Conservation is Not Neutral: Emotion and Bias in our Work

Traditional models of conservation have taught us to attempt to maintain scientific objectivity at all times. However, in reality what has historically been called “objectivity” is actually just the continuation of the majority perspective, which was enshrined as ‘objective fact’ by scientific theories that went hand in hand with colonial subjugation of non-white people. As our job is to aid in the preservation of history, perhaps we should not try to eliminate feelings from our handling of emotionally significant artifacts, even when those artifacts do not emotionally resonate with us personally. This session will explore the principle of neutrality in conservation and discuss how bias contributes to inequity in our field.

La Tanya Autry

La Tanya S. Autry is co-founder of Museums Are Not Neutral and the Gund Curator-In-Residence at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. La Tanya has curated exhibitions and organized programs at Yale University Art Gallery,  moCa Cleveland, Artspace New Haven, Mississippi Museum of Art, Tougaloo College, and the Crane Art Center. Through her graduate studies at the University of Delaware, where she is completing her Ph.D. in art history, La Tanya has developed expertise in art of the United States, photography, and museums. Her dissertation The Crossroads of Commemoration: Lynching Landscapes in America, which analyzes how individuals and communities memorialize lynching violence in the built environment, concentrates on the interplay of race, representation, memory, and public space.

Dr. Jontyle Robinson

Dr. Jontyle Robinson, pioneering art historian/curator received her doctoral degree in Art History from the University of Maryland and was the first curator for both the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta and Tuskegee University’s Legacy Museum /Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site. Her groundbreaking research on Archibald Motley at the Chicago History Center resulted in New York City’s Kenkeleba Gallery “Three Masters: Archibald Motley, Eldzier Cortor, and Hughie Lee Smith.” In 1991, the Chicago History Center, mounted "The Art of Archibald John Motley, Jr" from her decade-long research which was, also, the foundation for the Whitney Museum's  exhibition “Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist " on view from October 2015-January 2016. She curated/ co-authored for the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art's contribution to the 1996 Olympics, "Bearing Witness: Contemporary Works by African American Women Artists,” the first exhibition /catalogue of African American women artists touring America. In 2016, Robinson conceptualized  the Alliance of HBCU Museums & Galleries, a coalition of 11 Historically Black College and University Museums and Galleries.

Jamaal Sheats

Jamaal B. Sheats, MFA is Director and Curator of the Fisk University Galleries and an Assistant Professor in the Fisk University Art Department. An alumni of Fisk, both positions enable Sheats to work with students, faculty, and the community in ways that integrate his expertise and passion for the arts, education, and mentorship. As a member of the Art Department, has taught Sculpture, Arts and Ideas, Drawing, and Independent Study courses for students with an interest in sub-specialties. In his director and curatorial appointment with the Fisk University Galleries, he successfully integrated the Arts into all academic disciplines and increased engagement with the Middle Tennessee community through novel and innovative approaches.

Sheats founded Sheats Repoussé art gallery and studio in 2003; as well his art education organization, the Charlotte Art Project, in 2013. Sheats is a board member of the Arts & Business Council, HBCU Alliance of Museums and Galleries, and Association of Academic Museum & Galleries. He maintains leadership positions within the local and national arts communities is a board member of the Arts & Business Council, HBCU Alliance of Museums and Galleries, Association of Academic Museum & Galleries. He also holds positions on the Frist Art Museum Education Council, the Nashville Conference on African-American History Culture Planning Committee, the Associations of Art Museum Curators Professional Practices Committee, “Plan to Play” Steering Committee for the Metro Parks and Recreation, and is a 2018 graduate of Leadership Nashville.

Sheats obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in Art from Fisk University and a Master of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in Studio Art from the School of the Museum of Fine Art (SMFA)-Boston and Tufts University. He completed a postgraduate Teaching Fellowship at SMFA-Boston and Tufts University, as well as a Teaching Artist-in-Residence at the Nashville Public Library.

Anita Dey (Moderator)

Anita Dey is a third-year graduate student in the Garman Art Conservation Department at SUNY Buffalo State specializing in paper conservation. She is currently the graduate intern at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art in Washington D.C. Her work includes updating the digital imaging protocols for the lab, imaging and analyzing the pigment mixtures of 14 oversized Islamic manuscripts, and conservation treatments on Indian and Mughal paintings for upcoming exhibitions. Anita also serves on the Washington Conservation Guild’s IDEA Action Committee and Buffalo State’s Equity and Inclusion Committee. Anita earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences with a minor in Ancient Studies from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She previously completed conservation work at the National Archives and Records Administration, the Library of Congress, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, and the Conservation Center For Art & Historic Artifacts. Anita has also worked on a Photographic Preservation Project for Historical Black Colleges and Universities at Bowie State University. 

LaStarsha McGarity (Moderator)

LaStarsha is currently the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Objects Conservation at the National Gallery ofArt in Washington, DC. She received a BA in Art with a minor in Chemistry from Texas SouthernUniversity (HBCU), in Houston, TX. She received a MA and a Certificate of Advanced Study in ArtConservation from the Garman Art Conservation Department at SUNY Buffalo State College, in Buffalo,NY. Her conservation experiences include Texas Southern University, the Cleveland Museum of Art, theSmithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Smithsonian’sNational Museum of African Art. Her graduate internships were completed at the Mississippi Civil RightsMuseum and the Museum of Mississippi History (2MM), the Brooklyn Museum, the Saint Louis ArtMuseum, and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. As a conservator, she has pushed to redefinediversity in the field and worked to advance engagement with underrepresented institutions anddemographics. 


Conservation is Not Neutral: Emotion and Bias in our Work
02/22/2021 at 4:00 PM (EST)   |  90 minutes
02/22/2021 at 4:00 PM (EST)   |  90 minutes
Resource Guide
Open to download resource.
Open to download resource.