–By Marianne Weldon, Objects Conservator and Collections Manager of the Art and Artifacts Collection, Bryn Mawr College
On Sunday, May 29, I attended the panel entitled Power to Preserve: Creating a Collection Care Culture moderated by Rebecca Fifield. This session was developed by AIC’s Collection Care Network (CCN) for the Collection Management track at the Annual Meeting of the American Alliance of Museums in Washington, D.C. The AAM Annual Meeting Theme for 2016 was Power, Influence, and Responsibility, encouraging exploration of “how the themes of power, influence and responsibility shape the work of museums in the U.S. and around the world”.
A goal of the presentation was to share influencing strategies to support development of collection care, as well as to highlight resources and partnerships available through AIC. The three presenters spoke of ways that they have been working at their institutions to foster relationships with partners within and outside their institution to better enable them to care for their collections.
Maryanne McCubbin spoke to fostering aligned goals across an institution. She emphasized the importance in finding common ground among museum staff and that most people working in the museum are collections stewards in some way whether directly or indirectly. She outlined the importance of fostering that relationship with others that work in the museum in a variety of ways including:
- Avoiding rhetoric and demystifying what collections staff are doing. Avoid terms that people won’t understand, such as agents of deterioration.
- Being proactive and available so people don’t feel like they are bothering you or that you are too busy for them.
- Provide frequent, regular, repeated communications on many levels and in many directions up and down the chain.
- Make sure to demonstrate that you have the “big picture” in mind and that you understand and present things in an inter-disciplinary way.
Kathy Garrett-Cox spoke to the importance of working with community partners to enable smaller institutions to create a collection care culture beyond their institutions. At Maymont, an American estate in Richmond Virginia, the staff numbers 3 full-time and 3 part-time, which is small when considering the needs of institutions during emergency response. Garrett-Cox spoke about the formation of The Museum Emergency Support Team (MEST), which was formed by a group of small local organization in 2006 in response to Hurricane Katrina as an alliance for response to help to share resources, planning and training. She additionally outlined many specific examples of the way the group grew and changed over the years, introducing challenges associated with volunteer group continuity, what worked, and what didn’t.
Patricia Silence works at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation where she manages the preventive conservation team of 20 members. She gave numerous examples of ways that demonstrated the power of communication strategies to strengthen staff partnerships in supporting collection care. Overall, these ideas helped create relationships where colleagues in other departments wanted to help further collection care. These strategies included:
- Meeting with over 150 site interpreters and supervisors in small groups and explaining the reasons for temperature set points. This included a briefing on dew point and how they use temperature to reduce the possibility of having water in the walls. This has helped their facilities department get fewer calls regarding comfort issues.
- Tracking the number of hours spent cleaning gum off of items and cleaning up soda spills in order to explain why these items should not be allowed in historic buildings with collections.
- She emphasized the importance of expressing professional “needs and desires” in terms of value. Giving reasons beyond collections value when necessary and aligning the rationale with the goals of colleagues in other departments.
Additionally Patricia spoke of areas for improvement, where things haven’t gone as well as she would like. One specific example was in the area of excessive lighting, where additional buy-in by leadership and security staff is still needed.
As a result of all the panelists discussing both things that worked well and areas that needed improvement, discussion with the audience then centered around how we respond to hearing “NO” at our institutions and what are the most compelling arguments to win institutional support for preservation programs. Several members of the audience responded with ways that they build partnerships with allies within their institution or develop data to support their argument before again attempting to implement change.
The panelists presented a variety of examples, both successful and unsuccessful, to promote collection care cultures at their institutions. It contributed renewed energy to go back to our institutions to continue to forge stronger relationships to support collections care in a variety of creative ways.
Find out more information about the activities of AIC’s Collection Care Network.
Rebecca Fifield is Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections at the New York Public Library. She is a graduate of the George Washington University Museum Studies program and a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation. A 25-year veteran of large and small art and history institutions, she is Chair of AIC’s Collection Care Network and an Advisory Council Member of the Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists.
Maryanne McCubbin is Head, Strategic Collection Management at Museum Victoria. Maryanne has worked in archives and museums for close to thirty years. An expert in history and care of heritage collections, her work has centered on the development, care and preservation, use and interpretation of collections. Her current position involves addressing the big, tough issues around managing a major, complex state collection.
Patty Silence is Director of Preventive Conservation at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, responsible for preservation in the historic area, museums, storage, and loans. Her focus is on site maintenance, environmental management, emergency preparedness, exhibit preparation, pest control, and safe transport of collections. Patty has over 30 years of experience in encouraging colleagues to gain and use expertise in collections care.Kathy Garrett-Cox is Collection Manager of the Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island and formerly Manager of Historic Collections at Maymont in Richmond, Virginia, where she worked for 11 years. She currently serves as President of the Virginia Conservation Association and as Chair of the Richmond Area Museum Emergency Support Team. Kathy speaks frequently on coordination of conservation projects and writing disaster plans. She recently coordinated the Central Virginia Alliance for Response program.