Elephants never forget, should art museums remember too? Historic ivory collections as ambassadors for conservation education
Good C., Tyrrell P., Zhou Z., Macdonald DW.
© 2019, The Author(s). Ivory in art museum collections has been a contentious topic during recent years, with some parties calling for its destruction. But analysis of media reactions to the parallel strategy of burning modern ivory stockpiles may offer insight to the likely effectiveness of that course of action in museums: such burns have seemingly fallen short in sending a clear and enduring message to the intended demographics—be this consumers, dealers, poachers or traffickers. This prompts us to suggest an alternative to the destruction of museum ivory: that art museums with ivory collections take on the challenge and responsibility of imparting powerful conservation messages. This article explores the potential of ivory artworks as educational ambassadors, as well as the international reach of museums to target demographics in key ivory consumer regions such as South East Asia, and the ethical obligations of museums with ivory collections to participate in conservation education. In placing a useful lens on these currently controversial artworks, museum ivory would be endowed with a new critical relevance as educational ambassadors for contemporary conservation issues, simultaneously offering justification for the preservation and display of these historic artworks that many museums are presently reluctant to exhibit. In highlighting the potential of museum ivory as a vehicle for conservation education we highlight the need for heightened holistic collaboration across disciplines to ensure that conservation messages reach diverse audiences in novel and impactful ways.