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Read original articles written by MANY's staff about Resources, Community, and Exhibits/Collections. Check out the Letters From Erika to learn about what is going on here at MANY!

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  • August 28, 2019 11:53 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The journey to bring Catharine Van Rensselaer Schuyler’s portrait to “The Schuyler Sisters and Their Circle” exhibition at the Albany Institute of History & Art began in Spring 2018. Implementing an exhibition like “The Schuyler Sisters” is like planning and weaving a coordinated complex web with a little detective work mixed in. Curator Diane Shewchuk worked for eighteen months to develop the exhibition. This included negotiating loans from other institutions, some taking over a year to secure and organize shipment or pick-up.

    Portrait of Catharine Van Rensselaer Schuyler, on loan from the New-York Historical Society, on display at the Albany Institute of History & Art

    Tangential Storytelling

    The Schuyler sisters’ portraits are the heart of the exhibition that provides tangible evidence of their lives. To help tell their stories, over 200 items were used in this exhibition a majority from the Albany Institute of History and Art's own collection and objects borrowed from 24 lending institutions. The texts included in the exhibition also tells their story that a visitor would miss large parts of the narrative if they skipped reading. “We know about the family through the paper trail they left behind,” said Shewchuk. “We wanted to feature texts that make these historical figures real and place them in the context of real human lives.” Documents loaned include correspondence between the Schuyler sister’s father General Philip Schuyler and his grandson in which his grandson asked the General questions about his life. Shewchuk chose to exhibit the page where General Schuyler wrote that his favorite game was backgammon. It’s why you’ll find an 18th-century backgammon table in this exhibition. Another document is a recipe book where Shewchuk features the page with a recipe to relieve teething pain in children and a remedy for horses. “It is tangible evidence that illustrates General Schuyler’s life beyond being a general to include his concern as a father and his passion as an avid horseman,” said Shewchuk. Another letter mentions General Schuyler bringing his grandchildren objects made with birch bark and embroidered moose hair. Next to this letter, you can see examples of this Native American art form. “This exhibition is very tangential...we use objects to tell stories, so when creating this exhibition I’ve thought about what objects can we use as well as the stories they told and how they would look in our galleries.

    “The Schuyler Sisters and Their Circle” at the Albany Institute of History & Art

    The Lifecycle of a Museum Loan

    The Albany Institute borrowed collections from 24 lending institutions for “The Schuyler Sisters and Their Circle” exhibition. While there is a standard order of procedure for most loan agreements, each lending institution has its own timeline and specifications that accompany loaned items.

    Step One: Identify where the object is

    Curators use different resources from online collections portals, records from previously loaned items, or connections with colleagues to find objects that they are interested in including in an exhibition. Shewchuk relied on her expertise in the field and her contacts from across the state to help discover where objects were held. Visiting and keeping up to date on exhibitions in a curator’s specialty also helps to identify where certain objects are housed. Items that are in museums are easier to find, but others, like Angelica Schuyler’s portrait, that are in private collections require more detective work.

    Curator as Detective

    To discover where Angelica Schuyler’s portrait was, Shewchuk had to find the current owner. “I knew who had it years ago but then I had to track down the current owner using obituaries...and I just kept going. I wrote to the current family who owned the painting to see if the portrait could come to Albany. Finding objects comes from following one clue to another clue and that’s how an exhibition can come together, while at the same time keeping in mind the story you want to tell and how these objects fit… Sometimes you really get into the weeds to find things..one thing can be connected to another.”

    Step Two: Contact the museum

    Once a curator has located the object, they contact its home institution regarding availability. “Are there exhibition plans in place?” or “Is this item going to be traveling?”

    If the object is available for loan, a letter is sent from the Director of the Borrowing Institution to the Director of the Lending Institution requesting the loan. This letter outlines the details of the exhibition timeframe and will include a facilities report from the borrowing institution.

    Step Three: Collections Committee Decision

    The lending institution will decide if the object is in good condition. Depending on the type of material, once an object has been on exhibit it must “rest” in a controlled environment before it can be shown again.

    Once the Collections Committee approves of the loan request, they make a recommendation to the museums’ Executive Committee to approve the loan and then present the loan request to the full board. This entire process can take several months and some institutions have a long lead time for any loan requests. For example, Catherine Schuyler’s portrait needed to be requested a year before the exhibition began because of the New-York Historical Society’s requirement. “That is why it is important to build the exhibition timeline around the larger loans so that these objects are secure in order to build the show,” said Shewchuk.

    Step Four: Loan Agreement

    Once the loan is approved, the lending institution creates a legal contract with the borrowing institution called a loan agreement that specifies any specific requirements for the item.

    Loan Negotiation

    For each lending institution, Shewchuk had to negotiate the loan requests, arrange proper documentation, arrange transportation, and organize transportation logistics for staff from the loan institutions who needed to accompany their items to oversee unpacking, installation, and perform condition checks.

    For smaller institutions who loan collection objects or for institutions that are in close proximity to the borrowing institutions, not all of these logistics are necessary. Items that Fort Ticonderoga loaned did not need a special truck but were transported by their staff to the Institute. The same is true for timelines of requesting loan items. Shewchuk secured all of her New York City loans first and from there, was able to tighten the exhibition schedule and approach smaller institutions.

    Most lending institutions, especially the larger organizations, will have a loan fee, a conservation fee, a fee to bring the object from its warehouse/collections storage to the museum for pick up, and a packing fee. Costs vary based on the type of object (i.e. special care and conservation), the distance the object will travel and larger institutions may request a higher loan fee.

    Step Five: Get Ready to Ship

    The lending institution will also perform a condition check and create the specifications for the shipping crate, usually measured specifically for the object. The design of the crate and shipping is arranged by and paid for the borrowing institution.

    For this exhibition, Catharine Schuyler’s portrait had to have a custom crate for its rococo frame and well as glass installed over her portrait for protection.

    Step Six: and it’s off!

    The Albany Institute of History & Art needed to buy the exclusive use of a truck to collect the NYC loans. The truck made stops at the New-York Historical Society, Museum of the City of New York, Columbia University, Gilder Lehrman Collection, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met has a special requirement to be the last stop and the first to have items unloaded at the Institute. Additionally, a courier from The Met accompanied the delivery to the Institute.

