When something is gone, its place, memory, history, and influence also disappear. Fortunately, humanity is keen on fixing and creating a more sustainable, energy-efficient world that considers what resources are left.

Conservation is a hybrid discipline and profession, preserving cultural property by observing and analysing material culture’s evolution, deterioration, and maintenance while incorporating academic education, theoretical analysis, and modification through practical experience. Conservation spans art, cultural heritage, and environmental conservation

Conservation is key in shaping and interpreting the cultural world, addressing arguments related to cultural values, definition, treatment, interpretation, and use of the past. Conservators use various skills and techniques to ensure the longevity and integrity of objects and environments with cultural, historical, scientific, or artistic significance. While requiring specialised knowledge, conservation is balanced by the need for cultural appropriateness and respecting the beliefs and values of affiliated groups. Connecting the past and present reinforces individual and collective expressions of human endeavours.

Adherence to accepted standards and laws is essential for preserving cultural property for current and future generations.

This ethics framework was consolidated from international codes and guidelines like AIC, ICON, UKIC, and ICOMOS to provide a globally informed perspective on conservation ethics. 

This outline presents principles for work and responsibilities to cultural property, owners, the profession, and society, emphasising honesty, confidentiality, providing fair advice, awareness of limitations, maintaining high standards in conservation work, fair charging practices, and treating all individuals equally and respectfully. As standards and the conservation profession evolve, ethics codes will be altered and added to reflect new situations. 

Conservation Ethics and Guidelines - SHeet1
Ethics, the moral principles that inform behaviours, emphasising concepts of right and wrong_©Pngwing.com, 2019

Professional Conservation Ethics and Guidelines

Conduct

Adherence to a code of ethics is a personal responsibility, realising that specific circumstances may lawfully affect professional decisions. Conservators must maintain the highest standards of practice and behaviour. Complete and accurate information about the efficiency and value of materials and procedures should be openly shared. The care and treatment of cultural property is a shared responsibility of all involved. 

Laws and Regulations

Conservators should understand laws related to their work, such as the rights of owners and their property, occupational health and safety, building regulations, copyright, and fair business practices. 

Health, Safety and Security

Conservators should responsibly comply with safety regulations and materials, ensuring the safety of people and the environment. Safety issues associated with cultural property, materials and procedures must be made known to all, and work must be adjusted accordingly. Conservators must also provide working and storage conditions to protect cultural property. 

Insurance

Every contract must establish the insurance status between the conservator and the owner. The owner could cover certain insurances like theft, accidental damage, fire, and flood; otherwise, the conservator must set it up immediately. Other likely necessary insurances include public liability insurance, employer’s liability insurance and professional indemnity insurance. Conservators remain responsible for any work even after the contract is completed.

Contracts and Fees

Contractual agreements must be written legally to avoid misunderstandings and support all parties’ legal rights and responsibilities. Services must be carried out in a financially responsible manner concerning fairness to the owner and respect for the profession. An agreement on fees must be established with the owner before conservation services are provided.

Communication and Consent

Clear communication between the conservator and the owner of the cultural property is essential to ensure a thorough understanding of risks and responsibilities. A confidential agreement that reflects shared decisions and realistic expectations and the written consent of the owner is necessary. Cultural property information may not be published or otherwise made public without permission of the owner unless failure to convey the information would support an illegal or unethical act. Conservators may only work within the limits of their professional competence and facilities, and owners must be informed when work beyond those limits is required or if any significant changes to the agreement are required.

Delegating, Subcontracting and Supervision

Conservators are exclusively responsible for the contract, including any delegated or subcontracted work on cultural property, requiring the owner’s permission for such arrangements. Work must not be delegated or subcontracted to individuals without the applicable qualifications to execute the work unless the conservator can supervise the work directly or ensure proper supervision. 

Consultations, Recommendations and References

Conservators must be able to connect with other conservators, historians, scientists, archaeologists, creators, or other specialists. If a second opinion is requested, it must be respected, with conservators accepting fair competition by providing a list of qualified and experienced professionals to assist in obtaining a second opinion. Opposing judgment or comment on the work of another conservator may not be given, except where non-disclosure will damage the cultural property. 

Misconduct, Disagreements and Conflict of Interest

Conservators may face disciplinary action for criminal activities like forgery, fraud, gross negligence, theft, or any other offence involving dishonesty during their professional activities. Conservators must not knowingly enter contractual or other working arrangements that place them in a conflict of interest. In cases of disagreement, the situation should be reviewed, possibly in consultation with other specialists in the field, to understand the problems and resolve the disagreement agreeably. 

