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Travels with the Membership Manager – summer update

Icon's Michael Nelles journeys from Brighton to Birmingham to meet our members and gather stories and suggestions

Icon members are based in a broad variety of locations across the country, from grand Royal palaces, private studios, to large-scale public institutions. This can not only provide a source of ideas for events, as studio tours are always popular whatever their context, it can also make for some very interesting venues for meetings. 

Supporting Groups

I am always keen to meet with groups and help with whatever I can, and so I was very honoured to be invited to attend a recent Group committee meeting at Hampton Court, where several of our members are based. A key networking advantage of Icon is that activities like serving on Group Committee put our members directly in touch with their counterparts at major national public institutions and well-established private studios, while forging connections between freelancers. In the case of the meeting at Hampton Court, this also meant one of our knowledgeable members who had worked there was on hand when for a wander around afterwards!

How can Icon support conservators, and particular emerging freelancers, to ensure our members develop advanced business skills?

I was at Hampton Court to talk through the resources available at the office to support Group activities. This includes the Iconnect system, designed to reach the widest possible spread of members using up-to-the-minute information, while ensuring we can track the open and click-through rates. Increasingly, the office also provides support for social media activities – both in setting up an online presence, using it to the best advantage, and indeed feeding group content into Icon’s central social media feeds where we have amassed a substantial following. We’ve seen how our social media can make a big difference to events bookings, and sometimes a concentrated push on social media is all that is required to get slow bookings across the finish line and generate a buzz. 

There are many other ways the office strives to support groups as well. If you’re on a Committee and have a question, it’s always worth getting in touch with me to see if I can help.

In Brighton with CGG

This May, I headed to Brighton for the Ceramics and Glass Group AGM – featuring a tour of Icon member Sarah Peek’s private studio. During the tour, business practice for freelance conservators became an interesting focus of group discussion, as members compared their various different approaches to business administration. Business practice is often a complex area in which approaches between studios can vary quite significantly. Given the competitive landscape in the freelance world, it can be said that well-developed business skills aren’t just handy to have – they are essential. Of course, Icon membership should certainly bolster the standing of any conservator navigating through the complex conservation marketplace, but how can Icon best ensure this? How can Icon support conservators, and particular emerging freelancers, to ensure our members are able develop advanced business skills to a high standard, and obtain access to software and advice where required? These questions have just been examined by a Task and Finish Group set up by Icon’s Board of Trustees to examine how Icon can best support professional conservators, and I look forward with interest to their forthcoming report. 


The Ceramics & Glass Group in Brighton (Image: Michael Nelles)

After visiting Sarah’s studio, the group headed to the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, where Stella Beddoe, Keeper Emeritus of Decorative Art at the Royal Pavilion & Museum, gave us a tour of the Willett Collection of popular pottery. Her depth of knowledge into the vast quantity of unique ceramic pieces on display was astounding. Although she has retired, she is still very much involved with the Museum and we were able to benefit from the substantial expertise she had developed during her years in the role. This reinforced for me a recurring question that Icon faces – how can we ensure retiring conservators stay in touch with our networks, with their wealth of skills and years of experience? This will be something I will be examining in greater detail over the next year, with a view to proposing ways the Board might enact methods to better recognise and retain our most experienced members. 

London with the Ethnography Group

Next up, in June, was the Ethnography Group, which was staged at the Institute of Archaeology at UCL in the heart of London. This time more than ever, the Ethnography session underscored the value of Icon’s cross-specialist approach: there is always something for everyone.


At the Ethnography AGM and lecture (Image: Michael Nelles)

Sophie Downes delivered a presentation on her research into fungi encountered within historic collections and the damage that can potentially be caused to organic materials. The broad cross-specialist audience this attracted emphasised the diversity of our networks, and I was able to catch up with some of our members from Textiles, from Historic Interiors, from Care of Collections, and from Furniture and Wood. All had encountered similar problems in different collections – and by working across the specialisms and sharing research into the latest approaches to common problems, we stand the best chance of resolving them across the board.


Of course, the big news last month was Icon’s third triennial conference in Birmingham. I’d been working on the conference for two years, and the event itself had always seemed like a glistening emerald city in the distance – it was quite something to finally be there. A key benefit of the event was the time we had to network and discuss issues in the sector. The event itself reinforced the diversity of specialisms around our networks, ranging from the well-established disciplines to newer fields rapidly gaining prevalence, and this was just what some members spoke to me about during lunchtimes and tea breaks. 


Icon Conference Opening Reception (Image: Bianca Harvey)

As many of you will recall, the Board is soon to evaluate the success of our new ‘Network’ model, currently used by Conservation Documentation, that was set up to provide a flexible means for members to come together to stage events across the specialisms. It will be very useful to see if this model can be deployed to bring attention to some of the other cross-specialist issues gaining prominence across our organisation, such as the conservation of dynamic objects, modern materials, and social history artefacts.

As ever, there are more Icon events in the pipeline and over the summer I’ll be heading to events in Liverpool, York, and Canterbury among others. If I can be of use to anyone in the meantime you know where to reach me!

Michael Nelles

Lead image: Hampton Court Palace; Andreas Tille, CC BY-SA 4.0


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