    Step Seven: Arrival and Condition Checks

    Upon arrival, Shewchuk took photographs of the crates and sent images to each lending institution. She also informed the lending institutions where these items would be located in storage and their security level until it was time to remove them from their crates for installation. Most loaned items need 24 hours to acclimate to the new environment before they could be opened. Condition checks are also done throughout the exhibition.

    Step Eight: Installation

    Either lending institution staff or the curatorial staff from the exhibiting museum will remove items from their crates and begin the installation process.

    Step Nine: Reverse

    When the exhibition finishes, the process reverses as the collections team pack each item and sends it back to their home institution. Packing materials are saved and labeled so that items can be packed how they arrived. Another condition check is done by the borrowing institution and then again by the lending institution when it arrives back.

    Don’t Be Afraid to Ask About Borrowing

    When it comes to approaching other institutions for loans, “Don’t be afraid to ask about borrowing. You never know if you don’t ask,” Shewchuk recommends. One of the more unusual objects that the Institute sought for this exhibition was Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton’s wedding rings from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University. Shewchuk approached the ask with the heart of the story she wanted to tell with this exhibition. “For this wedding ring to travel back to Albany, to the city where he [Alexander Hamilton] put it on her hand would be an incredibly moving part for this exhibition and the story… and that was the story I pitched.” Her approach worked and the wedding ring was allowed to be part of this exhibition for three months. For Shewchuk, the confirmation that Elizabeth’s wedding ring would be part of the exhibition was a special moment in the entire process. “When you get the email that says, ‘yes, we’ll lend’ [from Columbia University] you start to cry...and when the courier asked when was the last time that this ring was in the same room with Elizabeth’s portrait, you get chills.”

    Elizabeth (Eliza) Hamilton portrait hangs on the wall to the right of her husband, Alexander Hamilton with her wedding ring displayed between.

    Coming Together

    “The hardest part is the logistics, is getting things here, handling the special requirements that can vary from museum to museum, and trying to time it,” Shewchuk shared. The last item for the exhibition arrived just two days before opening. With all the objects coming together to tell the Schuyler sisters’ stories, items loaned from nearby Schuyler Mansion provided the most poetic completion for this exhibition. Household and personal items that might have been used by the sisters including chairs, a tea set, and clothing. Schuyler Mansion is the site where the family lived, and where Alexander Hamilton proposed to Elizabeth in the parlor that helped to launch these sisters and their lives into public intrigue with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway phenomenon “Hamilton.”. It might be these objects that Schuyler Mansion loaned to the Albany Institute that are the most moving. Perhaps the last time that these objects we all together with the people who used them was at the mansion and now these objects are all back in Albany and under one roof, telling this story.

    You can visit “The Schuyler Sisters and Their Circle” at the Albany Institute of History & Art is on until December 29, 2019. The Institute is open Wednesday 10 AM - 5 PM, Thursday 10 AM - 8 PM, Friday and Saturday 10 AM - 5 PM, and Sunday Noon - 5 PM.

  • August 28, 2019 11:45 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Across New York City you’ll find the ubiquitous public telephone booth. While some are still in use and others are out of order, the booths remain a physical reminder of the past.  A Google search while writing this article revealed that there are just four functional telephone booths left in NYC. Arts and cultural organizations are finding new ways to use the booths located high traffic areas where these public pay phones once stood. Urban Archive is turning these spaces into digital kiosks to connect people to the history that surrounds them, turning New York City sidewalks into a museum space. 

    How Does it Work?

    Urban Archive began as a mobile app that connected users to digital images shared through the archives of historic sites, taking an active role to promote the stories and images provided by museums. The location-based app brings together digital collections from New York City’s museums, archives, and libraries for users to discover and learn about history at the places it happened. Urban Archive partners with organizations that have digitized their collections and then takes those files and uploads them onto their content management system that gives each partner organization access. 

    Multiple screenshots of the app interface.

    “The City is Your Museum”

    In 2016, Urban Archive founders Ben Smyth and Tim Bradley had an idea to engage visitors with an immersive storytelling experience that extended beyond the museum walls. With over 80,000 photos gathered from across New York City since its founding, the Urban Archive app matches historic images to their locations on an interactive map of the city. The founders’ vision for the app was ”The City is Your Museum” and to achieve their goal they knew they had to ask museums and cultural institutions to share their digital archives with the public. The resulting Urban Archive app relies on the community and fosters partnerships with cultural institutions to  inspire users to learn more about architecture, culture, and unique stories of New York City. 

    There are passive and active ways to engage with the app. Users can view the NYC map to see historical images and explore stories at their leisure. The app can also send push notification alerts with the historical fact of the day, or when you are near a historic place that has an image and story. At the top of the app screen are “Featured Stories” for users to explore at their own pace. This app uses data mapping technology to connect locations around New York City to images and stories within their specific location. People can also interact with Urban Archive without a smartphone in New York City. 

    A LinkNYC Kiosk where a former payphone once stood now showing historical images from the Museum of the City of New York.

    Diagram from Urban Archive illustrating how these kiosks work.

    Kiosks = City’s Virtual Museum

    Urban Archive partnered with LinkNYC to create more than 1,800 digital kiosks in all five boroughs. LinkNYC started in 2016 as a way to replace outdated payphones with free wi-fi, phone calls, device charging, city maps and other connectivity access for contemporary New Yorkers. Working with the Museum of the City of New York, these kiosks now include historic images that show passerbys what that street looked like years ago. On your way to work on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side? See photographs of 19th century immigrant street vendors who set up their carts to sell their goods. These kiosks synchronize the mapping technology data with the LinkNYC system and are location-based so the photos that appear are pulled from a 200 meter radius of the kiosk.

