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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!

Click here to read our 2019 Annual Report
  • October 31, 2019 9:46 AM | MANY Staff (Administrator)

    Wayne Higby,Director and Chief Curator, Alfred Ceramic Art Museum; Brian Whisenhunt, Executive Director Rockwell Museum of American Art and MANY Board Member; Erika Sanger, and Susan Kowalczyk, Curator of Collections and Director of Research, Alfred Ceramic Museum

    Wayne Higby,Director and Chief Curator, Alfred Ceramic Art Museum; Brian Whisenhunt, Executive Director Rockwell Museum of American Art and MANY Board Member;  Erika Sanger, and Susan Kowalczyk, Curator of Collections and Director of Research, Alfred Ceramic Museum

    Dear Members of our Museum Community,

    I have found that inspiration can come from bewildering sources and energy can flow from unpredictable places. Then there are the sure things--places I can go and people I can turn to when the edges of my thoughts get fuzzy and I can’t quite figure out the next best step in a process. Museums, gardens, and places where water meets land have been my touchstones and my mentors have been generous. 

    One of things that surprised me most when I began my work at MANY was the energy created when a group of people who share a commitment to our communities’ access to our history, heritage, and culture come together. At our Meet-Ups and Workshops this fall I felt rooms buzz with conversation, heard laughter echoing off walls, and felt warm greetings from colleagues. 

    I’ve been traveling quite a bit this season and you might have seen me arrive somewhere a bit road weary. But a quiet walk through a gallery or an historic site, a cup of coffee, and an inspiring conversation later, the fatigue has worn off and I actually may find it hard to fall asleep later that night, my brain filled with overflowing thoughts. 

    By the time we reach the last MANY Workshop and Meet–Up at Dia Beacon on November 13, we will have spent time with more than 400 colleagues in twelve different places. I know we are making a difference in the lives of museum professionals by creating a community that enjoys coming together, sharing knowledge, and supporting each other’s work, not just by the buzz and the energy, but through incredibly affirming notes we received from colleagues this fall:

    Thank you for renewing my spirit here!  It was a great event and the meet and greet, also awesome. The most connected I have felt, in a long time.

    This Meet-Up was another great opportunity to promote unity within the local museum field, thanks to MANY.

    Really enjoyed meeting the folks -- and it seems we all have the same obstacles -- but it helps to talk about it.

    Our 2020 annual conference The Power of Partnership will be in Albany March 29-31 with exciting tours, workshops, and a special pre-conference Folk Art Forum on March 28. Proposals are flowing in and it is going to be an amazing lineup of sessions. I hope you can join us. We need your support to continue to offer these opportunities in every region in our state. Our annual appeal letter will be coming your way soon. If you attended a program this fall, used our job board to help you hire staff, or accessed resources on our website, you know how MANY is making a difference and helping our museum community succeed. You can also donate now through our website and save a stamp! 

    With thanks for your energy and your inspiration,

  • October 31, 2019 9:42 AM | MANY Staff (Administrator)

    By Kate Jacus, The Photo Curator, LLC

    If you work or volunteer at a museum, library, or historical society, you know that objects should be displayed and stored in archival-quality materials. “Acid-free,” “lignin-free,” and “photo safe” are terms that get used a lot, but what do they really mean when it comes to your photography collection? There is more to a material being archivally safe than its pH measurement and lignin content. Understanding the science of what makes something archival can help you make informed decisions about the materials you use to protect your institutions’ cultural heritage. Photographs are the standard baseline material for measuring archival quality. 

    ISO 18902

    ISO 18902 is an international standard that covers archival materials. You may have heard of ISO numbers in relation to film speed, or in a manufacturing setting. The International Organization for Standardization develops specifications for products, services, and systems, to ensure quality, safety and efficiency. There are over 22,000 standards ranging from railway engineering to food technology that answer the question: “what’s the best way of doing this?” 

    The standard’s full title is ISO 18902:2013 Imaging materials — Processed imaging materials — Albums, framing and storage materials. The standard is overseen by a Technical Committee, TC-42, Photography. Because photography is a sensitive medium, the standard is  a good baseline from which to judge archival products. If a material is safe to use with photos, you can assume it will be safe for other, more stable, objects. The ‘2013’ in the title refers to the date of the last revision; further information on the ISO website shows that the standard was confirmed in 2018 after a five year review. 

    The standard covers the entire range of products that you might use for storage, display, or labeling, including papers, plastics, adhesives, and printer ink. Each type of material must meet a standards set with different combinations of tests and requirements. Only materials that meet ALL specifications of this standard can be considered photo-safe, and thus archival. 

    It’s worth noting here that the standard’s definition of photo-safe refers only to the chemical reactivity of a material and does not apply to how it might interact physically with a photograph or object.

    Image Permanence Institute

    We are lucky in Rochester to be the home of the Image Permanence Institute (IPI), an academic research center at Rochester Institute of Technology.  They have long been involved in developing international standards, including part of ISO 18902, the Photographic Activity Test. Among other things, they are an independent laboratory providing testing for ISO 18902. Companies send samples of their products to IPI where they run a series of five tests related to the standard.

    This image is from an IPI chart, showing the five tests that make up ISO 18902, what they test for, what part of a photograph is affected, and the damage that can be caused to each layer of the photograph. Uncovering the science behind these tests gives high level overview of what it means for a material to be archival.

    The Five Tests

    The PAT, or Photographic Activity Test, is actually an ISO standard in and of itself, developed by IPI. It’s a very good measure of archival quality, but not the full measure. IPI tests samples of materials by layering them in a very particular order in little jigs, or casings. These are placed in an incubator for 15 days to simulate aging in high heat and humidity. After this tropical sojourn, scientists test those materials for oxidation and reduction reactions, which cause fading, spots, and silver mirroring, and also for chromophores (the part of a molecule responsible for its color) which cause yellowing. 

    All of the materials covered in ISO 18902 must pass the PAT.  

    Next is the pH test only performed on paper and adhesives for ISO 18902 Acids, are naturally occurring in wood pulp used in  paper, and are damaging to many kinds of materials. Highly alkaline environments can also cause decay. IPI does a simple pH test on materials, looking for the pH to be in the neutral range of 6 -7  for unbuffered paper and the alkaline 8 - 10 range for buffered paper. 

