Craig Deller 

Conservation of Historic & Artistic Objects

Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice;

Commentaries

Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice;

Commentaries

The first formulation of standards of practice and professional relations by any group of art

conservators was produced by the IIC-American Group (now AIC) Committee on

Professional Standards and Procedures. Formed at the second regular meeting of the IICAG, in Detroit, May 23, 1961, the committee worked under the direction of Murray Pease,

conservator, Metropolitan Museum of Art; other members of the committee were Henri H.

Courtais, Dudley T. Easby, Rutherford J. Gettens, and Sheldon Keck. The Report of the

Murray Pease Committee: IIC American Group Standards of Practice and Professional

Relations for Conservators was adopted by the IIC-AG at the 4th annual meeting in New

York on June 8, 1963. It was published in Studies in Conservation in August 1964, 9(3):116–

21. The primary purpose of this document was: “to provide accepted criteria against which

a specific procedure or operation can be measured when a question as to its adequacy has

been raised.”

The first formulation of a code of ethics for art conservators was adopted by the members of

IIC-American Group at the annual meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on May 27, 1967. It

was produced by the Committee on Professional Relations: Sheldon Keck, chair; Richard D.

Buck; Dudley T. Easby; Rutherford J. Gettens; Caroline Keck; Peter Michaels, and Louis

Pomerantz. The primary purpose of this document was: “to express those principles and

practices which will guide the art conservator in the ethical practice of his profession.”

These two documents, The Murray Pease Report: Standards of Practice and Professional

Relationships for Conservators and the Code of Ethics for Art Conservators were published in

booklet form by the IIC-AG in May 1968 together with the Articles of Association of IIC and

Bylaws of the American Group.

In 1977, the Ethics and Standards Committee (Elisabeth C. G. Packard, chair; Barbara H.

Beardsley; Perry C. Huston; Kate C. Lefferts; Robert M. Organ; and Clements L. Robertson)

was charged with updating the two documents to reflect changes in the profession. The

1968 format was retained, except that the more general Code of Ethics was placed first as

Part One, followed by the Standards of Practice as Part Two. These revised versions of the

code and standards were approved by the Fellows of AIC on May 31, 1979, at the annual

meeting in Toronto. This document was amended on May 24, 1985, at the annual meeting in

Washington, D.C., to reflect the addition to the AIC Bylaws of procedures for the reporting,

investigation, and review of alleged violations of the code and standards and of mechanisms

for appealing such allegations.

Between 1984 and 1990 the Ethics and Standards Committee, responding to further growth

and change in the profession, and following on several years of AIC discussion on the issue

of certification, was charged by the AIC Board to work on more substantial revisions of the

document. This was done by soliciting commentary from the specialty groups and also from

the membership via issues sessions at the annual meetings in Chicago (1986) and Cincinnati

(1989). Following this, a document consisting of a new simplified Code, prepared by the

committee, and a revised Standards, prepared primarily by the board was presented to the

membership for discussion at the 1990 annual meeting in Richmond. The consensus of the

membership at the meeting was to continue the revision process. During these important

years, the members of the committee were, Elisabeth Batchelor, chair; Robert Futernick;

Meg Loew Craft (until 1989); Elizabeth Lunning (from 1987); Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro; and

Philip Vance (until 1986). In 1989, the committee added corresponding members Barbara

Appelbaum, Paul N. Banks, Steven Prins, and Elisabeth West FitzHugh.

In 1990, the AIC Board charged a newly appointed committee to assess the role and use of

the two parts of the Code of Ethics and Standards for Practice and as well to analyze specific

difficulties within them. The committee first undertook an in-depth comparative analysis of

the two sections, organizing them topically and relating them to other codes of ethics both

in conservation and in other professions. Between September 1991 and May 1992, the

committee produced five lengthy discussion papers son basic issues as supplements to the

AIC News (prior to November 1991, the AIC Newsletter).

From these papers, the committee compiled an extensive body of commentary from the

membership and specialty groups, supplementing that obtained previously. It then began

the creation of a new revision of the entire document, the first draft of which was published

in the September 1993 AIC News following a discussion session at the 1993 annual meeting

in Denver. A revised draft was published in the May 1994 AIC News and discussed at the

1994 annual meeting in Nashville.