    “This mapping technology creates an exciting new way for New Yorkers and visitors to see historic photography of the streets they’re walking on just by passing a LinkNYC kiosk,” said Samir Saini, Commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications in a press release. “With an expansive five-borough network, LinkNYC is giving New Yorkers and visitors alike the ability to travel back in time with historic photography of the neighborhoods where we live, work and visit. Thanks to the rich archive and mapping technology from the Museum of the City of New York and Urban Archive, we are providing a way for all of us to feel more connected to the city and its history,” said Ruth Fasoldt, Link’s Director of External Affairs.

    These kiosks primarily use images from the Museum of the City of New York, but Urban Archive launched “My Archive” to tell the story of New York City residents by crowdsourcing their histories and photographs. During certain months, like this past February and June, people submitted their photos for a chance to have them added to a personal history collection included on Urban Archive. These personal and unique photographs and stories from the people of New York add voices to the historical narrative that might not be included in traditional archives. 

    In June, 25 stories and images were chosen from submissions that were highlighted on the mobile app as well as featured in the digital kiosks in proximity to where photographs were originally taken. “My Archive” connects the people of New York City to these historic archival photographs with personal stories, making their city their museum.

    MANY Executive Director Erika Sanger submitted one of her father outside McSorley’s Old Ale House in 1958 c and her mother in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1962.

    Power in Partnership

    “Urban Archive moves collections into a more collaborative setting that provides a platform for partners to collaborate, share information, and share content for programming and exhibitions,” said Sam Addeo, Urban Archive Director of Community and Development.  At its start, Urban Archive engaged partners directly pitching the app to museums and cultural organizations. Establishing trust with these organizations was essential. Urban Archive is not a one time use app. It is a free tool to help strengthen these institutions, to connect institutions to one another's digital archive, and to focus on promoting these partner institutions. App partners grew from the Brooklyn Historical Society to include: Museum at Eldridge Street, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Museum of the City of New York, NYC Department of Records, New-York Historical Society, New York Public Library, South Street Seaport Museum, Green-Wood Cemetery, The Municipal Art Society of New York, Fire Museum, The Skyscraper Museum, the Alice Austin House, Bronx Historical Society, Brooklyn Public Library, Historic House Trust, the New York Transit Museum, and the Museum of Chinese in America just to name a few.

    Extended Museum Visit

    The “City Stories” app feature on Urban Archive utilizes museums’ digital collections to bring their visitors beyond the museums doors to historical sites. These “City Stories” provide digital imagery to illustrate museums stories and bring you to the location where it happened. Did you read about the “Eagle Pencil Strike of 1938” at the New-York Historical Society? Visit East 14th Street and see the strike location in person using this feature. Stories created by the Museum of the City of New York offer new content weekly as well as their new exhibitions and walking tours. 

    Audio guides are the other initiative to expand the museum visit with the app. Urban Archive developed the technology for these audio guides and their mission is to “democratize this technology, making audio guides accessible to all.” It gives the creative power to the institutions to build custom tours both inside and outside of museums and in the communities  where the stories originated.

    App Expansion Upstate

    In June, Urban Archive expanded from New York City to Newburgh, NY as organizations in the Hudson Valley start to make their photographic collection accessible to the public using the digital platform. Five partners have joined Urban Archive in this expansion and have uploaded more than 148 images of historic Newburgh for the public to explore.

    What Can Your Museum Learn from Urban Archive?

    Sharing resources and cross-promoting information between museums can further enrich their programming and exhibitions. “Look at the tools available and find an open data software...it doesn’t have to be high tech, and start digitizing your collection and share it,” Sam Addeo said. “Small institutions can work with larger ones to share information and share content. A smaller institution might have content that a larger institution is looking for to help tell a story.” Museums that share resources and collections make stories accessible and contextualize history to create a meaningful experience in the communities they serve.

  • August 28, 2019 11:38 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In 2018, New York State’s Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) awarded over $15 million for capital improvement projects to museums. Museums are using these funds to expand gallery and exhibition spaces, improve facilities to increase accessibility, and adapt new spaces. These museum capital projects involve major construction projects that often serve as a catalyst for economic investment in their regions. All of these projects strengthen museums’ ability to implement their missions and serve their communities and their visitors.

    REDC funded projects include a new entrance and visitor center at Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park, a 100,000 square foot expansion at The Strong National Museum of Play that will allow for new exhibitions and additional facilities for educational programs. The Studio Museum in Harlem’s capital project to reconstruct and re-envisioning of its current facilities will help it better serve its audiences. The Children’s Museum of the East End will build a permanent facility to expand community access to arts and cultural programming that will allow it to change from seasonal to year-round operations. Museums across New York State want to improve access to their collections and programming. While these projects will build capacity, they also require museums to think strategically about staffing, admissions,  interpretation, and maintaining public engagement with visitors throughout the construction. Especially if the museum has been undergoing major construction for over two decades like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House.

    Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House, Image courtesy the Frank Lloyd Wright Martin House Facebook page.

    Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House 25-Year Restoration

    The buildings at Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House complex in Buffalo, NY began a $52 million restoration journey back in the early 1990s which was finished earlier Executive Director Mary Roberts was proud to announce that restoration was complete.

    This project evolved from $10 million for the restoration of a single building to the restoration of the entire complex with a final budget that exceeded $50 million. Public funding accounted for $32 million of the total budget with $24 million from multiple New York State agencies. The balance between achieving this massive restoration project and continuing programming required creative solutions. “Restoration has been the backdrop to our operations for two decades and throughout the multiple phases of work, our interpretation has necessarily adapted to spaces and entire buildings under construction and restoration,” said Roberts.

    Exterior view of the Darwin D. Martin House, 1959. Victor Shanchuck, courtesy Martin House Restoration Corporation. Exterior view of the Darwin D. Martin House, 1959.  Victor Shanchuck, courtesy Martin House Restoration Corporation.

    Interpretation Alteration

    The Darwin Martin House embraced and incorporated ongoing restoration into its interpretative strategy. This approach allowed the museum to remain open and keep audiences engaged. “As programming revenue is so important to any presenting organization, we created messaging, tours and programs that made the most of the process inviting guests to experience a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ when they visited the work in progress,” said Roberts. Tours like “Hard Hat Tours” or “Restoration Tours” gave visitors the opportunity for an insider look at the restoration. “Hard Hat Tours” included an actual hard hat (for safety in an active construction site). These tours gave architecture enthusiasts or those curious to see up close structural details and restoration work. Throughout construction, tours and interpretation strategies evolved and changed to adapt to the work in progress.