    The bump into alkaline territory for buffered paper is due to the alkaline reserve, or amount of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) embedded in the paper during production. This calcium carbonate neutralizes acids either present in the environment or created through deterioration in storage, acting as a buffer and protecting your objects. The third ISO 18902 test, for alkaline reserve, only applies to paper. IPI soaks a sample in water, then measures  the amount of acid necessary to neutralize the alkaline buffering; looking for an alkaline reserve of at least 2% CaCO3.

    The fourth test, the Kappa test, also only applies to paper. Lignin is the “glue” that holds the wood together, and during the pulping process, it gets removed from the wood fibers. The most common measurement of lignin is the Kappa number, which IPI measures by breaking down the paper sample back into pulp form, soaking the pulp in a chemical solution, and measuring the results. . To be considered lignin-free, paper has to have a Kappa number of less than 5, on a scale of 1 - 100.  

    The final test of ISO 18902 is the colorant bleed, and it applies to both paper and labeling materials. IPI tests if dyes or pigments used to either color paper or to write and print on it, have the potential to stain things touching them. The test material is held next to some bond paper and soaked in water to see if anything transfers when it shouldn't.

    Get The Numbers

    So what can you do with this newfound knowledge? Be an informed consumer for your institution. If a product is labeled “acid-free” or “photo safe” but does not give you any additional specs to back up that claim, you can’t be positive it’s archival quality. Reputable archival suppliers will list detailed specifications about their products that include these test results. 

    With the best quality archival products your institution can get, the objects in your care will have the best possible shot at longevity, and visitors decades from now will have you to thank!

  • October 31, 2019 9:33 AM | MANY Staff (Administrator)

    Renderings of the new main entrance of The Eastman Museum. 

    Image courtesy of The Eastman Museum.

    Within the last few months, the Eastman Museum has received two National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grants and two Institute for Library and Museum Services (IMLS) grants with a combined total of  $1.3 million dollars. The Museum also received $1 million from the New York State Council on the Arts in 2018. These public funds will help implement facilities improvement projects that will create a new accessible main entrance and welcome center as well as restoration work on the historic mansion and gardens— one of Rochester’s National Historic Landmarks. While restoration for the historic Colonnade began this August, construction for the new main entrance and visitor center will begin in January 2020 and is expected to be completed in July 2020. 

    The Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY was founded in 1947.  It is the world’s oldest photography museum and is one of the world’s oldest film archives. A leader in film preservation and photographic conservation, the Eastman houses several million objects in its collection of photographs, film, cinema, photographic and cinematographic technology. 

    Funding the Visitor Center

    “The visitor center project was initiated by a longtime museum patron with a $1.1 million donation, which was matched by a $1 million grant from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) in conjunction with the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council,” said Kellie Fraver, Public Relations Manager for the Eastman Museum. ESL Federal Credit Union also purchased the naming rights to the new visitor center— the new ESL Federal Credit Union pavilion. In total, over $5 million has been raised so far for the project with another $1 million to complete the capital campaign. The Museum is offering naming rights to the cafe, shop, and foyer to help raise the remaining funds for project completion. 

    Conceptualizing the Visitor Experience

    Interior rendering of the new visitor center. Image courtesy of The Eastman Museum.

    The current visitor entrance and gallery spaces were built in 1989. For the past twenty-five years the museum staff have discussed  moving that visitor entrance to a more prominent location. This new entrance, new gallery and collection storage building facing University Avenue was originally planned to include a new parking lot that was closer to the entrance. However, due to budget limitations, this parking lot was never built. “The museum’s current main entrance is inconvenient and hard to find for those who arrive by car—the vast majority of our visitors. During inclement weather, getting from one’s car to the main entrance can be unpleasant and potentially hazardous, especially for those with limited mobility,” wrote Bruce Barnes, PhD, Ron and Donna Fielding Director of the Eastman Museum in the Eastman Museum January/February 2019 Bulletin. To improve the visitor experience, new exterior and interior spaces will be reconfigured to be more welcoming, to increase accessible parking, accommodate buses, enlarge and upgrade the cafe, and renovate the Curtis Theatre into a multi-use space. 

    The 1989 visitor entrance will move near where the current Dryden Theatre location is today, off of the main parking lot. Visitors will enter a glass and steel structure in front of the west facade of the one-story building, originally George Eastman’s garage and where the current museum cafe and shop are located. “The structure is designed to allow the historic facade of the garage to be visible from both within and outside the pavilion,” said Fraver. “Through the new entrance, visitors will be served by a new admissions desk, gathering spaces, a resigned cafe with additional seating in the historic Palm house, and a more misson-focused shop.”

    Designed like a promenade, the new entrance will serve as the starting point for visitors into the Eastman Museum. The entrance to the Curtis Theatre, the museum shop, and the expanded cafe will all be designed around this visitor space. 

    First Impressions

    The Eastman Museum relied on visitor engagement data to help with decisions on transforming their own visitor engagement. Survey data from a Culture Track research study “of the changing behaviors of cultural audiences  illuminated the length of time it took visitors to experience art at cultural institutions and how that affects their overall experience. The Eastman Museum took a cue from its Kodak history and is transforming an unsightly wall (hiding cooling towers from the HVAC system) to create a “Colorama.” Kodak’s “Colorama”  was a large photographic display located on the east balcony inside New York City’s Grand Central Terminal starting in the 1950s to the 1990s that was used to advertise the Eastman Kodak Company. The “Colorama” at the Eastman Museum will feature advertisements for museum programming and events as well as commissioned public art murals. It will be one of the first things seen by museum visitors as they access the new main entrance. The Museum estimates that it will need to raise $375,000 to not only create this dynamic, first impression display, but to establish an endowment to ensure the continuation of its displays. 

    New first impressions continue inside with interpretive panels that will introduce visitors to the museum. These panels will help illustrate the timeline of George Eastman’s life and the history of photography, including “Snapshot Photography” that will allow visitors to see themselves in the history of photography. With all of these new changes, there are also discussions on what these new spaces will mean for their interpretative plan which asks:

    • What should the visitor experience first inside the museum? 

    • Should they tour the hour first or explore the gallery space? 

