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  • John E. Simmons

InoCyTec Patrimonio

In November I got to spend an interesting week in Bogotá (Colombia) thanks to an invitation from a couple of former students to participate in what was called “The First Latin American Symposium on Innovation, Science, and New Technologies for the Study, Communication, and Conservation of Cultural Patrimony”. The symposium name in Spanish, “El Primer Simposio Iberoamericano de Innovación, Ciencia, y Nuevas Tecnologías para el Estudio, Divulgación y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural,” was mercifully shortened to just InoCyTec Patrimonio.

The symposium was an excellent opportunity to learn about some of the world-wide initiatives to better care for cultural patrimony, and offered an unexpected glimpse of the future of the preservation. The venue for the event was the Universidad Militar Nueva Granada in Bogotá, Colombia (although the university is owned by the Colombian armed forces, it is a public liberal arts institution with about 17,000 students). The three-day symposium consisted of 46 presentations, divided into four thematic blocks (a list of all the presentations can be found here). There were also several posters and three afternoon workshops. The presentations were in Spanish.

Session I. Nanomaterials and Nanotechnology

The first two keynote speakers presented cutting-edge research on conservation techniques. Dr. Piero Baglioni of the University of Florence talked about his research analyzing the effects of traditional cleaning techniques compared to new techniques that use small pieces of gel that contain nanoparticle colloidal dispersions and hydroxides, which minimizes the detrimental effects of chemicals when cleaning the surface of paper, wood, linen, stone, and so forth. The second presentation was by Dr. Antonio Mirabile, a French scientist with the European Union Nanorestart project about his similar work using gels that contain alkaline earth metal hydroxide nanoparticles to clean paper. Other presentations in this session addressed uses of nanotechnology and nanomaterials in conservation work at in-situ field sites and in the laboratory.

Dr. Antonio Mirabile

Session II. Digital Documentation, 3D Techniques, and New Developments in Digital Museography

This session began with presentations by two Spanish scientists, Dr. Javier Esclapés and Dr. Daniel Tejerinam, who use detailed 3-D computer mapping and animations study the deterioration processes of objects and outdoor heritage sites. Their technique enables them to evaluate the effectiveness of conservation interventions with a minimal of disturbance to objects. Several other presentations on the use of digital mapping and digital documentation of objects, archaeological sites, and historic sites rounded out the session.

Session III. Education, Tourism, and Social Strategies for the Appropriation, Diffusion, and Conservation of Cultural Patrimony

The third session started with a keynote address by Dr. Ricardo Varela-Villalba of the Cultural Innovation Network on the presentation on the potential of heritage festivals as tourism, with a detailed look at the dynamics and the economics of such undertakings. Other topics addressed in the session included social inclusion and accessibility, case-studies of projects at culturally significant sites in Colombia, and the use of collections to increase tourism.

An analysis of museum attendance in Colombia

Session IV. Research Perspectives on Intervention and Conservation of Cultural Heritage

I presented the keynote address for this session, talking about “The Application of the Theory of Preventive Conservation in the Management of Museum Collections.” My basic theme was ways that museums can care for larger and more diverse collections in restricted resource environments by using better designed storage areas and furniture and improved collections monitoring. Other topics in the session included studies on materials used to preserve collections and historic sites, the roles of conservators, coping with fungal and bacterial deterioration, earthquake protection, preservation of underwater sites, and improved collections management.

Simmons presenting an afternoon workshop on conservation of natural history collections

The three afternoon workshops presented by the keynote speakers were on nanotechnology in conservation, 3-D mapping of cultural sites, and the conservation of biological collections. The symposium wrapped up with a set of traditional dances from the Colombian llanos (plains).

Dance troupe performing traditional llanero dances

Fall is the rainy season in Bogotá, but despite the grey drizzle we all had a good time. Most of the attendees were from Colombia, but I also met participants from Ecuador, France, Italy, Peru, Spain, and Turkey. The organizers hosted a dinner for the keynote speakers at a traditional Colombia restaurant, as well as an excursion through old Bogotá for participants who had not seen the city before. I spent my spare time at the Bogotá Beer Company (they make outstanding British-style craft beer), searching for bibliographic treasures at a fantastic bookstore named Libreria Lerner, and hanging out with friends.

The symposium was a good reminder of how much exciting and innovative work on the preservation and management of cultural patrimony is taking place around the world (we in the US tend to become overly focused on our own work), and provided a relaxed environment to meet new colleagues. Overall, it was a reaffirmation that the museum community we work in is global, not local, and a reminder of the importance of participating in the international museum activities and meetings.