Anya Dani Joins Conservation Program to Help Expand Inclusivity

As part of an effort to expand “our own capacity to teach cultural heritage conservation in an inclusive manner,” Glenn Wharton, chair of the Conservation Program, announced that effective August 1, Anya Dani will be Director of Community Engagement and Inclusive Practice/Lecturer in Cultural Heritage Conservation for the UCLA Getty Interdepartmental Program in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage. The impetus for the position is also to broaden “our network of partners and institutions to include African American communities,” according to Wharton.


An objects conservator with more than twenty years of experience working in the cultural heritage sector, Dani points out that part of her goal is to “incorporate social responsibility” into her work and “strive to end systemic racism in the cultural heritage conservation field.” Wharton describes her forthcoming efforts as including interaction with community members, scholars, students, and institutions associated with African American culture and history, as well as conducting outreach to attract more diverse students to the field. “These activities will all aid in the preservation of African American material culture, which has historically been overlooked. The position also includes advocating for social justice in cultural heritage and expanding African American representation in the field of conservation,” he added.


Dani stressed that with this newly-created position, she “really wants to reach out to the greater UCLA community, the greater Los Angeles community” and eventually into all of California and the western United States. For example, she hopes to work with people in archaeology and African American studies and then talk with those in the surrounding communities, as well as local institutions that focus on African American history and culture, such as the California African American Museum in Los Angeles. Part of her effort will also be to hold on-campus seminars.


“There is a strong African American presence on campus,” she explained. She looks forward to working with Black student affinity groups. “Reaching out within the UCLA community is going to be my first stop so that I can better understand their needs and examine some of the ways that conservation can help them to learn and connect with our cultural history,” she said. She also anticipates working with Justin Dunnavant, assistant professor of anthropology and core faculty member of the Cotsen Institute, who has been involved in excavating artifacts from a sunken slave ship. Dani thinks this work demonstrates that “there is a strong emotion evoked when you are a Black person excavating these materials from your own culture.


“Part of what I see as my role here is not just getting the word out about conservation to the Black community, but hopefully also changing the way we work as conservators to introduce projects that are meaningful to Black culture, as well as developing methods of working that reflect the values of the Black community” she added.


Historically, according to Dani, “the Western conservation tradition has been to overlook African American material culture, basically not putting an emphasis on its preservation at all. In rare instances when an African American cultural item is conserved, it would be done by predominantly White conservators in a conservation laboratory with little understanding of its original context and without community collaboration.” These are very important aspects of the conservation of cultural heritage that need to be addressed, she explained, and went on to say that “our field is slowly understanding the necessity of community collaboration. My personal vision of the future of conservation is truly inclusive.”


In discussing who currently is addressing these issues really well, Dani highlighted the George Floyd Global Memorial, which is “community-based.” She specifically named Jeanelle Austin, who is leading the work and has collaborated with the Midwest Art Conservation Center to help the community better preserve all the offerings that the public is making. “People started leaving very personal offerings and creating public art to express their grief,” Dani continued. “I’ve been told that it’s important to the Black people in Minneapolis that that artwork be preserved, but by the local community itself. So the community-based organization is making decisions about how the items are cared for. The memorial wants to leave the offerings out as long as possible, but not let them fall into disrepair. They are finding ways to store and catalog the items, to have the community participate in conservation activities, and to create pop-up exhibits. So here’s a great example of how local conservators, community caretakers, and artists are all working together,” she pointed out.


That project also demonstrates how involving the community in the caretaking of the items can help in the healing of the trauma of the event, according to Dani. “I really resonate with the emotional aspect that comes with the work they are doing.” She also commended all the good work being done at the National Museum of African American Heritage and Culture at the Smithsonian.


“I want the UCLA program to be really responsive to the needs of the community” she added. “I hope that my background working on community projects and with conservation activism can be put to good use at UCLA,” she continued. For example, she spent almost ten years at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, where she established an Art Conservation Program that worked with local museums and artists on the conservation of the unique cultural heritage of Okinawa.


“I’m trying to come in to UCLA with a collaborative spirit, but humbly know that it will take time to build trust with local communities,” she added. “I want to share my experiences and knowledge and explore what UCLA and conservation can offer holders of Black cultural heritage. The UCLA/Getty Conservation Program has state-of-the-art conservation facilities that can be used by students to work with art and artifacts from local communities, but we don’t want to fall into the same pitfalls as before. I hope I can discuss conservation with members of the surrounding Black community and that we can reciprocally share knowledge. Maybe we can even spark a love of conservation in people who might not have previously known what it is. All cultures have a history of caretaking in some way: how they take care of their treasured artifacts. I think that is something that almost anybody can understand,” she said.


Dani received both a BA and MS in art conservation from the University of Delaware and recently finished working on a Conservation Survey grant at the Stanford University Archaeology Collections, supported by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, where she was incorporating cultural sensitivity and sustainable practices alongside condition documentation. She is also a member (formerly co-chair) of the Equity & Inclusion Committee of the American Institute for Conservation and a co-founder of the Black Art Conservators group. She began her community-centered work at the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.


Although she will frequently be on campus, Dani will primarily be working remotely from her home base in the Bay Area, where she lives with her husband and two young children. When not working, she helps preserve another art form: swing dancing and doing the lindy hop. She actually met her husband when dancing. “I really enjoy that, and it kind of ties into my love of Black culture because that’s where these dance styles originated. It comes from jazz clubs and dancing in Harlem in the 1930s,” she noted.


The position is funded through a grant from the Getty Foundation, with additional support from the UCLA Social Science Division, the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program, and individual donors. For more information or to find out how to support our research and education in archaeology and conservation, please contact Michelle Jacobson at

Photo Credit - Peter Ginter, Okinawa Institute of Science & Technology

Published on August 5, 2022.