    • How do we animate the gallery space? 

    • Is this where the tour ends? 

    These questions and others are being asked as the museum looks to what comes during and after these major capital improvement projects to their facilities. Beyond creating a more welcoming visitor entrance and more dynamic spaces, how the visitor will interact past the admissions desk in its new space, is a critical next step and an opportunity for the Eastman Museum to re-evaluate its interpretative strategy. The Eastman Museum plans to apply for another IMLS grant to create a new entrance into the historic house through the kitchen rather than the dining room. “It’s where George Eastman’s kitchen was [the new entrance to the house] because what we would like to do… the whole photography for George Eastman started in his mother’s kitchen in his boyhood home. So how perfect to have something where you start in the kitchen to tell the story,”  said Eliza Kozlowski, Director of Marketing and Engagement at the Eastman Museum. “You’re in the kitchen and this is where it all began.”

    Visitors entering through the conservatory during the temporary construction route of the Colonnade.

    New Spaces and Staffing

    This project will also transform theatre spaces like the Curtis into multi-function spaces by exposing the original carriage house windows and moving the entrance tohave easy access from the new promenade in the new visitor center. Blackout curtains and a drop-down screen will still allow this space to be used as a theater while also creating a new space for other programming and events.

    The museum store is expected to reduce its size to around 400 square feet. Inventory has already been reduced and the museum will focus on selling items unique to the Eastman Museum–branding, photographers, Rochester based items, etc. rather than generic gifts.

    The new location of the admissions desk will have the museum store office located behind, creating an opportunity for some shared staffing.  The museum already has four staff members that were originally part of the contract guard service but are now employed by the museum to serve as “guard/hosts” and the museum ideally would like to create more multi-role positions. 

    New main entrance and visitor center plan. Image courtesy of The Eastman Museum.

    Messaging and Marketing

    “At one point we had this tagline that was ‘opening new doors’ that we wanted to have as part of this project but once it became this bigger visitor center we had to rethink that tagline,” said Kozlowski.  “Our challenge with the messaging is not over-promising in that we’re saying transforming ‘our visitor experience’ rather than transforming ‘the visitor experience’ because the rest of the experience is not going to be very different it’s the idea that being more welcoming, being more accessible the whole cafe, store, the new experience there...a new interpretive panel as an introduction to the museum...so were rethinking the map as far as how we position what the visitor will experience first,” said Kozlowski. 

    The Eastman Museum has already released the initial announcement with renderings of the visitor center as well as introducing project signage throughout the museum. Additional promotion will be included in the museums’ e-newsletter and social media channels and will grow closer to January 2020 when the project will officially begin. Media announcements will be made as the project progresses until the mid-July ribbon cutting.

    Kathleen Connor, Curator, George Eastman Legacy Collection, with museum signage regarding the restoration and preservation work.

    Other signage regarding the restoration and preservation work of the historic mansion can be found throughout helping to guide visitors through temporary routes (calling them “construction detours”) but also educating the public about what kind of work is happening and its significance. Signs encourage further information available on the museum website.

    “Construction Detour” sign for the new route into the historic mansion.

    Restoration Priorities

    Originally, the new visitor entrance was going to begin this year, but the museum was happy to delay in favor of critical restoration projects for the historic house. The historic Eastman mansion received two federal grants. The first was a Save America’s Treasures grants of nearly $500,000 for the restoration of the Colonnade of George Eastman’s mansion which began this past summer. This project will continue to transform the visitor experience into the historic house as the Colonnade is the only interior route between the museum’s main entrance and galleries and the historic mansion and Terrace Garden.

    Historic Colonnade during construction.

    Because of this massive project, the Colonnade was closed, re-routing visitors outside through the Terrace Garden and entering the historic mansion through the conservatory. The Dryden Theatre was also closed as the Colonnade serves as a path of egress for two emergency exits from the theatre. 

    Historic Colonnade under restoration.

    But this project was not only to help the deteriorating floor structure of the Colonnade but to create a more comfortable visitor experience year-round with a new insulated glass system and a new heating and cooling system. 

    It is the largest project in the ongoing restoration. “Restoration has been completed on the Palm House, the Porte-cochere, the conservatory roof and clerestory windows, the North Organ, and the East Porch. The next project will be the restoration of 68 windows in the mansion. The Eastman Museum is currently applying for a grant from the New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for the restoration of the historic garden structures—the pergola in the Terrace Garden, the Grape Arbor in the Rock Garden, and the loggia in the West Garden,” said Kellie Fraver. 

    The new main entrance and visitor center will help to transform the visitor experience at the Eastman Museum. These projects will make the Eastman Museum “a more welcoming museum” as Executive Director Barnes remarked. Support from State and Federal funding demonstrate commitment to improving the visitor experience as well as d the economic and social impact that museums like the Eastman contribute to their communities. 

    Further Reading / Resources

    Director’s Note: Grants Enable Major Projects


    Restoration & Construction


    New Visitor Center


    IMLS “Save America’s Treasures” Grant Funding


  • October 30, 2019 3:53 PM | MANY Staff (Administrator)

    2019 “Access and Identity” annual conference Cassetti Scholarship Recipient

    By Meredith Horsford, Executive Director, Dyckman Farmhouse

     Meredith Horsford, Executive Director of the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum sitting at a table at the Otesaga Resort Hotel during the 2019 annual conference in Cooperstown, NY

    Meredith Horsford, Executive Director of the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum at the Otesaga Resort Hotel during the 2019 annual conference in Cooperstown, NY

    I was honored to be named the inaugural recipient of the Cassetti Scholarship for the Museum Association of New York’s Annual Conference. This scholarship provided my small nonprofit organization with the funds necessary for me to attend and present at the April 2019 Museum Association of New York Annual Conference: Access and Identity.