The final version of the document, consisting of a new simplified Code of Ethics and the

creation of Guidelines for Practice to replace the Standards of Practice, was prepared and

approved by AIC Fellows and Professional Associates through a mail vote in August 1994.

The goals and purposes of the committee and the problematic issues it sought to address in

creating the revised document are fully described in the committee’s columns in the

September 1991 AIC Newsletter and September 1993 AIC News.

Ethics and Standards Committee members from 1990 through 1994 and involved in the

creation of the revised Code and Guidelines were: Debbie Hess Norris (chair, resigned 1993);

Donna K. Strahan (co-chair 1993–94, chair 1994); Carol Aiken (co-chair from 1993,

resigned 1994); Nancy Ash; Dan Kushel; Robert Espinosa (from 1993); and Paul

Himmelstein (from 1994).

Commentaries:

An integral part of the revision plan was also to initiate the creation of a second document,

Commentaries to the Guidelines for Practice, upon final approval of the Code and Guidelines.

Proposed to the committee by then AIC President Paul Himmelstein, this document was

designed to amplify and define current accepted practice for each of the Guidelines while

accommodating the individual needs of each area of professional specialization, and as well,

allowing for future growth and change in practice through a simplified amendment process.

Among core documents of professional conservation organizations, the AIC Commentaries

are unique.

The creation of the Commentaries began in 1995, with full involvement of all AIC Specialty

Groups and the Ethics and Standards Committee. The working process is fully described in

the March 1995 AIC News. A Commentaries Task Force chaired by Paul Himmelstein was

created in 1999 to further facilitate the process. The first Commentaries (24-28 on

documentation) were approved by the Board in 1996. The final Commentaries, completing

the set for all twenty-nine Guidelines, were finished in 2000 and approved by the AIC Board

in May 2001.

Major revisions of Commentaries 24 and 28, to accommodate the transition to digital

documentation in conservation practice, were developed by the AIC Digital Photographic

Documentation Task Force chaired by Jeffrey Warda and were approved by the AIC Board

in 2008. A detailed discussion of these revisions appears in Jeffrey Warda, ed. The AIC Guide

to Photography and Conservation Documentation, Second Edition, 2011, chapter 5, part 6.

Historical background prepared by:

• Elisabeth C. G. Packard, Chair, Ethics and Standards Committee 1977-79

Amended May 24, 1985

• Revised August 1994; Revised and amended February 2015, Dan Kushel, member

(1990-94) and Chair, Ethics and Standards Committee 1995-96


PREAMBLE

The primary goal of conservation professionals, individuals with extensive training and

special expertise is the preservation of cultural property. Cultural property consists of

individual objects, structures, or aggregate collections. It is material which has significance

that may be artistic, historical, scientific, religious, or social, and it is an invaluable and

an irreplaceable legacy that must be preserved for future generations.

In striving to achieve this goal, conservation professionals assume certain obligations to the

cultural property, to its owners and custodians, to the conservation profession, and to

society as a whole. This document, the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice of the

American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works (AIC), sets forth the

principles that guide conservation professionals and others who are involved in the care of

cultural property.

C

The conservation professional should use the following Guidelines and supplemental

Commentaries together with the AIC Code of Ethics in the pursuit of ethical practice. The

Commentaries are separate documents, created by the AIC membership, that are intended to

amplify this document and to accommodate growth and change in the field.

GUIDELINES FOR PRACTICE OF THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE FOR CONSERVATION 


PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT

1. Conduct: Adherence to the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice is a matter of

personal responsibility. The conservation professional should always be guided by

the intent of this document, recognizing that specific circumstances may

legitimately affect professional decisions.


2. Disclosure: In professional relationships, the conservation professional should

share complete and accurate information relating to the efficacy and value of

materials and procedures. In seeking and disclosing such information, and that

relating to analysis and research, the conservation professional should recognize

the importance of published information that has undergone formal peer review.


3. Laws and Regulations: The conservation professional should be cognizant of laws

and regulations that may have a bearing on professional activity. Among these laws

and regulations are those concerning the rights of artists and their estates,

occupational health and safety, sacred and religious material, excavated objects,

endangered species, human remains, and stolen property.


4. Practice: Regardless of the nature of employment, the conservation professional

should follow appropriate standards for safety, security, contracts, fees, and

advertising.