Freelance Work 

Conservators employed by an institution, studio, workshop, or similar may work freelance if their employer permits. A freelancing conservator must inform their employer when engaged in freelance work. A freelancing conservator may not trade in the name of their employer, and they must clarify on whose behalf they are acting per project. 

Continuing Professional Development

Conservators should attempt to improve the quality of their professional work by improving their knowledge and skills through continued study by participating in courses, lectures, conferences, and distance learning. Connecting and communicating with other conservators and specialists will keep conservators informed on changes in the profession and broader developments relevant to their work context.

Conservation Ethics and Guidelines - SHeet2
Responsible and ethical conduct in conserving cultural property_©Pngegg.com, 2023

Examination and Investigation 

Assessment of cultural property

Careful examination and assessment of cultural property forms the basis for all future actions by the conservator. Understanding the significance and context of cultural property is needed to assess the implications of potential conservation measures. The physical nature, condition of the property, the impact on the environment and potential changes must all be assessed while also considering the implications of taking no further action. Before performing any examinations or tests that may cause a change to cultural property, the conservator should determine the necessity for such procedures. All findings of the assessment must be documented in a report. 

Examination

The conservator must thoroughly examine and document the cultural property and study the relevant historical records and technical aspects. The conservator must assess the structure and materials’ condition and focus on the extent of deterioration, alteration, and loss. When investigating cultural property, any human remains and materials of ritual or religious significance must be respected and documented, as additional special legal or social requirements may exist.

Sampling

The owner must consent to taking samples from a cultural property. Only a minimum of sample material should be removed, and a record of sample removal must be kept. Material removed from a cultural property should be retained as part of that property’s documentation.

Conservation Ethics and Guidelines - SHeet3
Careful examination, assessment, and ethical sampling form the foundation of responsible conservation practices for cultural property_©Pngegg.com, 2023

Treatment 

Cultural property must be handled with high-quality care, preserving its original intention, usage, history and material composition through minimal intervention, regardless of its financial value or treatment limitations.

Preventive Conservation 

The best form of preservation of cultural property is long-term, through preventive conservation. Conservators should guide or instruct others on the appropriate storage, display, use, and handling conditions of cultural property.

Necessity for treatment

First, the no-action options should be investigated. If this best promotes the conservation of cultural property, no treatment should be performed. The conservator must only recommend or undertake treatment necessary for cultural property conservation. Although no action is preferred, conservators must not intentionally exclude proposing an essential treatment, especially if the treatment is appropriate, sustainable, and effective in achieving the desired aim with the least means possible.

Suitability

Conservators should only recommend or undertake treatment that is judged suitable to preserve the cultural property’s aesthetic, conceptual, and physical characteristics. Decisions are informed by assessing consequences, risks, and benefits based on the most sustainable action achievable with the available resources. Future use, planned maintenance, preservation and preventive measures should also inform decisions. All treatment actions should remain detectable, allowing for future re-treatment or removal.

Materials and Techniques

The materials and methods chosen must be appropriate to the purposes of each specific treatment and consistent with currently accepted practice. No method or material should be used before establishing any likely reactions between the material and the cultural property, ensuring anything used can be removed easily without damaging any original part. Methods and materials must not hinder future treatment or examination.

Alterations and removal of material

No characteristic of cultural property may be altered, nor may material be removed from it without proper reasoning. When such removal or alteration is required, those aspects or materials must first be documented in their existing state and then retained as part of the documentation.

Maintenance/Safekeeping of Cultural Property

Conservators guide the ongoing care of the cultural property, recommending ideal environmental conditions and other requirements for proper storage, exhibition and transportation handling procedures. 

Conservation Ethics and Guidelines - SHeet4
A conservator conserving portrait paintings at the US Embassy in London_©Burke, 2021

Documentation 

Conservators must produce detailed, permanent written and graphic records of all conservation processes, adjusting the extent and type of documentation according to the specific cultural property and conservation needs. If a proposal is not taken, it must be documented appropriately, including future maintenance and conservation recommendations. Documentation contributes to the knowledge base of conservation, serving as a valuable reference for continued development and avoiding misunderstandings or unnecessary lawsuits.

Examination Documentation

Before any intervention, the cultural property must be thoroughly examined to record its condition. This record, known as a condition report, describes the structure, materials, condition, significant history, examination date, and examiner’s name. A copy is given to the owner.