    As the Executive Director of the Dyckman Farmhouse, a small historic house museum built in 1784 and the last remaining farmhouse in Manhattan, our small budget and staff size often makes it difficult to set aside the time and financial resources for valuable professional development opportunities such as the MANY Annual Conference. It was a great experience to be able to attend the 2019 conference for many reasons. One of the most important reasons was the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum's ongoing DyckmanDISCOVERED initiative. We are beginning a new phase here at the farmhouse in which we are in the midst of fleshing out the narrative of the people that were enslaved by the Dyckmans. Our first step in this initiative is a year-long installation by local artist, Peter Hoffmeister, whose site specific artwork was inspired by the slave burial ground that was on the Dyckman property. Like many burial grounds of its kind, unfortunately, it was paved over, disrespected, and forgotten.. Today, of a NYC public school and a parking lot covers the site The Dyckman Farmhouse Museum has been working with elected officials to get a commemorative plaque for the site. Hoffmeister's art installation is the first time that the farmhouse has provided the public with information about the enslaved, as we have very little information in our records despite their large contributions to the farmhouse. The next phase of the initiative is currently underway. With the help of a grant from The New York Community Trust, The Dyckman Farmhouse Museum Alliance has hired a research assistant to do additional research on the enslaved on the Dyckman property as well as the enslaved in what is now Upper Manhattan, as it was quite different from lower Manhattan. Our next steps will include developing ways that this new research can be infused into everything that we do from public programs, to tours, to the objects in the period rooms.   

    The DyckmanDISCOVERED initiative fit quite well with the theme of the 2019 MANY Conference and was a perfect place to make connections with colleagues, discuss these topics, challenges and achievements, and to think outside of the box, especially as it relates to the stories that museums tell and choose not to tell. Some of the sessions that stood out most to me were, "The Practice of Mindful Leadership," and "Accessing the Untold Stories of Slavery in Martin Van Buren's Home." It was wonderful to have the opportunity to see how other institutions are addressing similar themes and in the case of the Van Buren home, thinking about how small amounts of information can make a big impact in your organization's narrative. The conference was also the first time that I was able to present with a group of my colleagues about “Using Institutional Values to Center Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” at the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum and other peer institutions. This is a presentation that, as a group, we have re-presented different versions at two subsequent conferences. The sessions that I attended were useful to me not only in my day-to-day life as a museum leader but also in thinking about the institution’s next steps. Also, having grown up in Cooperstown, it was great to have an excuse to go back and visit the area, which is beautiful in the spring. I greatly appreciate the opportunity and look forward to attending the MANY Conference in the future.

    Learn more about the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum.

    Applications for our 2020 Conference Scholarships close on December 2. To learn more about scholarships available to attend The Power of Partnership 2020 annual conference in Albany, March 29-31 please visit: nysmuseums.org/conference-scholarship

  • September 26, 2019 10:15 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Letter from Erika

    But What do you Mean by Partnership?

    Last week we announced the Call for Proposals for our 2020 annual conference that will be held in Albany March 29 -31. Pre-conference events on March 28 will include hands-on workshops, special architectural and behind the scenes tours and a day-long museums and folklore forum. The conference theme, “The Power of Partnership” was inspired by a group that called itself Partners for Albany Stories whose work which began a decade ago has fueled a blossoming cultural heritage initiative. As Albany is our host site, I wanted to spotlight the power that this group created by coming together to create real change in the city.

    The theme was also inspired by Hannah Fox, our 2020 Keynote speaker. Hannah’s works in cross-sector collaborative projects put people at the heart of how places, products and services are co-designed. She is the Director of Projects and Programmes for Derby Museums (UK) and has embedded co-production and human-centered design methodologies into the re-development of Derby Silk Mill, the site of the world's first factory, as the UK’s new Museum of Making.

    I am writing this letter from The Museum Institute at Great Camp Sagamore and our lead presenter Tonya Matthews mentioned the often cited proverb that I will paraphrase as “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Three of the key qualities that she believes define successful, inclusive leaders are that they are curious, cognizant, and collaborative. 

    I got a call from a colleague the week we released the Call for Proposals. They asked me what we meant by “partnership.” I replied that I was looking forward to reading the proposals that will be submitted and learning how we all are growing and changing the field by working together.

  • September 26, 2019 8:26 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Inspiring Funding for Small Museums

    The IMLS’s The Inspire! grant program for small museums grew out of a special initiative from their Museums for America program and was first offered in 2018 for grants to be implemented in 2019. Inspire! grants help applicants build capacity without concern for matching funds. Although both Inspire! and the Museums for America grant programs fund similar projects, the difference is the funding available and cost-share required. The program goal for Inspire! is to support small museums in addressing priorities identified in their strategic plans.

    Inspire! Project Categories

    Lifelong Learning

    • supports projects that position museums as unique teaching organizations. Projects include inclusive educational opportunities that address particular audience needs.

    Collections Stewardship and Public Access

    • supports the role of museums as trusted stewards of museum collections. This program category focuses on the desire to improve long term collection care. It funds conservation treatments, rehousing projects, cataloging, and increase collection access via digitization.

    Community Anchors and Catalysts

    • supports museums as essential partners in addressing the needs of their communities. This program helps museums leverage their expertise with their communities.

    80 to 85% of the applications submitted for an Inspire! grant were for projects in the Lifelong Learning and Collections Stewardship categories; Community Anchors and Catalysts comprise the remaining 15%.

    Lifelong Learning and Community Anchors projects often overlap with similar activities and project types. However, Lifelong Learning projects are internally focused and evolve from the museum's strategic plan or from museum staff. Community Anchor projects are externally focused and evolve from the needs within the museum's community, such as new Americans seeking help to reach job readiness. Museums can assist and provide the resources needed including space for meetings, technology access, and citizenship training. 

    “Multiple community institutions will come together around this need,” said Reagan Moore, IMLS Museum Program Officer. “One successful community project that came from Lynchburg, VA children’s museum [Amazement Square] that identified the need to help with childhood obesity so it partnered with health organizations and schools. It saw a lot of people come together around that one need in the community.”

    CASE STUDY: The Whaling Museum & Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor

    Project Category: Lifelong Learning

    The Whaling Museum & Education Center, Cold Spring Harbor

    The Whaling Museum & Education Center received Inspire! Funding for their Reach! Initiative project that helped the museum expand educational programs to youth in underserved communities on Long Island.  IMLS funding helped the museum reach a new audience and increased their great impact in their community.

    This was the first IMLS grant The Whaling Museum has received since 2000. Executive Director Nomi Dayan said that the museum was waiting for the right type of funder for this project.

