-storages/​). There are many more examples!

41One positive outcome of not being able to meet in person has seen the development of new ways to reach our membership and has perhaps opened up our product to new audiences. A paradigm shift has occurred and I hope that our field will continue to use these digital outreach platforms for future communications. And indeed, these facilitate our ability to communicate in other languages. We have now increased accessibility and far more inclusivity. However, I hope we can meet again in person in the future - video conferencing has also shown how much we have missed social contact over the past year and how important that is in building our network and work product.

42MVB: What about the ICOM-CC Beijing Conference?

43ICOM-CC and the National Organising Committee in Beijing have just agreed (December 2020) to make the 19th ICOM-CC Triennial Conference a completely virtual event to replace the planned physical conference in Beijing 17th to 21st May 2021. This is of course due to the continued global health situation and travel restrictions. We were indeed looking forward to meeting face to face in Beijing, China, but must realise that this will not be possible.
The virtual ICOM-CC conference will still take place from 17th to 21th May 2021. Information about the programme, conference fees and registration will soon be available on the ICOM-CC Triennial Conference website (​).

44We will be extremely busy over the next few months working out the details of our first fully virtual conference. Some of the previous Directory Board members have remained on board - and our team is being lead excellently by our previous Chair Kristiane Straetkvern. We hope the new format will increase accessibility to the 160 papers and around 100 posters that will be presented. And that conference delegates will enjoy the rich and extensive technical visits to the museums and conservation studios of our Chinese partners. Registration is now open! Do join us for this exciting conference in May 2021.

45MVB: Do you have wishes for 2021?

46Wishes for 2021 - this may sound trite but I hope that our colleagues, friends and family stay safe and well. This has been a year of uncertainties, disasters and tribulations. I hope that the next twelve months will see recovery, recuperation and resilience on the home front and in the professional sphere. And for ICOM-CC, I hope to attend the vibrant and exciting Beijing 19th Triennial Conference in May 2021. I hope to see many of CeROArt readers there too!

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Electronic reference

Kate Seymour, Ride the waveCeROArt [Online], 12 | 2020, Online since 13 January 2021, connection on 25 February 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Kate Seymour

Kate Seymour is an art historian who received a Masters of Arts in the Conservation of Easel Paintings from the University of Northumbria at Newcastle in 1999. She moved to the Netherlands in 1999 to work at the Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg (SRAL), Maastricht (the Netherlands) as a painting conservator and is currently the Head of Education at this institution. Her interests include the structural treatment of both canvas and panel paintings, cleaning polychromed surfaces, filling and retouching systems and varnishing painted surfaces. Kate is the Chair of ICOM-CC for this triennium (2020-2023).  

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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