4a. Health and Safety: The conservation professional should be aware of issues

concerning the safety of materials and procedures and should make this

information available to others, as appropriate.

4b. Security: The conservation professional should provide working and storage

conditions designed to protect cultural property.

4c. Contracts: The conservation professional may enter into contractual

agreements with individuals, institutions, businesses, or government agencies

provided that such agreements do not conflict with principles of the Code of Ethics

and Guidelines for Practice.

4d. Fees: Fees charged by the conservation professional should be commensurate

with services rendered. The division of a fee is acceptable only when based on the

division of service or responsibility.

4e. Advertising: Advertising and other representations by the conservation

professional should present an accurate description of credentials and services.

Limitations concerning the use of the AIC name or membership status should be

followed as stated in the AIC Bylaws, section II, 13.

5. Communication: Communication between the conservation professional and the

owner, custodian, or authorized agent of the cultural property is essential to ensure

an agreement that reflects shared decisions and realistic expectations.

6. Consent: The conservation professional should act only with the consent of the

owner, custodian, or authorized agent. The owner, custodian, or agent should be

informed of any circumstances that necessitate significant deviations from the

agreement. When possible, notification should be made before such changes are

made.

7. Confidentiality: Except as provided in the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for

Practice, the conservation professional should consider relationships with an

owner, custodian, or authorized agent as confidential. Information derived from

examination, scientific investigation, or treatment of the cultural property should

not be published or otherwise made public without written permission.

8. Supervision: The conservation professional is responsible for work delegated to

other professionals, students, interns, volunteers, subordinates, or agents and

assignees. Work should not be delegated or subcontracted unless the conservation

professional can supervise the work directly, can ensure proper supervision, or has

sufficient knowledge of the practitioner to be confident of the quality of the work.

When appropriate, the owner, custodian, or agent should be informed if such

delegation is to occur.

9. Education: Within the limits of knowledge, ability, time, and facilities, the

conservation professional is encouraged to become involved in the education of

conservation personnel. The objectives and obligations of the parties shall be

agreed upon mutually.

10. Consultation: Since no individual can be expert in every aspect of conservation, it

may be appropriate to consult with colleagues or, in some instances, to refer the

owner, custodian, or authorized agent to a professional who is more experienced

or better equipped to accomplish the required work. If the owner requests a

second opinion, this request must be respected.

11. Recommendations and References: The conservation professional should not

provide recommendations without direct knowledge of a colleague’s competence

and experience. Any reference to the work of others must be based on facts and

personal knowledge rather than on hearsay.

12. Adverse Commentary: A conservation professional may be required to testify in

legal, regulatory, or administrative proceedings concerning allegations of unethical

conduct. Testimony concerning such matters should be given at these proceedings

or in connection with paragraph 13 of these Guidelines.

13. Misconduct: Allegations of unethical conduct should be reported in writing to the

AIC president as described in the AIC Bylaws, section II, 12. As stated in the bylaws,

all correspondence regarding alleged unethical conduct shall be held in the strictest

confidence. Violations of the Code and Guidelines that constitute unethical conduct

may result in disciplinary action.

14. Conflict of Interest: The conservation professional should avoid situations in

which there is a potential for a conflict of interest that may affect the quality of

work, lead to the dissemination of false information, or give the appearance of

impropriety.

15. Related Professional Activities: The conservation professional should be

especially mindful of the considerable potential for conflict of interest in activities

such as authentication, appraisal, or art dealing.


EXAMINATION AND SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION

16. Justification: Careful examination of cultural property forms the basis for all

future action by the conservation professional. Before undertaking any

examination or tests that may cause change to cultural property, the conservation

professional should establish the necessity for such procedures.

17. Sampling and Testing: Prior consent must be obtained from the owner, custodian,

or agent before any material is removed from a cultural property. Only the

minimum required should be removed, and a record of removal must be made.

When appropriate, the material removed should be retained.

18. Interpretation: Declarations of age, origin, or authenticity should be made only

when based on sound evidence.

19. Scientific Investigation: The conservation professional should follow accepted

scientific standards and research protocols.


PREVENTIVE CONSERVATION

20. Preventive Conservation: The conservation professional should recognize the

critical importance of preventive conservation as the most effective means of

promoting the long-term preservation of cultural property. The conservation

professional should provide guidelines for continuing use and care, recommend

appropriate environmental conditions for storage and exhibition, and encourage

proper procedures for handling, packing, and transport.