    “I felt like this worked because when we looked at their priorities it just seemed to align, even though their [IMLS] priorities are broad...they put a spotlight on reaching underserved communities. When I looked at past funded grants to see are they funding exhibits or are they doing more programming and I felt that this project dovetailed with a lot of previous programs that they had funded. I think the biggest change was judging small museums on their own and it makes such a difference,” said The Whaling Museum Executive Director Nomi Dayan.

    Museums for America v. Inspire! Grants for Small Museums

    “For many years we heard anecdotally that IMLS doesn’t support small museums, which isn’t true, but we understand that a lot of museums find it difficult to go through the process of applying for a federal grant,” said Moore “Small museums have been successful with Museums for America but we changed certain aspects of the process to make it simpler...like the narrative isn’t as long and the cost-share requirements isn’t required like it is in Museums for America.”

    “The cost share difference is a big think,” said Mark Feitly, IMLS Museum Program Officer. “I think places not only had the correct perception that they were too small to receive federal funding but they could not come up with the cost share and that it was too much of a challenge for them. We removed that barrier for them to request IMLS funds. [These institutions] can include staff salaries or whatever for cost share and that’s fine, but it is not required and will not affect their [grant] review in any way.”

    IMLS expected between 100 - 115 applications for the first round of Inspire! grants, but received over 200. They funded 30 totaling more than $1.1 million. This strong response confirmed the need for grant funding opportunities specific to small museums.

    Operating through a national lens, it is difficult for IMLS to define  “small.” A small zoo differs from a historical society -- or a museum in Kansas may differ not only in collection size but in metropolitan area population and demographics  from a museum in New York State with the same physical plant footprint. “We’re asking museums to make the case for why they are small,” said Reagan.

    Museums can use the following attributes:

    • staff size (paid and volunteers)

    • operating budget

    • collection size

    • building/property size

    • audience served

    • size relative to other organizations of similar discipline

    • geographical region

    CASE STUDY: Defining The Whaling Museum & Education Center as a Small Museum

    “We identify as a small museum...our tagline is Small Museum—Big Story and we’re the smallest whaling museum in the country,” said Executive Director Dayan. The museum also specified their budget size, staff, and collection size. “Our collection is the smallest. We have 6,000 objects and the largest whaling museum has 3 million.” The Whaling Museum also incorporated public perception into their small museum identity. “A lot of our visitors who leave online reviews will write ‘small museum but…’ or ‘this place is small but with a huge knowledge of whaling.’ In half of the online reviews, people mention our size because our physical building is small and people are surprised by how small we are when they come, but there is a lot packed in here...so not only do we think we’re small but that’s the public perception too,” said Dayan.

    What does IMLS Inspire! grants fund?

    IMLS funding can support salaries for those working on the project. This can include existing staff or hiring new staff. A majority of applicants request funds to hire temporary staff for the project. For example, a museum could hire a curator for a two year contract position to help them execute the project.

    Peer reviews will comment on the sustainability for salary costs.

    "Reviewers will ask questions about the hire rate and what will happen to that person when the project is over. Successful applications discuss sustainability to keep that person on staff for as long as necessary," said Moore.

    Other eligible funding categories include:

    • supplies

    • materials

    • equipment

    • travel costs

    • contractors, or work with an exhibit design firm

    IMLS does not fund construction costs or general operating expenses.

    Advice from IMLS for First Time Applicants

    “Successful applicants are the ones who have reached out to us...it’s not always the case but those who take the time on the front end to set up conference calls or email us to get feedback are more successful,” Feitly said.

    “We’re happy to help. We can’t read full narratives...but we’re happy to answer as many questions as possible,” said Moore.

    Moore also suggests having someone from outside the museum read through your application. “Often the application will use insider language, museum jargon, and if it gets to the panel stage in review, those reviewers from different disciplines might not understand.”

    IMLS recommends looking at their website, joining a webinar, and reading project descriptions. Reading through other successful applications is also helpful. “If you read a description and there is something that you want to know more about, you can submit a FOIA request, the Freedom of Information Act, using a form on our website to access that information,” Feilty added.

    He commented that the IMLS website is dense but it has a lot of resources. “We’re sharing exactly what we’re asking our reviewers to do in their assessment. You can see at what we’re asking our reviewers to evaluate and incorporate that into your narrative as well.”

    CASE STUDY: What helped The Whaling Museum with their IMLS grant?

    The Whaling Museum focused on a well-rounded project and looked at the needs of the community. Director Dayan was also a peer reviewer for IMLS for three years.

    “I would encourage anyone to do that because it helps you get an insider’s view into the application process. When you read proposals side by side you start to see how applicants write a compelling case whether it’s the language they use or the content and approaches that they are taking," said Dayan.

    Director Dayan added that judging applications improves your writing and grant planning.  Dayan also recommends looking at examples. “Under the Freedom of Information Act you’re allowed to request copies of any funded grant...Don’t go at it alone. Look at what other museums have done successfully and try to use that as inspiration in formatting your own grant.”

    Other advice to a prospective applicant? “Communicating why the project matters and what community need it meets. A stranger will be reading this who has not been to your museum. For me it’s not enough to say kids will learn about whaling history but why it’s important for kids to learn about whaling history,” said Dayan.

    The Whaling Museum connected its strategic plan to the project and cited data. Supporting your narrative with research also strengthens an application.

    “The first thing we do when we have a grant idea is we call and pitch it to the funding organization… ‘is this something that you would fund? How can we strengthen this?’ Reaching out is so important to help you do the best job you can,” said Dayan.

    Other helpful tips?

    • Make sure your application components are consistent

    • Place the narrative questions into your word document when answering

    • Incorporate project impact throughout the narrative

    • Use your supporting documents and help drive the reviewers to your supporting documents

    Further Reading/Resources

    Inspire! Grants for Small Museums


    FY 2020 Notice of Funding Opportunity


    IMLS Apply for a Grant


    Eligibility Criteria


    Sample Applications


    NYS IMLS Funding Report


    IMLS Webinars


  • September 26, 2019 8:23 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    An Introduction to Magnetic Mounting Systems

    Gwen Spicer

    At Spicer Art Conservation, we are passionate about magnets and the amazing possibilities of their use in museums and cultural institutions. Their use is especially beneficial where standard stitching techniques are not possible. However the use of magnets is not “magic,” there is actual science behind how a magnetic system functions, incorporating three key factors that must be considered:

    1. The strength of the magnet itself. Magnetic strength is the amount of force necessary to pull the magnet straight from the surface of a steel plate. It is measured in Gauss.


