IN LOS ANGELES, Anya Dani is joining the UCLA/Getty Interdepartmental Program in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage in a newly created position: director of community engagement and inclusive practice. She will also serve as a lecturer in cultural heritage conservation. The appointment was announced June 16.

The UCLA/Getty program is one of a handful of highly competitive academic programs in the country dedicated conservation. Focusing on researching and conserving archeological and ethnographic materials, the program is housed in the Cotsen Institute of Archeology at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and was developed in collaboration with the Getty Conservation Institute, where students train in the research labs.

 


Anya Dani said she is “excited for this opportunity to aid in the preservation of African American cultural heritage, help diversify conservation at UCLA, and change the way that we work so it is inclusive on every level.” | Courtesy Anya Dani, Photo by Mirijam Neve

 

An objects conservator, over the years, Dani’s work has focused on ceramics, baskets, lacquerware, polychrome wood sculpture, and archeological materials. Most recently, she has been based in the San Francisco Bay Area, conducting a detailed conservation survey at the Stanford University Archaeology Collections.

Dani brings more than 20 years of experience to her new UCLA/Getty position, which is funded by the Getty Foundation, with additional support from the UCLA Social Science Division and the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program, along with individual donors. She is the first Black faculty member to join the program.

“Anya Dani is the best qualified person to fulfill our program’s aim of increasing diversity and advancing social justice in the field of cultural heritage conservation,” Glenn Wharton told Culture Type by email. A professor of art history, Wharton serves as the Lore and Gerard Cunard Chair of the UCLA/Getty Program in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage.

Wharton continued, adding that Dani “has worked closely with underrepresented community members in Okinawa (Japan) and New Mexico to include them in conserving their cultural heritage and she has been central in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in our field. At UCLA she will perform outreach and create partnerships for projects to conserve African American material culture.”

While Dani will research and teach, the UCLA/Getty role also prioritizes expanding the field of conservation by addressing its lack of racial and cultural diversity—from project subjects to representation among students, who provide a pipeline for recruiting conservators to faculty posts, museum appointments, and other critical roles in the field.

While Anya Dani will research and teach, the UCLA/Getty role also prioritizes expanding the field of conservation by addressing its lack of racial and cultural diversity—from project subjects to representation among students, who provide a pipeline for recruiting conservators to faculty posts, museum appointments, and other critical roles in the field.

This aspect of the position is particularly important to Dani, who is co-chair of the American Institute for Conservation’s Equity & Inclusion Committee and a co-founder of Black Art Conservators, a recently formed advocacy group.

Her proactive efforts in the conservation field dovetail with the goals embedded in her new post at UCLA/Getty, as outlined the appointment announcement:

    The impetus for the position is to expand our network of partners and institutions to include African American communities and to expand our own capacity to teach cultural heritage conservation in an inclusive manner. This includes working with community members, scholars, students, and collecting institutions associated with African American culture and history, and conducting outreach to attract more diverse students to the field. These activities will all aid in the preservation of African American material culture, which has historically been overlooked. The position also includes advocating for social justice in cultural heritage and expanding African American representation in the field of conservation.

“I am excited for this opportunity to aid in the preservation of African American cultural heritage, help diversify conservation at UCLA, and change the way that we work so it is inclusive on every level,” Dani told Culture Type by email.

“To begin, I intend to reach out to Black communities at UCLA and to develop meaningful projects together that lead with the values of these communities. I also plan to reach out to local collecting institutions.”

 


The UCLA/Getty Interdepartmental Program in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage describes itself as “the only academic program in the Western United States devoted to conservation research and training, and the only one nationally to focus on archaeological and Indigenous materials.” | Video by Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA

 

THE WORLD OF ART CONSERVATION is small and overwhelmingly white. Awareness of the field is limited, in general, and certainly in terms of its availability as a career option.

One prominent example, six decades ago, African American abstract artist Felrath Hines (1913-1993) was a highly sought art conservator. In New York in the mid-1960s, he operated a private conservation practice, counting the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Fisk University, and artist Georgia O’Keeffe, among his clients. In 1972, Hines moved to Washington, D.C., where he served as chief conservator at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. After retiring from the same role at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 1984, he dedicated himself to painting full time. Too few are familiar with the artistic practice of Hines, much less his pioneering work in conservation.

