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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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  • 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.

  • August 28, 2019 11:45 AM | MANY Staff (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 | MANY Staff (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 | MANY Staff (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 | MANY Staff (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 | MANY Staff (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 | MANY Staff (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.

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