    2. The receiving ferromagnetic metal, aka, what the magnet will attach to. Magnetized regions of the receiving metal are what allow the full potential of the magnet’s strength to be realized.


    3. The magnetic field distance, or “the gap”. This gap is the space created by the layers in between the magnet and the receiving ferromagnetic metal. 

    <http://insidetheconservatorsstudio.blogspot.com/2013/05/ferrous-attraction-and- science-behind.html>

    Balancing these three parts is what determines a successful system. Once these three key factors are understood individually, as well as how they work in combination with each other, any system can be developed for a specific artifact. No one method appears to be prescribed. Instead each component is adjusted for each particular situation. This is further complicated by the wide variety of needs and requirements of each artifact. Hence, it is only by understanding the parts that make up a system, and their interactions, that a system can be created for a specific task. The developed system needs to be strong enough to support the artifact while not being so strong as to create damage. Each variable can be slightly altered to reach the desired effect. The solutions provided here are to be adapted to fit the needs of the artifacts at hand.

    Most museum professionals use the rare earth magnet, Neodymium, due to its small size to high strength ratio. The use of rare earth magnets is still in its infancy, but this will change as the knowledge of how to create magnetic systems is better understood by the community. No one method has been created to support or mount all artifacts, nor should it be. In many ways a “one size fits all” solution is simply too much to ask given the variety and range of artifacts being mounted.

    The often-overlooked component of the system is the ferromagnetic material, or what the magnet will attach to. It is the material that the magnet makes magnetic in its presence, i.e. a “soft magnet” or like a magnetized chain of paper clips. The magnet’s performance relies directly on the ferromagnetic material because the magnet will not be optimized if the ferromagnetic metal is not magnetically saturated. Therefore, if a steel sheet or metal foil is used but is too thin, there will be a diminished pull force and the magnet will subsequently behave as if it were of lower strength. The unfortunate part of this is steel is heavy and requires specialized machinery to cut or drill, which is not often found in conservation labs or small museums.

    Image of steel gauge on magnetic field and strength with the same size disc magnetic. Image on the left shows a magnet with a thicker steel sheet where the magnetic flux remains within the plate making it a strong ‘soft’ magnet. Where as the image on the right is a thinner steel plate, in which the magnetic flux extends beyond the plate, making it a weak ‘soft’ magnet (K&J Magnetics).

    The use of magnets in magnetic mounting systems occurs either as point-fasteners or to provide continuous large area pressure. Both methods have been used successfully.

    The local point-fastener, the most common method, uses individually placed magnets. The selection of a specific magnet depends solely on the pull force and interaction of the magnet with the ferromagnetic metal, with no connection to a nearby magnet. The conservator can select a size and grade of magnet for ease of handling; adjust the gap layers between, and design the magnet to blend with the artifact. Magnets can then be added or subtracted based on what is deemed necessary for support. Typically, the artifact is large enough that the magnets used will not be placed close enough to any other neighboring magnets for the polar direction of the individual magnets to be of concern.

    A drawback to the point-fastener method is the creation of local stress point in an artifact. For artifacts that have drape, introducing small stresses within the structure can lead to new weaknesses, but for rigid artifacts this approach works quite well. When considering the attachment of a single object to a mount for display, ensure that the pull force is sufficient to support the weight of the object.

    The other method for creating a magnetic mounting system is the use of magnets in continuous large areas to create pressure supports to achieve the necessary pressure to hold the artifact in place. This is often done by using magnets with ancillary materials; magnets embedded within stiff materials, an attached webbing sleeve, or some combination of these. How the magnets’ poles are oriented or by their proximity to one  another in this auxiliary material will greatly affect the magnetic system’s strength, as well as the selected materials surrounding the magnet. These encased magnetic systems have the added benefit of being reusable.

    Common Questions:

    1. How do you secure a magnet to a mount? 

    Using glue is a challenge as that it needs to be stronger than the pull force of the magnet that is being secured. This is even the case when a resin, like Acryloid B-48N, that is more attracted to metals is used. But depending on your substrate, strong adhesives like superglue or UV cured adhesive is best.

    Actually fastening the magnet to a mount can be done. Some magnets come with counter-sunk holes for a flat head- screw. This method is used by SmallCorp Inc for their Magnetic Slat. Such magnets are secured to an aluminum “L”- shaped strip that actually holds the weight of the artifact, while the strong magnets ensure the hold of the slat to the ferromagnetic material. 

    <http://insidetheconservatorsstudio.blogspot.com/2013/08/magnets-alternative-to- velcro.html>

    The simplest, and perhaps strongest, hold could be the direct connection of a magnet to a ferromagnetic material (i.e. with no gap material in between). This is simply because a magnet attached directly to a ferromagnetic material is more strongly attracted than a magnet and ferromagnetic material with gap material between. A mount where a magnet is placed inside of a metallic cup amplifies this behavior creating an even stronger connection.

    What ever method you use, make sure that HOT MELT GLUE is NEVER applied to the magnet! Rare earth magnets will lose their magnetism when exposed to extreme heat. For reference the maximum recommended temperature for a Neodymium magnet is about 500° F. More information about magnets and temperature is available from K&J Magnetics. <https://www.kjmagnetics.com/blog.asp?p=temperature-and-neodymium-magnets>

    2. Where should a magnet be placed, on top, inside or behind the artifact? 

    Part of this discussion is an understanding of care and handling of rare earth magnets for their optimal and continual performance. Areas of concern include the mechanical shock on the magnet, the heat and moisture of the environment, and a demagnetized field. Therefore, systems with a layer of padding material have the advantage of limiting damage to the magnet from the shock of suddenly snapping together, as might occur accidentally during handling when two magnets are drawn together quickly by their strong magnetic force toward each other.

    How the practitioner handles the magnet is important. This also is the case with their storage. 

