The “S” Word

Submitted: August 5th, 2021

Natasa Avramovic
Graduate conservator-restorer of paintings and art on paper
Belgrade, Serbia
, LinkedIn

There have been several historic developments in the conservation and restoration field, such as implementing basic documentation rules, developing principles of minimal intervention and reversibility, and introducing preventive conservation. In recent years, the topic of sustainability has become increasingly prominent, gaining worldwide recognition. Both large and small brands are incorporating recycled and recyclable materials into their products. This shift can be found nearly everywhere we look. Many enthusiasts, activists and organizations around the world are promoting the necessity of sustainability and people are increasingly invested. It was only logical that heritage professionals and major institutions would ride the wave.

I feel compelled to discuss the sustainability movement in my home country of Serbia. As an emerging conservation professional who is enthusiastic about sustainability, I noticed how understated the importance of sustainability is here. Not only at my university, where the word has never even been uttered, but in the rest of the country as well. There are no recycling regulations. Recycling bins can sometimes be found next to the regular bins, but only in the city centre. Two months ago, we even got a few ‘’recycling machines’’ (again, in the city centre only) that provide you with a few Mbs of data or credit for public transportation in exchange for a couple of plastic bottles – woohoo! However, even with these incentives, people rarely use the machines. There are over 2,200 wild landfills in Serbia[1], and in January 2021 tens of thousands of cubic meters of waste were recovered from Potpeć Lake (Figure 1)[2]. Yes, that is the lake; there really is water underneath the garbage.

In terms of sustainability movements in major cultural heritage institutions in Serbia: The National Museum of Serbia reopened in 2018 after 15 years of being closed, and a year earlier the Museum of Contemporary Art started working again after 10 years. The Culture and Information sector gets only 0.73% of the entire country’s budget, with the ‘’Information’’ part taking the majority share. With that in mind, you can imagine why implementing eco-friendly practices, which require time and money, may be low on the priority list to heritage professionals.

I understand if you now feel discouraged to even say the ‘’S’’ word. I also felt that way, but I had to act. I started to explore alternative green lifestyles and other options that would be available to me. I got nothing. If you believe in destiny, then it certainly had a role in Ki Culture’s call for volunteers popping up on my Instagram feed. After a lovely talk with one of the Ki Culture team members, we decided that Sustainability in Conservation would be a perfect match for me. Soon, I was on the Digital Resource Centre team. I finally felt that I could make a difference. The creation of the Resource Centre involved (and it still does) a lot of researching, looking for articles and other resources on green practices in the conservation field, finding out about programs from various institutions, looking for conferences etc. All of this resulted in the creation of an ,online database. After developing and completing it in early April, I proudly shared the Resource Centre with my LinkedIn network of museum professionals in Serbia.

Soon after publishing the Digital Resource Centre, I learned about Ki Culture’s ‘Ki Books’ and their initiative to translate them into various languages. Having not seen Serbian on the list, I volunteered for the job and I am currently translating the ‘Waste & Materials’ Ki Book. This has not only given me the opportunity to learn first-hand about sustainable alternatives to materials frequently used in the museum sector, but when it is finished, it will help other conservation professionals in Serbia implement sustainable practices into their routines by using an easy-to-digest guidebook written in their own language. I personally look forward to taking it with me to my first day of work.

Through my work for SiC and Ki Culture, I hope to inspire Serbian professionals to rethink their practices and help them to take small, but significant steps towards sustainable conservation approaches.


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