    3) Martin House, Open for Tours While Under Restoration. Courtesy Martin House Restoration Corporation.Martin House, Open for Tours While Under Restoration.  Courtesy Martin House Restoration Corporation.

    Building Closures and Public Accessibility

    Building construction might necessitate museums like the Darwin Martin House to face some long-term closure. During one interior restoration phase, one half of the main residence was kept open while the other half remained closed. These areas shifted  as construction progressed. The museum built artificial walls with viewing windows that looked into these construction zones giving visitors a peek into the work in progress. “We required contractors to maintain safe and clean work spaces knowing that visitors would be adjacent to work zones,” Executive Director Roberts said. This approach allowed the museum to not fully close to the public, keep a revenue stream, and offer a unique experience that encouraged visitors to return after the restoration to see the project completed. 

    Today the Martin House Restoration Corporation is bringing the Martin House complex back to its former magnificence in the most ambitious restoration of a Frank Lloyd Wright site ever undertaken. Three of the original elements — the pergola, conservatory and carriage house, which were demolished decades ago, are rebuilt in the first-ever reconstruction of Wright buildings. The historic site is operated as a house museum and will remain open for tours throughout the restoration.  From time to time a specific tour space in the Martin House may be unavailable due to ongoing restoration. An alternate space will be made available.

    -Darwin Martin House website, May  2015

    Reconstruction of Pergola, Conservatory, courtesy Martin House Restoration Corporation. Reconstruction of Pergola, Conservatory, courtesy Martin House Restoration Corporation.

    Construction and Public Perception

    The Darwin Martin House created positive and informative messaging on construction fencing to keep visitors and the local community informed. This signage provided details about the restoration projects. The Darwin Martin House also provided educational lectures, programs, and exhibitions on site and at partner locations that focused on the restoration. Additionally, the Darwin Martin website included details for each restoration phase. “We tried to never apologize for work in progress, and instead created messaging delivered by our staff and volunteer docents that the restoration was a very positive thing, and something we were proud of,” said Roberts. Marketing messaging and publicity celebrated each completed restoration phase and kept restoration work transparent that also engaged the public. 

    Construction and Community

    Construction signage outside the Darwin Martin House

    One priority that the Darwin Martin House kept throughout its 25-year long restoration was being sensitive to the needs of their Parkside Community. “The Parkside Community Association has an ex officio seat on our board of directors in order to maintain strong lines of communication and foster involvement that has enabled a strong and positive relationship,” said Roberts. “We offered special meetings, receptions and sent written updates with information in advance about projects to the neighbors, and invited their comments and questions on a regular basis.” Community engagement during massive construction projects fosters public trust and encourages public support. 

    Governor Andrew Cuomo closed the final gap for restoration funding with $5 million that was used to rehabilitate the historic landscape, preserve the Barton House (the secondary residence on the estate), and complete the restoration of the second floor of the Martin House 25 years after construction began. Capital improvement funding is critical to improving museums’ ability to increase admissions and solidify their role as economic engines in the New York State economy. The completed restoration at the Darwin Martin House will “boost the number of tourists significantly above the nearly 400,000 who came last year,” Patrick Kaler, Visit Buffalo Niagara for The Buffalo News (June 2019). Funding for these massive projects are important to increase capacity that is needed to achieve these economic development numbers and require museums like the Darwin Martin House to be strategic in planning interpretation, engagement, and in maintaining programming revenue. “...the restoration is an important part of the story we tell, and it is now a part of the history of our National Historic Landmark and New York State Historic Site,” Executive Director Roberts said. “It is a project that has captured the imaginations and hearts of many. It is a symbol of what a community can do when it sets its mind to doing something important.” 

    Final Thoughts: The Darwin Martin House Strategy 

    • Embrace the construction work and include it into your interpretation

    • Find unique solutions to keep up with programming and tours that incorporate the construction

    • Promote capital improvement projects with positive messaging and include the community in the conversation

    • Stay transparent by listing information about construction on a website

  • July 31, 2019 10:03 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I am taking the opportunity for this “Letters from Erika” for a bit of shameless promotion of MANY fall programs. I usually use this space to comment on trends and topics I find relevant and important to bring to the attention of colleagues. This time, they are one and the same.

    This year’s Museum Institute at Great Camp Sagamore is designed to help museum professionals share ways to build organizational capacity in fundraising, program structures, leadership training, and human resource development through diversity, equity, access, and inclusion. Four days and three nights in this immersive learning experience with experts in the field renews energy and motivates change. Feeling a bit stuck and unsure what might be next for you? Come to Great Camp Sagamore and let us help you find some new choices.

    Our fall Meet Ups and Workshops are in places where mission, community, and resources align to create new synergies. Workshops will re-present programs that were the most highly rated by annual conference attendees and will include something for museum professionals of different experience levels and disciplines. We are also trying a new workshop structure; our September workshop in Buffalo will focus on fundraising and institutional advancement. Meet Ups will include exhibition and behind-the-scenes tours as well as refreshments, time to connect with colleagues. and learn what MANY has planned for the coming year. 

    Fall 2018 program assessments revealed that people are attending MANY Workshops and Meet Ups to network with individuals from their regions, learn about what is happening at other museums and make connections with Industry Partners; more than a third of the attendees traveled over an hour; half of those who responded to the survey were attending a Meet-Up or Workshop for the first time and 90% said that they would visit the museum again in the future. 

    I am so excited to be able to see hundreds of you this fall and have the opportunity to speak in person. I look forward to learning about all the amazing things happening in New York. Please join us, visit a place that may be in your region but you have never seen before, and tell me something good that we can share with all of our members, colleagues, and industry partners.

    See you on the road! e

  • July 31, 2019 9:54 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    After visiting almost every state, Museum on Main Street is making its New York State debut with Water/Ways this June at the Erie Canal Museum.