    A few rules:

    1. Separate the rare earth magnets from all other types of permanent magnets.

    2. Provide cushioning between the magnets and prevent any shock.

    3. Keep away from all heat sources.

    Rare earth magnets should be protected. A successful method is to embed the magnet on the mount or within materials. Keeping the magnet surrounded by materials aids in their longevity by preventing demagnetization from both shock and heat. These embedded magnets or ferromagnetic materials can be placed on top or within an artifact as well as being used for the point-fastener or the continuous pressure methods.

    Embedding magnets into a stiff material like a mat, or corrugated board is an obvious approach. At the Asian Art Museum, they have mastered the inclusion of camouflaged magnets within an outer border that supports the artifact while on display with the use of a modular system where block-shape magnets are embedded into strips of mat board and become the finishing outer perimeter of the display mount by being placed over the outer edge of the artifact.


    3. Should magnets be secured to the mount rather than incorporated with the artifact?

    Yes. Probably the most practical reason is that the mount can be reused, and having the magnet positioned in place could potentially be useful. Whereas, if installed in the artifact's internal structure, the magnet might remain there, even after the artifact is returned to storage. The cost of rare earth magnets is ever increasing and the added expense of purchasing more and more magnets is not necessary. More importantly, the long-term effects are unknown; therefore magnets kept within artifacts might be ill advised. Also, keeping an "active device" such as a magnet inside the artifact may cause inadvertent harm. Magnets are always "on", and we at SAC often speak of the "one-mindedness" of magnets and how they will jump to a receiving metal as quickly as possible. If you did not know that an artifact had a magnet inside of it you could place it on, or near, something you actually do not want it to magnetically attach to.

    4. How do I learn more about using magnets with my work?

    There are many ways to learn more, one can always contact Gwen directly, read her blog posts and of course purchase the recently published book Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums & Cultural Institutions available at https://spicerart.com/magnetbook/.

    Gwen Spicer is a fellow of AIC and as been in private practice for over 20 years. Spicer Art Conservation specializes in the conservation of textiles, objects, and works on paper. Gwen uses magnets for innovative treatments and mounting of artifacts. To contact her, please email her at gwen@spicerart.com or visit her website where you will find additional information about Spicer Art Conservation and the use of magnets for both treatment and exhibition.

    Editor’s note: Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums and Cultural Institutions won the 2019 Greater Hudson Heritage Network publication award

  • September 26, 2019 8:21 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    ASK! Cultivating a Better Visitor Experience With Technology at The Brooklyn Museum

    More museums are using data to drive decision making. This data can influence marketing decisions, membership development, and shaping visitor experiences. In 2015, The Brooklyn Museum created ASK, an app that encourages visitors to ask questions. Questions like "what do the curved and straight edge lines mean?" when examining a Cubism painting or "How does this mask open and close" when looking at a mask from their collection on view in the galleries. The app invites you to ask questions by texting with one of the Brooklyn Museum's staff. The goal? To make the museum a more dynamic and responsive institution. But it also helps the museum answer the question, "what are visitors looking for from the museum?"

    The ASK team continue to self-evaluate how the app functions. These ongoing self-evaluations are important when transforming visitor experiences. The Brooklyn Museum is using technology to create a new standard for museum visitor engagement. Before landing on a text message like app, the museum used pre-printed cards to try to anticipate visitor questions. It failed. The team learned that visitors wanted a more personal interaction. Testing and trying ideas for a public engagement tool is critical for success.

    What is the ASK App?

    ASK provides a more intimate experience and more in-depth knowledge than a simple Google search. Fueled by museum staff, this smartphone app is "like having a curator in your pocket" according to New York Times reporter Daniel McDermon. Answers to questions are personal and do not feel auto-generated, because they're not. Staff insert their personality into responses and follow up inquiries with related questions. Staff responses like, "What do you feel about their facial expression?" for a visitor looking at portrait helps to encourage further discussion, or create the space to allow the visitor to think deeply about the art in the museum’s collection. As ASK app was being built, the developers purposefully excluded  collection search options, guide maps to the galleries and social media prompts to "tweet this" or "hashtag that.” ASK focuses on engaging visitors to ask museum collection questions that are answered in real time.

    For visitors who might be hesitant to ask gallery attendants, the app provides visitors opportunity to send a text from their own devices to get personalized information in an interface that is easy to use on a screen is similar to common texting screens. 

    Some conversations have made their way to the museum's website. Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party" prompted some critical feedback captured by the app.These questions and answers are now live on the museum collection website page. Conversations like this are now part of the museums public profile. 

    How Does it Work?

    The app only works inside the museum. The app asks you to make sure you turn on your phone's:

    • Bluetooth. The museum uses bluetooth beacons to tell staff which art you are near

    • Connection to WiFi. The museum offers free WiFi

    • Location Services for ASK. This helps staff tailor information based on where you are in the museum, i.e. what else to see nearby

    • Notifications for the app. This is how you'll know when staff answers your question- like a text alert

    • Camera. Can't describe what you're looking at? Take a picture and send it in the app to get more information.

    Behind the Scenes and Self-Evaluation

    The development team behind ASK are incredibly adept at self evaluation. Their blog BKM Tech focuses on the technology efforts at the Brooklyn Museum. Staff writes about current projects and the process itself. The blog documents successes and where to improve as the app develops. It also provides a platform for comments and discussions. Sara Devine, Director of Visitor Experience & Engagement wrote about how to get visitors to use the app with labels. Hoping to inspire interest to download the app, labels included questions. Devine wrote that while successful at first, only 30% of users asked the questions on the labels. ("Labels Do Heavy Lifting for ASK- March, 2017). These labels were enough for some users to use the app but Devine felt that they were too one-dimensional.  "Given our lofty engagement goals for ASK, we started to question this type of engagement. It felt too superficial and not at all what we were hoping for as engaging visitors with art," Devine wrote. The team removed them and focused on advertising the app for the official launch.

    The ASK team was keen to not pollute their own data by overly directing the public to the app. In special exhibitions, the team tested different label versions. These versions reintroduced leading questions, but this audience rarely used them. But even this varied from special exhibition to the next. Devine wrote that these labels "were doing some heavy lifting in terms of getting people into and using the app." This data along with visitor evaluations will continue to strengthen the app.