Treatment Documentation 

Dated records are kept during treatment, including the techniques and procedures involved, the materials used, all alterations, and any additional information discovered. A report consolidating the treatment records and recommendations for future care is created, and a copy is given to the owner.

Preservation of Documentation

Cultural property documentation, including records of examination, treatment, and future care, should be produced and preserved as permanently as possible. Access to these documents should be allowed, avoiding violations of confidentiality agreements.

Conservation documentation is the keystone in safeguarding and conserving cultural property_©Spratt, 2018
Bibliography
Reference List 

AIC (2023). Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice. [online] Culturalheritage.org. Available at: https://www.culturalheritage.org/about-conservation/code-of-ethics [Accessed 9 Nov. 2023].

AIC (2023). Conservation Terminology. [online] Culturalheritage.org. Available at: https://www.culturalheritage.org/about-conservation/what-is-conservation/definitions [Accessed 9 Nov. 2023].

Beardsley, B., Huston, P., Lefferts, K., Organ, R. and Robertson, C. (2023). Core Documents: American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works Historical Background: Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice; Commentaries. [online] Available at: https://www.culturalheritage.org/docs/default-source/resources/governance/organizational-documents/code-of-ethics-and-guidelines-for-practice.pdf?sfvrsn=ca344aed_26.

CAC and CAPC (2023). Code of Ethics and Guidance for Practice. [online] Capc-acrp.ca. Available at: https://capc-acrp.ca/en/what-is-conservation/publications/code-of-ethics-and-guidance-for-practice [Accessed 9 Nov. 2023].

E.C.C.O. (2003). E.C.C.O. (European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers Organisations) Professional Guidelines (II). [online] ECCO-EU.org. Available at: https://www.ecco-eu.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/ECCO_professional_guidelines_II.pdf [Accessed 9 Nov. 2023].

Icon (2021). Icon Ethical Guidance. [online] Icon.org.uk. Available at: https://www.icon.org.uk/resources/resources-for-conservation-professionals/standards-and-ethics/icon-ethical-guidance.html [Accessed 9 Nov. 2023].

Icon (2021). Icon Professional Standards. [online] Icon.org.uk. Available at: https://www.icon.org.uk/resources/resources-for-conservation-professionals/standards-and-ethics/icon-professional-standards.html [Accessed 9 Nov. 2023].

Icon (2023). Code of Ethics and Rules of Practice of the United Kingdom Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. [online] Available at: https://nigelcopsey.com/reports/training/training_ukic_ethics.pdf [Accessed 9 Nov. 2023].

Matero, F. (2023). Ethics and Policy in Conservation. The Getty Conservation Institue Newsletter, [online] 15.1(Spring 2000). Available at: https://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/newsletters/15_1/feature1_2.html [Accessed 7 Nov. 2023].

Staff Writer (2008). Conservation Ethics in Architecture – Construction Week Online. [online] Construction Week Online. Available at: https://www.constructionweekonline.com/projects-tenders/article-2281-conservation-ethics-in-architecture [Accessed 7 Nov. 2023].

Wright, J., Turner, B., Walker, E., Harris, D., Davis, M. and Thompson, D. (2023). Architecture Conservation Ethics. [online] Adesignaward.com. Available at: https://competition.adesignaward.com/design-encyclopedia.php?e=413730%20 [Accessed%207%20Nov.%202023]. [Accessed 7 Nov. 2023]. Wright, J. (2023). 

Zywotkiewicz, T. (2022). Interior Adaptation within the Existing Built environment: a Comparative Study of restoration, conservation, and Adaptive Reuse. [MA Thesis] pp.2–6; 12-13. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/94149241/Thesis_Interior_adaptation_within_the_existing_built_environment_A_comparative_study_of_restoration_preservation_and_adaptive_reuse [Accessed 9 Nov. 2023].

Image List
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Pngegg.com (2023). Italy Labor House Curriculum Vitae Service, Free to Pull the Magnifying Glass material, glass, Wine Glass Png. [online] Pngegg.com. Available at: https://www.pngegg.com/en/png-bogct/download?width=5000 [Accessed 12 Nov. 2023].

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Burke, D. (2021). Conservation architects: How We Can Help. Fine Art Restoration Company. Fine Art Restoration. Available at: https://fineart-restoration.co.uk/news/conservation-architects-how-we-can-help/ [Accessed 12 Nov. 2023].

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Spratt, A. (2018). white printer paper lot. [online] Unsplash.com. Available at: https://unsplash.com/photos/white-printer-paper-lot-5cFwQ-WMcJU [Accessed 20 Nov. 2023].

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