Conservation as Shared Responsibility: Social Equity, Social Justice, and the Public Good | Ainslee Meredith, Robyn Sloggett, Marcelle Scott

Conservation is a profession that works within, and for, the public sector, as well as for private clients who wish to preserve significant cultural material for the future. Support for conservation, both state provisioned and philanthropic, confirms the view that the conservation of cultural material is a public good, and that enabling access to cultural material of all kinds—from artworks and archival material to movable heritage objects and built heritage—improves people’s lives. Both in terms of its constituency and its funding, then, conservation is securely placed within the public domain. Recognizing that conservation and heritage making are processes that unfold over time, incrementally accruing cultural frameworks of their own, this paper critically assesses the potential of conservation to enable social change and discusses the philosophical and ethical implications of understanding conservation as a public good.i  

That the preservation of cultural material is a public good is an implied assumption in conservation theory and practice, and it is also made explicit in the aims and outcomes of many peak bodies. The argument that conservation supports the public good is also practically useful, as it enables access to expanded funding sources. For example, in the United States, large philanthropic organizations such as the Mellon and the Getty Foundations support conservation as a public good. In the United Kingdom, the National Lottery Heritage Fund provides support for projects that demonstrate social, education, sustainability, or economic benefit.ii In both Australia and the United Kingdom, the Cripps Foundation has provided significant support for built heritage and art conservation and education programs. The Australian federally administered Community Heritage Grants program provides funding for conservation of community collections “which are publicly accessible, locally held and nationally significant.”iii Examples like these abound in many countries. This notion of public good therefore works to structure conservation theory and practice and to garner broader support for conservation. Grounded in Australian case studies, but with international relevance, this paper examines the valuable links between conservation discourse and practice, and cultural heritage and social equity. 


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