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Our Collections Matter: Enabling Sustainability through Conservation & Collections | Tools & Opportunities for Southeast Asian Collection Custodians

SEAMEO SPAFA Centre Director Somlak Charoenpot started off by highlighting the importance of sustainability in this day in age, as an emerging concept that is in trend. While people are aware of and talking about Sustainable Development Goals, the question is: how do we connect the collections to achieve the SDGs?

Jose Luiz Pedersoli Jr presented ICCROM’s work and mission as an intergovernmental organization working on the restoration and preservation of culture, ICCROM’s long standing collaboration with SEAMEO SPAFA, namely through the CollAsia Programme, and then the background to Our Collections Matter, which arose from acknowledging global challenges like climate change, loss of biodiversity, inequalities, conflict, which are obstructing aspirations to transform the world for the better.

When it comes to museums, libraries, galleries and archives, the connection with SDGs is not so obvious and clear insofar as how to make concrete contributions towards and play a crucial role in achieving them. In the aim of unlocking the potential of collections, changing mindsets among communities of users (public, researchers, professionals), and encouraging behaviours that make a difference, the three Ts framework was developed: 1) Tools, 2) Training and 3) Transformation.

The Toolkit has recently been developed, available on ICCROM’s website, where one can select either an SDG, or other area of concern to find the various resources identified that can help with this. The subsequent Training activities will include using these tools, and developing new ones. The final step is Transformation, in the hope that this connection between collections and SDGs has been achieved, so that beneficiaries can start making an impact in influencing our communities of users.

It is important to recognise that there will be no place for unsustainable institutions. One of the greatest threats to cultural heritage is instability, so we need to address these problems that lie on the outside of collections institutions. Cultural heritage will not stand a chance in the face of climate change, conflict, etc. Securing stability by striking a balance between economy, society and environment is key.

Henry McGhie, of Curating Tomorrow, then went on to define what is ‘sustainability’, emphasizing that it is about keeping future generations in mind and balancing economy, society and environment in tandem with each other. He then summarized the objectives of the 17 SDGs and explained in more detail the five Ps (People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, Partnership) of Sustainability. Of particular relevance to collections, he highlighted the important role that collections, i.e. museums, can play in contributing towards SDGs:

  • Protect and safeguard cultural and natural heritage
  • Act as platforms for education on the SDGs
  • Promote cultural participation for all
  • Support sustainable tourism
  • Support research for the SDGs
  • Internal policies, management, operations
  • External partnership and collaborations

It was also specified that each SDG comes with sub-targets that can help guide individuals and institutions in formulating their own goals. A good start to changing mindsets is asking yourself ‘What am I doing that is already contributing to the SDGs? What am I doing that is obstructing them?’. Another method is to look towards local materials and intangible cultural heritage as resources for finding solutions to conservation challenges or communicating SDGs to the public.

As for future plans in the Our Collections Matter project, there will be a training in September 2021 on re-organizing storage with a sustainability mindset, and afterwards another training which will be organized in collaboration with SEAMEO SPAFA, the details of which will be posted on their respective social media platforms.

If you watched the SPAFA SESH “Our Collections Matter: Enabling Sustainability through Conservation & Collections | Tools & Opportunities for Southeast Asian Collection Custodians”, please complete the questionnaire (approximately 5 minutes) to help us improve future SPAFA SESHes: https://bit.ly/evaluation-sesh14-our-collections-matter-spafa-iccrom

Date: 15 July 2021

Time: 2 p.m. (BKK) / 9 a.m. (ROM) / 8 a.m. (UK)

Online Platform: Facebook Live https://www.facebook.com/seameo.spafa/ and on *Zoom. *(Please register at: bit.ly/register-spafa-sesh14-OCM-sustainability-conservation-collections)

During this SPAFA SESH online activity, SEAMEO SPAFA Centre Director Mrs Somlak Charoenpot will call upon the motivators in the Our Collections Matter project, spearheaded by the Rome-based International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM). José Luiz Pedersoli Jr (ICCROM) and Henry McGhie (Curating Tomorrow) will be joining to present the Our Collections Matter project’s background, research findings and the tools collected thus far in supporting custodians on how to use collections in connecting audiences with sustainable development, in recognition of the crucial role that collections can play in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


  1. José Luiz Pedersoli Jr, ICCROM
  2. Henry McGhie, Curating Tomorrow

Moderated by Somlak Charoenpot, SEAMEO SPAFA Centre Director

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