    The Erie Canal Museum and the surrounding community has been chosen by the Museum Association of New York to host Water/Ways as part of the Museum on Main Street (MoMS) program―a national/state/local partnership to bring exhibitions and programs to rural cultural organizations. The exhibition will tour six communities in New York State through April 2020.

    #thinkwater #nysmuseums

    Learn more at: https://nysmuseums.org/WaterWaysTour

  • July 31, 2019 9:34 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Coby Foundation has awarded more than $5 million to over 170 projects in its history. Established in 1994 by Irene Zambelli Silverman to honor her mother, Irene Meladis Zambelli, the Foundation’s goal is to promote scholarly research about and exhibition implementation for textiles. 

    The Foundation provides funding to non-profit organizations in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic for textile scholarship, consulting, exhibition planning, and exhibition implementation from early antique textiles to contemporary avant-garde. The Foundation supports projects that will benefit the public by creating dynamic exhibitions and public programming. “Artists and designers are turning more and more to textiles for research, inspiration, and for use in their own work so more museums are including academic research and exhibitions for these artists to use as a resource,” said Ward Mintz, the Coby Foundation Executive Director. While the Foundation has funded larger museums like the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Museum of Art and Design (MAD) in New York City, and the Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania, the Foundation wants to increase its support to smaller museums, specifically in Upstate New York. 

    In 2018, The Coby Foundation awarded over $700,000 in grants to textile projects, the largest amount in its history.  The Foundation supported twenty projects, the majority of which were contemporary art of design exhibitions. 

    “Many of these institutions have these collections and need the expertise to look at them and see what they are ...[the Coby Foundation] goal is to not only help museums understand what they have in their textile collection but to put it to use in an exhibition,” Mr. Mintz said. For smaller museums who have a large textile collection but need assistance and guidance on care, preservation, or how best to exhibit these items, the Coby Foundation’s mission is to provide funding to support “exhibitions and programs that combine excellent scholarship and effective interpretation” with an emphasis on providing a public benefit. “Most institutions that we fund don’t necessarily do textile projects all the time.”

    Case study: Everson Museum of Art

    Shelia Pipe: Hot Mess Formalism, 2017 $40,000

    Sheila Pepe: Hot Mess Formalism at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York. Photo by David Broda

    The Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, focuses on modern and contemporary American art and was the first museum to classify ceramics as fine art. When President and CEO Elizabeth Dunbar had a chance meeting with Ward Mintz at an event, she mentioned bringing textile artist Sheila Pepe’s Hot Mess Formalism to the Everson. Ward Mintz was eager to help the Everson Museum bring this exhibition organized by the Phoenix Art Museum to Upstate New York. The Coby Foundation was able to fund artist travel costs, as well as programming and installation costs for this exhibition. Previous to this meeting with Mr. Mintz, Director Dunbar did not know about the Coby Foundation. “The Coby Foundation was [and still is] looking to diversify its grant applications outside of New York City,” Director Dunbar told us. “...and if you are not exclusively working with textiles, you might not have encountered the Foundation before.” She noted that the Foundation encourages a one to one conversation regarding exhibition funding and it is helpful to have the letter of intent ahead of the formal application process to see if the Coby Foundation is a good match. 

    Advice for applicants? “Review previously funded projects to find similarities but also keep in mind that it is a competitive grant process so make your application stand out. Do your homework, and have a conversation with Ward at the start.”

    Case study: Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY)

    Warmth, Remembrance, and Art: 200 Years of Quilts and Comforters in Northern NY, 2016 $25,000

    “Warmth, Remembrance, and Art: 200 Years of Quilts and Comforters in Northern, NY” exhibition at the Traditional Arts in Upstate New York.  Photo by Dave Warner, artintheadirondacks.com

    TAUNY’s mission is to document and present the living traditions and folk culture of the North Country in NYS, a fourteen county region north of the Mohawk River, from Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to Lake Champlain and includes the Adirondack Mountains. Executive Director Jill Breit, a folklorist, partnered with Historian Halle Bond, who had worked previously as the historian at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake (the Adirondack Experience), to travel around the north country to document quilts. Historian Bond had received funding from the Coby Foundation for a textile project. “And I just couldn’t believe that there was a foundation that specialized in supporting scholarship about textiles which is an area that I love and have done a lot of work in...to me that was a dream come true that they had a very specific focus,” said TAUNY Executive Director Jill Breit. Director Breit called Ward Mintz at the Coby Foundation to inquiry more about the Foundation and possible funding opportunities. TAUNY applied for a planning grant to develop a scheme for this quilt exhibition and then applied for a grant to implement their research as an exhibition.

    “The Coby Foundation is rigorous about the scholarship. They expect you to have scholars involved with your projects and to really do the research so we had consulting textile scholars who worked with us. It is a good and necessary part of us applying...to have our work vetted by scholars in the area,” Director Breit said. The Coby Foundation wants to help smaller institutions build capacity to learn about textiles and elevate the scholarship around textiles.

    Advice for applicants? Have a conversation with Ward Mintz first who can help to frame a letter of intent before the invitation to make a full application. “I always start by talking to the grant officer first, especially with a new foundation that I have not worked with before,” Director Breit said. “Even with a foundation that I have worked with for years, I like to call just to check in to see if anything has changed or if there are new priority areas.”

    Case study: Olana State Historic Site

    Costume & Custom: Middle Eastern Threads, 2018 $30,000

    Three figures dressed in Middle Eastern Clothing, Dining Room. Photo Courtsey Peter Aaron/OTTO and the Coby Foundation; Olana State Historic Site

    The Coby Foundation supported this exhibition at Olana State Historic Site, Frederick Church’s home in Hudson, NY. The exhibition featured clothing collected by Church during his travels to Middle Eastern cities like Damascus, Beriut, Petra, and Jerusalem from 1867 to 1868. Olana had these materials in their collection but had yet to exhibit them. With funding from Coby Foundation, Olana hired Textile and Costume Historian Lynne Bassett and Palestinian costume expert Hana Karaman Munayyer to research the people who wore these clothes that were collected by Church and his use of these cloths  in his home and art. What stood out about this project to The Coby Foundation was that this collection was previously untouched and that Olana was working with a Palestinian organization for special docents to lead public tours as well as bringing in experts in the field to do the work. Ward Mintz noted that this exhibition reunited Church’s historic costume collection with Church’s artwork, including displaying original sketches of the clothes that inspired his home at Olana and having the very same clothes in the room. 

