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AAHC Forum: Collection Reorganization Makes Art Borrowing Easier

March 28, 2013

This post is a part of the AAHC Forum. In the coming months we will invite current and past grantees to contribute their project experiences via blog posts on our UpNext Blog and then ask you to respond through the AAHC Virtual Forum. We hope you will add your voice and share your needs and opinions so that AAHC can continue to help African American museums thrive. Please visit the AAHC forum to continue the conversation.

In 2011 the Amistad Research Center received an African American History and Culture grant to increase the capacity to care for and exhibit its collection of fine art by African American artists. The  grant followed the devastating impact Hurricane Katrina had on the Center, resulting in a 70 percent reduction in staff. Grant funds were used to recruit and hire an experienced registrar/curator and to strengthen the staff’s knowledge of museum practices. The project enabled the Center to align itself with best practices and implement traveling exhibitions targeting new and underserved populations. The blog posts by Lee Hampton, Executive Director of the Amistad Research Center, and Leiza McKenna, the Registrar/Curator hired as a result of the grant, each discuss work being done as a result of the completed 2011 AAHC grant project.

By Leiza McKenna
Registrar/Curator, Amistad Research Center

Creating well-organized art storage and technologically efficient records is a major part of preparing the Amistad collection for general access and future exhibitions. My role as registrar is to ensure that there are user-friendly systems in place to manage the collection and maintain its records, that necessary policies and procedures guarantee legal and insurance compliance, and that object handling is centralized and supervised.

Storage is a spatial and organizational issue within our facility. We envisioned a new arrangement in storage and moved objects not associated with the art collection to another part of the Center. A written legend was created to identify each piece of art’s storage location, and a coinciding EXCEL spreadsheet has been updated. Access and retrieval of the artwork is no longer as arduous and frustrating. I am also creating a database to electronically catalogue each piece with all pertinent information and an identifying image. Once completed, the images will be able to be linked to the Amistad website. Institutions interested in borrowing our art or hosting exhibitions will find this useful.

With a steady stream of interest in borrowing the artwork, it is invaluable to have standard loan policies and procedures that have ensured that our art is protected when it is away from the Center. Now the overall process runs smoothly using our internal procedure checklist. We have been able to generate income from administrative fees that are written into each loan agreement. We have close to a dozen institutions that are currently borrowing the art, are under contract for upcoming exhibitions, or in preliminary talks to borrow in the future. In addition, I created condition reports to manage conservation activities. The database will also allow us to track our loans and create statistical reports, including calculating the popularity of an exhibition or tracking the effectiveness of specific art-related programs.

Part of the borrowing process involves packing and shipping of the art. I have identified several art transport companies that we use with confidence and success. I maintain the object handling, but it can be tracked by any authorized employee using the database. This should be very useful when tracking traveling exhibitions. Within the Center, I assist with moving pieces to and from storage for proper handling. Before any piece leaves the Center, I confirm the current market value to make sure it’s accurately insured.

The capacity building provisions of the grant and my ability to address selective needs of the Amistad Collection have really afforded a chance to work with an extraordinary art collection.  There are so many well-known and sought after African-American artist’s works here that the success of greater awareness is to be expected.

Museum Grants for African American History and Culture
Museum Grants for African American History and Culture