‘When I Say Preservation, What Comes to Mind?’: Select Community Perceptions of Preservation in Aotearoa New Zealand
Victoria University Wellington, Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies
Susanne Grieve grew up in a National Register of Historical Places home built in 1851 as part of an idealistic communal society in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her formative years were spent in the Southern USA, where she developed a deeper appreciation for the historical and social influences of coastal environments on identity. She currently resides in Taranaki with her family, where she is developing her appreciation for the Aotearoa New Zealand past through community-based research. Susanne believes that more open, wide-reaching and transparent communication with realistic goals and resources is the future for the preservation of significant heritage sites and objects. Through her work as a cultural materials conservator and PhD candidate, she strives to acknowledge tikanga Maori and reshape heritage practices to incorporate public interactions with the past. Her work is shaped by serving in many roles related to cultural heritage preservation, material culture, and archaeology including non-profit, education and private practice environments with a variety of materials and in locations from the Arctic to the Antarctic, South America and across the Near East and Africa.
Cultural heritage management incorporates a range of professions and practices that are aimed at identifying, developing and promoting the economic, educational, and preservation aspects of tangible heritage and heritage practices. For conservators of cultural materials, our role is primarily to advise on and promote the longevity of these cultural resources in accordance with community and organizational desires. While we are called conservators, there are many other terms that relate to the work we perform, including preservation, stabilization and restoration, but these terms are not universally defined and can vary by geographic region or professional perspective. Indeed, conservators are often misclassified as conservationists who work primarily with the natural resources. In Aoteaora New Zealand, the term conservation is widely associated by the public to the natural environment and, more frequently, pest control. This is a testament to the resounding success of public messaging by the Department of Conservation. Therefore, there are challenges in unmasking the term conservation that we also hold as a descriptor for our own professional identity. This presentation explores community perceptions of the meaning of preservation (used here as a substitute for conservation) as part of my larger doctoral research in understanding community relationships with heritage in an effort to inform professional practices. While the focus of the interviews was on underwater and near water cultural heritage, insights into our broader relationships with heritage were revealed along with the non-conservators perspective of ‘what we do’. This has broader implications on strategies in advocacy around heritage conservation within New Zealand and our ability to perform our own public messaging.