    The Grant Process

    1. Send up to a 2-page letter of inquiry either through the website or by email to Executive Director Ward Mintz

    2. Provide a budget showing income and expense

    If the project meets requirements, the organization is invited to submit a formal application. 

    What to include in your proposal? “I look to see if there is expertise that they have either acquired a consultant or on the staff for this project,” Mr. Mintz said. 

    • Interpretive strategy for an exhibition that is reasonable and intelligent

    • Efforts that the organization is making for public outreach, i.e. to get people in to see the exhibition or participate in accompanying programming

    • Must be a 501c3

    • The project must begin at least three months from the grant award

    How much can I apply for? While there is no minimum or maximum grant amount request, not many projects are awarded less than $5,000 or more than $100,000. The average grant awarded is $20,000. There are exceptions if there is a highly unusual circumstance. “If there is a project that is a huge step out for the organization because of the subject matter we might give out a higher percentage...but we want to see outside funding sources besides us to the project that demonstrates a commitment to the project,” Mr. Mintz said. 

    Other advice? Look at what has been funded in the past. The Coby Foundation has archives on its website for grants awarded from  2012 to 2018. You can see if there are any projects similar to the one you might propose or if there aren't, determine why your project meets The foundation’s guidelines. Mr. Mintz also strongly suggests contacting previously Coby Foundation grantees to ask them about the process. “We are in a generous field with other organizations willing to share their project details...take advantage of this,” Mr. Mintz said. 

    Learn More

    The Coby Foundation


    Sheila Pepe: Hot Mess Formalism at the Everson Museum


    Warmth, Remembrance, and Art: 200 Years of Quilts and Comforters in Northern NY at TAUNY 


    Costume & Custom: Middle Eastern Threads at Olana State Historic Site


  • July 31, 2019 9:11 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    MANY Profile: Joshua Voda, Public Affairs Officer

    Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, New York

    Five years ago, Joshua Voda almost started a career with the Internal Revenue Service, but after serving for six years in the United States Air Force, Joshua missed public service. He turned to the Public Affairs Department at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in New York City where he has been helping to amplify the dialogue across the country. “A lot of museums are more directly confronting diversity and women rights and with some of those issues, we are part of the national dialogue today, and from my perspective being part of the machine that helps publicizes those dialogues at the National Museum of the American Indian...” This past April, Joshua traveled to Cooperstown to attend his first MANY annual conference. We caught up with him to learn more about his journey to the museum field and his role at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

    Joshua Voda, Public Affairs Officer at a museum staff event in the New York Museum's Diker Pavilion for Native Arts and Cultures

    MANY: What’s your current position? How long have you been there? 

    Joshua: Public Affairs Officer at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and I have been there for 5 years. 

    Can you give me a brief overview of what you do in your work?

    I handle media relations for the NY branch of the museum, and coordinate with the DC museum [Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian] marketing. Day to day, I make ad purchases, or I negotiate contracts and generally take media relations queries for the exhibitions or for the museum more broadly.

    The exterior of the National Museum of the American Indian in NYC at the George Gustav Heye Center, located within the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House.

    The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian located in Washington, D.C. which houses one of the largest and most diverse collections to the understanding and knowledge of the Native cultures of the Western cultures. Photography courtesy Jackson Lo, Flickr, May 2011

    What motivates you to do what you do? What do you get excited about? What are some of your goals?

    Being part of the Smithsonian you are connected to so many different and important issues and it’s really a place where we are putting our best foot forward in terms of the national dialogue and the way that we want the country to be remembered. It is an exciting time to be part of the Smithsonian when we have another national identity museum in the mix, the National Museum of African American History & Culture. I think that a lot of museums are more directly confrontingdiversity and women rights and some issues that we are part of the national dialogue today and from my perspective being part of the machine that helps publicized a lot of those dialogues at the National Museum of the American Indian and at the Smithsonian overall I think that it is a big responsibility to get that message out there and that’s what motivates me to go to work every day.

    How did you end up at the Public Affairs Officer for the National Museum of the American Indian? What led you to this job? What were you doing before? 

    I got to the Smithsonian in 2014. I was working for Apple at the time, but I didn’t feel that I wanted to be part of anymore and previously I had been in the United States Air Force Public Affairs. I decided that I wanted to go back to government work and then I learned that the Smithsonian had a presence in NYC. At that time, I was getting through the rounds of potentially working for the Internal Revenue Service… so in terms of cocktail conversations, I think that I got the better end of it.

    Can you describe a favorite day on the job?

    The first one that comes to mind is that we recently, last year in May, we opened imagiNATIONS Activity Center which is a new permanent part of the museum in New York that directly connects Native innovations in STEM. It’s geared to kids in 4th to 8th grade and looks to bring the kids into the museum and let them know about all the different types of or menus of different ways that native people throughout time have made innovations in science and technology that affect the way we work today. When we opened this Center one of the first classes that came in was a local class from NYC and they were so excited to be the first to experience the space. To see the first group of kids really interact with all of the different interactive stations, you could really tell it was making a difference. It was the moment that they started using and interpreting the information. That was really rewarding. It spoke to so many parts of our mission and it really was a joyful time to be at the museum. For me it was a time that will always stick out as one of the most important events.

    Six graders learn how igloos are engineered and construct their own model during the opening day of imagiNATIONS Activity Center at the National Museum of the American Indian, NYC, Photography courtesy Susan Bednarczyk via Flickr, Press opening day, May 2018

    The imagiNATIONS Activity Center opened in May 2018 in NYC. “In this lively, interactive space, young visitors will explore the scientific principles behind Native ideas so ingenious they remain a part of modern life and will leave with a key takeaway-Native people were the original innovators of the Americas.”- Joshua Voda, Media Fact Sheet, December 2017

    What is your favorite item in the collection?