    Shaping the Visitor Experience

    "What are visitors looking for?" Back in 2014, the Brooklyn Museum began a six month study. The museum found that visitors wanted to speak with people on staff. That visitors wanted a conversation with experts and recommendations for more.

    "One questions that came up again and again was: how much are we guiding our visitors, and how much are we letting them street the tour themselves?" wrote Jessica Murphy, Manager of Visitor Engagement. It's understanding how to move visitors through the museum but permitting flexibility. This question came up when developing the app to accompany special exhibitions. Allowing visitors to experience exhibitions on their own determined the app language used. For example, Murphy writes that switching from designating works as "highlights" versus "hidden gems" allowed visitor adaptability. Do visitors want the exhibition overview? Highlights. Or are they searching for more exclusive content? Hidden gems.

    The ASK team tested tour concepts with museum colleagues. Their feedback suggested tours need to give visitors "a certain amount of control over their experience" but still provide some amount of structure.

    Beyond bolstering visitor engagement, the Brooklyn Museum creates tours for special exhibitions.

    Recently, the ASK team created "Trends Across Time: An ASK Fashion Tour." This ASK app tour accompanied and focused only the special exhibition "Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion." The team created information cards that provided simple instructions. (i.e. "10 Moments in Fashion History...explore styles from the past in this interactive tour via text message"). Using a different approach visitors could also send a text using a prompt word besides using the app.

    Experts provided interesting facts and engaged with visitor questions about the exhibition.

    Five years on...

    In 2016, the Brooklyn Museum won two MUSE awards from the American Alliance of Museums for its ASK app. MUSE awards recognize outstanding achievements in Galleries, Libraries, Archives, or Museums media. The app also received a Gold award in the Mobile Applications category and the Jim Blackaby Memorial Award (a special jury prize granted to an entry selected for its achievement as a media or technology focused museum program). Today the ASK team continues to evolve the app and expand its role in visitor engagement. The team continues to blog their journey onBKM Tech and they've even open sourced their code on Github.

    The ASK app began as a three year initiative funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Today it continues to challenge traditional visitor engagement by employing technology.

  • August 28, 2019 11:59 AM | MANY Staff (Administrator)

    Screenshot from the Talking Heads, "Once in a Liftetime" music video, 1981

    In honor of the upcoming commemoration of Labor Day, a holiday that was designed to honor American workers but now mostly celebrates the end of summer, this letter reflects on trends I have noticed in the museum labor field.

    If you have been busy in the last couple of years and haven’t been able to pay attention to recent publications such as the 2018 Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey from the Mellon Foundation and Johnnetta Betsch Cole and Laura Lotts’ recent publication Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion in Museums, I recommend that you take some time over this long weekend to catch up on the directions in which the museum field is heading. There is a lot to read in online forums about salary transparency, about how our museum staff and boards often don’t reflect our communities, and about how our institutions are not as successful as they could be because of their lack of diversity. But in this letter, I will speak from my own experience.

    When I began traveling in fall 2016, I wasn’t prepared for everything people shared with me. One comment that I heard frequently and that struck me deeply was from young women who expressed to me that they were grateful a woman was now head of MANY. Knowing that at least two of my predecessors were women, I thought hard about the soil in which those comments grew. As the #MeToo movement and revelations about abuses of power in the workplace soon followed, I got it. These women emerging professionals were not in the workforce long enough to remember that MANY had been led by women in the past. I came to realize it was part of my job to be a role model, to support emerging museum professionals, and to create a culture for the organization where it wouldn’t matter if MANY was led by a man or a woman.

    Unlike teaching, medical, or legal professions, there is no typical career or accredited career path for museum work. In recent years, Museum Studies programs have blossomed across our nation, creating a cadre of people highly trained in curatorial, educational, interpretive, and exhibition practices.These programs generally include project-based learning and internship experiences that give students hands-on work in museums as part of their training. Some offer grant writing classes, others offer audience engagement models, public programming, and presentation skill training. But, I would argue that none of the programs are giving students the full range of skills they need to succeed in today’s museum professions. (You may now send me emails telling me how your program is different and I will gladly share and incorporate that information into my recommendations.) It would serve the field and our communities well to focus equally on Visitor Services, Marketing and Public Relations, digital technology applications, special event planning, and finance and administration.

    Employment trends indicate that - unfortunately - these academic programs are graduating many more people than can currently find work in the field. When I graduated with a BFA in 1984, the demographics were swinging in the opposite direction. An astute professor told me to find a job someplace other than academia, because as one of the last of the baby boomer generation, my elders were firmly entrenched in all of those art professor positions, and nothing would begin to open up for me for at least 20 years. He was correct, and I began to look elsewhere. I was very fortunate to be able to trade my work in an education department typing mailing lists in exchange for the use of a darkroom - and my museum career was launched.

    At the time I began work in museums, many museum employees came from for-profit and non-profit sectors where skills were transferable to museum work including advertising, education, the visual and performing arts, humanities, sciences, public administration, and government services. 

    There have been more jobs posted on the MANY job board for development positions than for any other museum job. Museum directors call me to ask where they can find skilled individuals  trained in museum PR and marketing. It might be time to reach beyond the typical places we look for future museum employees to find people trained in the skills we need and teach them to love our museums rather than the other way around. It would certainly help with diversity and equity in our staff compositions.

    MANY will be publishing the State of NY State Museums later this fall, sharing all the data that we have gathered. Before we go to print, look for a survey in your inbox containing this one question: How did you get to where you are in the museum world? Your answers may help us figure out how to build different and more inclusive pathways to museum careers. 

    I know I am successful because of the environment in which I was raised and the hard work of those who came before me. My museum career story includes mistakes and mis-steps on my part as well as anti-semitism, ageism, sexism, location-based bias, and because of colleagues withholding information that I needed to know in order to succeed. I don’t like to linger on those events. I prefer to think about how my perseverance in the face of adversity and the help I received from mentors and colleagues eventually led me to where I am now. I am happy to share my museum career path with anyone who might be interested - feel free to ask when I see you on the road this fall!

    Erika Sanger, Executive Director

    *Lyric, “Once In A Lifetime”, Talking Heads, 1980

  • August 28, 2019 11:53 AM | MANY Staff (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.

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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