Dani learned about conservation through a program designed to expose young girls to a spectrum of professions. Now she is focused on providing the same opportunity for the next generation.

“I always loved visiting museums and creating art growing up,” Dani said. “As a girl I went to a Take Your Daughter to Work Day event at the University of Delaware with my mother. This is where I first heard a conservator speak about the field of conservation. It seemed like a perfect blend of my interests. I never forgot this experience and decided to major in art conservation when I started college years later.”

Born in California, Dani grew up primarily in Delaware, where she pursued her education. She attended the University of Delaware, where she earned B.A. and M.S. degrees in art conservation. For a decade, Dani was based in Japan, where she established an art conservation program at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (2011-21). Her most recent work at the Stanford University Archaeology Collections was supported by a one-year Conservation Survey grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

Her presence in the field at large is unique. Seven years ago, the Mellon Foundation began examining staff demographics at U.S. art museums, including analyses of conservation departments.

Survey data from 2015 and 2018 found that between the two periods, “education and curatorial departments have grown more diverse in terms of race/ethnicity, while conservation and museum leadership have not changed.” These four categories guide the intellectual direction of art museums, including programming and management.

Representation in conservation was particularly paltry. In 2015, people of color held just 10 percent of conversation positions at art museums compared with whites who occupied the vast majority at 90 percent. A few years later, the situation remained virtually unchanged, with people of color representing 11 percent of conservation jobs, while white people accounted for 89 percent.

Representation in conservation was particularly paltry. In 2015, people of color held just 10 percent of conversation positions at art museums compared with whites who occupied the vast majority at 90 percent. A few years later, the situation remained virtually unchanged, with people of color representing 11 percent of conservation jobs, while white people accounted for 89 percent.

By contrast, between 2015 and 2018, curatorial representation for people of color increased from 12 to 16 percent in art museums, according to Mellon’s survey. The number of African American curators in the sample doubled during the period.

Curatorial representation improved after collaborations among Mellon, the Ford Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, several universities, and many museums introduced a slate of educational and professional interventions and initiatives in response to the lack of racial/ethnic diversity in the curatorial field.

These disparities between the disciplines are a priority for Dani, who was among a group of 13 that came together to establish Black Art Conservators in the July 2020 in response to the racial reckoning that swept the nation that summer. They spoke up in support of Black Lives Matter; expressed sympathy for the family and friends of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others killed at the hands of police; and demanded racial justice in art conservation.

“We, conservators, must hold ourselves, our field, and our institutions accountable for the long-term, systemic failure to uplift Black voices and document the Black experience truthfully,” the group said in their mission statement.

The Mellon Foundation’s analysis of staff demographics at art museums continues. A 2022 survey is currently underway.

 


At UCLA, the UCLA/Getty Interdepartmental Program in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage is housed in the Cotsen Institute of Archeology. | Daily Bruin, File Photo

 

CONSERVATION IS A HYBRID DISCIPLINE that spans art, history, culture, science, technology, and archeology. UCLA/Getty touts its bonafides as “the only academic program in the Western United States devoted to conservation research and training, and the only one nationally to focus on archaeological and Indigenous materials.”

The masters degree program was established in 2003 and the Ph.D., component launched in 2019. UCLA is now one of only two American universities to offer a doctorate in conservation, along with the University of Delaware, Dani’s alma mater.

The UCLA/Getty program usually accepts five M.A. students and three Ph.D. students every other year, Wharton said. This fall, the incoming cohort includes seven M.A. and Ph.D., students—five women and two men. One is Afro Caribbean; three are Native American; and the other three are from the Philippines, Indonesia, and China. He added: “I am proud to say that our efforts to diversity are paying off.”

Dani agrees the diverse demographics of the incoming student cohort are notable. They are also new. “The UCLA/Getty Program has been leading diversity efforts in conservation in recent years and you’re seeing some of that in the incoming class that Glenn is describing,” she said. “This level of diversity has not [been] typical in the program or in the field of American conservation overall, which is about 87.25 percent white (Mellon Foundation, 2013 data). The same Mellon report lists Black representation at 1.42 percent of the conservation field.”

UCLA/Getty does not focus on art conservation, but rather preservation of cultural heritage. Wharton characterized the department’s work and explained distinctions within the field.