    For me, it's not that I have a favorite object per se but I have seen a lot of really interesting exhibitions come through and even though. I think that my favorite thing is exposure to new artists because we don’t often come across a lot of Native American artists. The show that we have currently is from the Peabody Essex Museum and presents the work of artist T.C. Cannon. I think it really defines the imagery of native people in a certain dignity that at the time, this was the 70s, many works weren't allowed or the imagery pushed native people to ideals that would maybe pigeon hold them to the past and he really modernized the imagery of native people that I think was so groundbreaking at the time but even now to put that contemporary face on native people is really important because people need to be reminded that native people still exist and are part of a vibrant culture and his work comes across strongly. So I wouldn’t say that I have a favorite object but there are many moments at the museum and exhibitions that have touched me and made me rethink a lot of those things that I just missed formal educational settings in regards to native peoples. 

     Artist T.C. Cannon (Caddo and Kiowa, 1946–1978) identified struggle and resilience as key features of Native American identity. In the mid-1970s, he wrote, “by the simple and beautiful virtue of being native american [sic], with the blood of mountain and bird motivation, we still have to be soldiers in our homeland.” His work "Soldiers" captures this sentiment in the split figure: the Native soldier confronts and merges with the colonizing aggressor in his homeland."Soldiers" is currently on display at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York in the exhibition "T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America," which runs through September 16. Admission is free. Caption and image courtesy the National Museum of the American Indian.

    Can we go further back? Where did you grow up? What was it like to grow up there? Where did you go to school? 

    A little town called Divernon, Illinois, for the most part. I traveled around a lot, but that’s where I graduated high school and I got there around middle school so that’s where I claim. It was peaceful. It was very, I would say it was mono-cultured though and so when I graduated I went into the Air Force. That was my first time being around a diverse group of people living and working together. I think that meant a lot in my early adulthood and where that has brought me today. The military offers people a lot of different things but I think that [the military has a] certain respect for diversity. You get used it [diversity] really quickly and learn to appreciate it because you really need to operate well in the military. With so many different perspectives, the military facilitates diversity in a way that you often don’t find even in many corporate settings.

    Did your 18-year-old self imagine that you would be where you are today?

    The first thing that comes to mind is more of an identity question because I am gay and married now, next year it will be ten years, so no I don’t think so that kind of image of what life could be like for a gay man didn't exist when I was growing up. I think that really speaks to how quickly things can change in legislative terms and in the process of world and world affairs, for me to be where I am at right now and not just in terms in of being in NYC because I always thought I would be in a more cosmopolitan place than where I grew up.

    Do you have any key mentors or someone who has deeply influenced you? Can you tell me about them?

    Yes, I won’t mention his name but there is a person very close to me, a very successful business person and I think that he approaches careers and business decisions in a very pragmatic way and so for me to be able to model that behavior has been beneficial to me and I think well as reciprocal as me being a mentee. He helped me a lot in the process guiding me in my career. Do I believe that a mentor relationship is beneficial? I certainly do.

    What was the last book you read? 

    I have a tendency to pick up a bunch and put them down, so multiple ones, but I like to try to go back and pick up classics. Villette by Charlotte Bronte is what I was reading last.

  • June 25, 2019 3:53 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    MANY staff lent a hand at the Water/Ways installation workshop at the Erie Canal Museum on June 27 with representatives from host sites to learn how the pieces go together. Carol Harsh, Director of the Museum on Main Street Program for the Smithsonian Institution (pictured front right) led the workshop.

    Dear Members, Friends, and Colleagues,

    The Museum Association of New York is so very proud to announce that last week we helped the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse install Water/Ways, the first Smithsonian Institution Museum on Main Street (MoMS) exhibition in New York State. MoMS exhibitions are designed to share the resources of the Smithsonian and act as catalysts for community conversations. In partnership with state-wide service organizations, MoMS invites small museums to participate in a national exhibition program and create education programs and cultural events that center on local culture and history.  

    Water/Ways explores the connections between human beings and water—focusing on the environment, culture, and history. Each host museum will add to the Smithsonian’s exhibition with an exhibition from their collections to tell the story of the importance of water in their own communities. MANY has partnered with NY Folklore to develop folk arts programming that will infuse the Water/Ways exhibition with local stories. NY Folklore Director Ellen McHale shared with me what she thought about the importance of our partnership:

    "History" is a moving target as it can be what happened 200 years ago, and also what happened 20 years ago. Too often, the lens of history is conceived of narrowly - omitting the voices of women, children, the poor, people of color, immigrants, marginalized groups of all sorts, etc.  My goal, and the goals of my folklore and museum colleagues, is to infuse the nationally focused exhibition with local voices, to provide relevance for today's current audience demographics while including the overarching humanities themes of the exhibition. For the story of water in New York State, it is very important to include the voices of our Native populations who have important connections to water and who have maintained residency in our communities from before European colonization and into the present day. It is also important to include the voices of our most recently-arrived residents."

    There are six museums where you will be able to see the Water/Ways exhibition in the next ten months. To learn more about Water/Ways click here. The exhibition opened to the public at the Erie Canal Museum on June 29 and will open at Wells College in Aurora in partnership with the Aurora Masonic Center and the Village of Aurora Historical Society on August 24, at Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village on October 5, and at the Chapman Museum on November 23. In 2020, the exhibition opens at the Hudson River Maritime Museum on January 11 and at its final New York venue, the East Hampton Historical Society on February 29. 

    I hope you will find time in your schedule in the coming months to visit these museums, see the exhibition, and participate in the programs. Generous funding and support from our sponsors allowed us to produce a coloring book for family audiences and an app by OnCell that shares information about exhibitions and programs. 

    This may be the first of the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street traveling exhibitions in New York, but it won’t be the last. Stay tuned for more information about how your museum may qualify as a MoMS site and can partner with MANY as a host site forDemocracy in America: Voices and Votes coming to New York in 2024 and 2025. 