TREATMENT

21. Suitability: The conservation professional performs within a continuum of care

and will rarely be the last entrusted with the conservation of a cultural property.

The conservation professional should only recommend or undertake treatment

that is judged suitable to the preservation of the aesthetic, conceptual, and physical

characteristics of the cultural property. When nonintervention best serves to

promote the preservation of the cultural property, it may be appropriate to

recommend that no treatment be performed.

22. Materials and Methods: The conservation professional is responsible for choosing

materials and methods appropriate to the objectives of each specific treatment and

consistent with currently accepted practice. The advantages of the materials and

methods chosen must be balanced against their potential adverse effects on future

examination, scientific investigation, treatment, and function.

23. Compensation for Loss: Any intervention to compensate for loss should be

documented in treatment records and reports and should be detectable by

common examination methods. Such compensation should be reversible and

should not falsely modify the known aesthetic, conceptual, and physical

characteristics of the cultural property, especially by removing or obscuring

original material.


DOCUMENTATION

24. Documentation: The conservation professional has an obligation to produce and

maintain accurate, complete, and permanent records of examination, sampling,

scientific investigation, and treatment. When appropriate, the records should be

both written and pictorial. The kind and extent of documentation may vary

according to the circumstances, the nature of the object, or whether an individual

object or a collection is to be documented. The purposes of such documentation

are:

o to establish the condition of cultural property;

o to aid in the care of cultural property by providing information helpful to

future treatment and by adding to the profession’s body of knowledge;

o to aid the owner, custodian, or authorized agent and society as a whole in

the appreciation and use of cultural property by increasing understanding of

an object’s aesthetic, conceptual, and physical characteristics; and

o to aid the conservation professional by providing a reference that can assist

in the continued development of knowledge and by supplying records that

can help avoid misunderstanding and unnecessary litigation.

25. Documentation of Examination: Before any intervention, the conservation

professional should make a thorough examination of the cultural property and

create appropriate records. These records and the reports derived from them must

identify the cultural property and include the date of examination and the name of

the examiner. They also should include, as appropriate, a description of structure,

materials, condition, and pertinent history.

26. Treatment Plan: Following examination and before treatment, the conservation

professional should prepare a plan describing the course of treatment. This plan

should also include the justification for and the objectives of treatment, alternative

approaches, if feasible, and the potential risks. When appropriate, this plan should

be submitted as a proposal to the owner, custodian, or authorized agent.

27. Documentation of Treatment: During treatment, the conservation professional

should maintain dated documentation that includes a record or description of

techniques or procedures involved, materials used and their composition, the

nature and extent of all alterations, and any additional information revealed or

otherwise ascertained. A report prepared from these records should summarize

this information and provide, as necessary, recommendations for subsequent care.

28. Preservation of Documentation: Documentation is an invaluable part of the

history of cultural property and should be produced and maintained in as

permanent a manner as practicable. Copies of reports of examination and

treatment must be given to the owner, custodian, or authorized agent, who should

be advised of the importance of maintaining these materials with the cultural

property. Documentation is also an important part of the profession’s body of

knowledge. The conservation professional should strive to preserve these records

and give other professionals appropriate access to them, when access does not

contravene agreements regarding confidentiality.


EMERGENCY SITUATIONS

29. Emergency Situations: Emergency situations can pose serious risks of damage to

or loss of cultural property that may warrant immediate intervention on the part of

the conservation professional. In an emergency that threatens cultural property,

the conservation professional should take all reasonable action to preserve the

cultural property, recognizing that strict adherence to the Guidelines for Practice

may not be possible.


AMENDMENTS

Amendments: Proposed amendments to the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice must

be initiated by petition to the AIC Board of Directors from at least five members who are

Fellows or Professional Associates of AIC. The board will direct the appropriate committee

to prepare the amendments for vote in accordance with procedures described in Section VII

of the Bylaws. Acceptance of amendments or changes must be affirmed by at least two-thirds of all AIC Fellows and Professional Associates voting.

COMMENTARIES

Commentaries are prepared or amended by specialty groups, task forces, and appropriate

committees of AIC. A review process shall be undergone before final approval by the AIC

Board of Directors.

*Revised August 1994

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