Joelle D. J. Wickens

I am a daughter, sibling, wife, parent, educator, mentor, student, facilitator, organizer, preventive conservator, engaged scholar…. Others identify me as disabled. I prefer phrases like, uses a wheelchair to navigate when outside of her home. I currently live on land that was violently stolen from the Lenni-Lenape centuries ago, and in a society that relies on systems and structures developed on the backs of enslaved people. I am beginning to truly understand the harmful and unjust legacy of those actions. I realize self-reflection, self-education, empathy, communication, vulnerability, courage, and action are required to build an equitable world and I am committed to continually taking these steps.

Professionally, I am an Assistant Professor of preventive conservation in the Department of Art Conservation, and the Associate Director of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. My current work in preventive conservation is dedicated to evolving the practice of the specialty to place social, economic, and environmental sustainability at its core. As a critically-engaged scholar, my work is focused on helping my field broaden its understanding of what cultural heritage is, diversifying who conserves this heritage, and bringing multiple and non-dominant ways of knowing and doing to the conservation process. The field of conservation is currently 85% white, 77% female, 71% able-bodied, and 75% university educated. These professionals write that a conservator is someone who: “Saves our cultural heritage physically. They are unique in the wider preservation field for the particular expert hands-on technical and decision-making skills they bring to preserving and caring for and our tangible history.” My scholarship is contributing to the field by developing an understanding of who holds the power and privilege needed to maintain the status quo, who and what has been excluded, and what it will take to include the excluded.

A developing source for my collaborative work is At the site, individuals can engage in discussion around the questions, Who is a conservator? and What is conservation? Here, you can watch, listen to, and read a conversation on how graduate school might need to change in order to include more disabled conservators in the profession.

This work can only be done in collaboration with those outside the field of conservation. I am always on the lookout for partners in any field and/or any community who have an interest in cultural heritage. Please be in touch so we can explain our work to each other and see what comes of it.

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