“We are an objects conservation program, which means that we research and conserve three dimensional objects. We do not teach the conservation of paintings, photographs, and other fine arts materials,” he said. “There is a lot of overlap between fine art conservation and the conservation of cultural heritage. We are in fact different divisions of the same field. Our focus is often less on aesthetics and artist intentions and more on communities associated with the materials in our care.”

THIS FOCUS ON COMMUNITIES and cultural heritage make the call for diversity particularly relevant and urgent. Dani cited examples of existing programs led by institutions such as the Smithsonian and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as the grassroots efforts of the George Floyd Global Memorial, that are doing this work in the African American community, “preserving Black art, artifacts, and places from our past and present.”

In the years leading up to the 2016 grand opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), the Smithsonian museum launched Save Our African American Treasures. The touring initiative brought museum staff into communities across the nation. The events were designed to help families learn how to document, preserve, care for, and store, photographs and papers, military uniforms, quilts, and other legacy objects, and also connect people with their local museums, archives, and preservation organizations. In a few instances, NMAAHC identified storied objects it was interested in acquiring.

The National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is investing tens of millions of dollars in the protection and restoration of places that tell important stories about American society, from historic churches and homes of artists and other major cultural figures; to Jim Crow-era Black-owned businesses; buildings that housed pivotal civil rights and social justice organizations; and other irreplaceable treasures such as a 1943 mural by Charles White at Hampton University, the HBCU in Hampton, Va.

Dani confirmed that her newly created position “is meant to specifically address African American representation in projects, research, and students.” It’s an ambitious portfolio. As she wraps up other commitments, she has been working with UCLA on a limited basis, preparing for her official start date on Aug. 1.

The position is currently only half time, but nonetheless an important part of the program’s future. Wharton said the department is seeking additional funding support to make the role a full-time, permanent position.

“I’m so glad that the UCLA/Getty Program is investing in this much needed work and understands that to diversify the conservation field we have to do more than just recruit BIPOC students into predominantly white spaces. Instead, we have to decolonize our mindsets and uplift historically marginalized voices,” Dani said.

“By creating space to bring diverse perspectives into the equation and a willingness to modify our conservation practices, I believe we can highlight and preserve Black cultural heritage in a truly fulfilling way.” CT

 

FIND MORE about Anya Dani, the UCLA/Getty conservation program, and Black Art Conservators on their websites

 

FIND MORE The American Institute for Conservation and the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation provide information about the field and degree programs

FIND MORE The UCLA/Getty program is currently hiring conservation lecturers

 

READ MORE about recent notable art conservation projects:

  • Analysis work by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) on its collection of Alma Thomas paintings
  • Restoration of dioramas in the Tuskegee University Legacy Museum collection conducted by Fisk University, University of Delaware’s Winterthur Museum, and SAAM
  • The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History recently repaired and preserved a Fisk Jubilee Singers diorama made between 1994 and 1998 by Diedra Bell and Stephney Keyser, based on an 1873 painting by Edmund Havel
  • “Bélizaire and the Frey Children” (circa 1837), a painting attributed to Jacques Guillame Lucein Amans that was recently restored to reveal Bélizaire, a 15-year-old enslaved boy had been painted over, is now on display at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans
  • Bank of America’s Art Conservation Program supports projects at nonprofit museums and institutions. Recent grants have gone to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2022) for conservation of the James Van Der Zee Archive and Fisk University (2021) to restore paintings from the HBCU’s collection, primarily gifts from the Harmon Foundation, that will be featured in the traveling exhibition “African Modernism in America, 1947-1967,” forthcoming this fall
 


Anya Dani explains some of her conservation work at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Okinawa, Japan, where she collaborated on projects with local museums, including the restoration of a 12th century coin that was severely degraded and in numerous pieces. | Video by OIST

 

BOOKSHELF
“Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful,” the catalog that accompanies the exhibition of the same name, includes on essay exploring what conservators have discovered about Alma Thomas’s methods. The essay, “Composing Color: The Materials and Techniques of Alma Woodsey Thomas,” is co-authored by Gwen Manthey, Melissa Ho, Sydney Nikolaus, and Amber Kerr. “The Life and Art of Felrath Hines: From Dark to Light” was published in 2019.

 

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