    With many MANY thanks,

    Erika Sanger

    Executive Director

    Water/Ways has been made possible in New York State by the Museum Association of New York. Support for Museum on Main Street has been provided by the United States Congress. The New York tour of the Water/Ways exhibition is made possible by the Museum Association of New York. The exhibition and programming was made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, Hadley Exhibits, Inc., the New York State Canal Corporation, the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Corridor. Folk Art programming is sponsored by New York Folklore, and supported by the New York State Regional Economic Development Initiative, a program of Governor Andrew M Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Gaylord Archival, On-Cell, are among our in-kind donors.  

  • June 25, 2019 8:30 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    When you think of sharks you might not think of them swimming in New York’s ocean waters. But at the new $158 million, 57,000+ square foot home of the New York Aquarium on Coney Island built for Ocean Wonders: Sharks! visitors can see the diverse and surprising marine wildlife that exists right off New York’s shores. The New York Aquarium is part of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and has been a partner in their 120 year-long effort to save wildlife. The creation of this new exhibit space is a collaborative effort in a shared goal to further the WCS work by establishing Ocean Wonders as a public engagement entry point.

    The beautiful world created in Ocean Wonders connects the intriguing fascination of sharks and the important conservation needed to protect them and other marine wildlife. The New York Aquarium has seen a 70% growth in the number of visitors since Ocean Wonders opened last June and they ask New Yorkers during and after their visit to work with the Aquarium to protect, conserve, and celebrate through conservation actions that begin at home. 

    Ocean Wonders: Sharks!  No need to hold your breath for this sea dive. The Coral Reef Tunnel lets you explore a colorful reef, while blacktip reef sharks, fish, and zebra sharks swim around you. 

    Photograph courtesy New York Aquarium.


    Shark Appeal

    The WCS says that Ocean Wonders: Sharks! “will drive awareness of the importance of sharks to the health of the world’s ocean; educate visitors about the severe threats sharks face; and inspire guests to protect the surprisingly diverse and beautiful marine wildlife here in New York.” The exhibition allows visitors to get up close and learn about sharks while supporting the WCS as they work to save sharks around the world. The New York Aquarium uses the appeal and fascination of sharks as an accessible entry point for visitors to learn about the diverse marine wildlife that is closer to home then they might think. It challenges visitors to understand and take action around lifestyle decisions that can have a positive impact on wildlife in New York waters.

    Ocean Wonders: Sharks! has a popular appeal. The Coral Reef Tunnel, dubbed “highly Instagramable,” is a visitor favorite across all demographics. If you type #nyaquarium into your Instagram search, you’ll see an astonishing number of coral reef tunnel images and probably more pictures than you can scroll through. Most images are perfectly posed and others include quotes from the song “Baby Shark,” but most are images of what you find behind the glass -- over 115 marine species and 18 different species of sharks and rays. Other sections of the exhibition include a series of experiential spaces that focus on the role sharks play in maintaining healthy marine habitats, the threats that sharks face from fisheries, and data that support that sharks are indeed found throughout the world, and in New York. Visitors learn that sharks aren’t so far away and that the diversity of this group, its ancient lineage, and highly evolved adaptations are what makes the shark so intriguing- even if you don’t have a great interest in marine life. 

    A sand tiger shark leads the way in the Ocean Wonder: Sharks! Exhibition. Photograph by Julie Larsen Maher, New York Aquarium

    Conservation Through Connection

    The Canyon’s Edge gallery gives visitors the ability to look deep into the depths of the ocean. New York is home to Hudson Canyon, the largest submarine canyon on the Atlantic Coast. The New York Aquarium is working to have it named as a National Marine Sanctuary. Here visitors might catch a glimpse of a sand tiger shark or a nurse shark resting along the sandy ledge. Canyon’s Edge creates a sense of awe and wonder and allows visitors to stare past its well-lit foreground into the deep blue. Your eyes catch the light as it's disrupted by a passing sandbar shark or a cownose ray. Their movements and the calm water current that has created this resting sandy ledge is meditative. Sharks are an ecologically important component of the diverse wildlife found all around New York. 

    Looking out beyond the sandy ledge at Canyon’s Edge. 

    Photograph courtesy New York Aquarium

    Swimming the Swim

    In addition to raising awareness about the ecological conservation for sharks, the Ocean Wonders exhibition wants to educate the public about environmental threats to marine wildlife. Ocean Wonders used to build public awareness for marine wildlife conservation through educating the public about the threats of plastic pollution and ways that they can minimize their impact. “There are threats of pollution and overexploitation that threaten New York’s waters and that Aquarium visitors can take action to minimize in their own lives…” said John Delany, Director of Communications for the New York Aquarium. The New York Aquarium leads by example by drastically reducing the amount of plastic used on site, and ensuring that seafood served is sustainably sourced. For more information about these conservation efforts please visit the Wildlife Conservation Society, https://www.wcs.org/

    Along the boardwalk. The exterior of the new $158 million, 57,500 square foot exhibit building on Coney Island. Photograph courtesy New York Aquarium.

  • June 25, 2019 8:30 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Through Our Eyes: Milestones and Memories of African Americans in Yonkers at the Hudson River Museum illustrates more than 100 years of Yonkers history in photographs and objects. The exhibition is organized into different themes. Each theme displayed like a gallery wall in a family’s home, telling the stories that are often overlooked in traditional museum exhibitions. Since August 2018, Christian Stegall has been working with the Yonkers community to create the exhibition. He spent seven months researching and interviewing Yonkers residents to gather and share their stories. With help from community leaders, the exhibition quickly grew and presents over 700 photographs depicting everyday life. 

    Christian moderated a roundtable discussion with Arya Henry (Manager, Youth and Family programs at Hudson River Museum) on Making Your Museum a True Reflection of Your Community at the Museum Association of New York 2019 Access and Identity annual conference in Cooperstown, NY. Christian is the Hudson River Museum’s Samuel H. Kress Interpretive Fellow. This fellowship is awarded to only six museums nationwide each year with the goal of diversifying the next generation of art museum professionals. 

    The exhibition is on view at the Hudson River Museum through November 3, 2019.

The Museum Association of New York strengthens the capacity of New York State’s cultural community by supporting professional standards and organizational development. We provide advocacy, training, and networking opportunities so that museums and museum professionals may better serve their missions and communities.

Museum Association of New York is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization. 

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