AAHC Forum: Collections Management Initiatives: Big Things Are Happening at the Harvey B. Gantt Center

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

Introduction: In 2011, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture received a two-year IMLS grant to strengthen collections management policies at the museum. This grant was recommended after the museum participated in AAM’s Museum Assessment Program (MAP) to assess collections management policies and recommend improvements to strengthen the museum’s capabilities in collections care in 2010. The MAP assessment was conducted by collections management consultant Linda Colet, from DaoPoint Digital, LLC. We are now ready to present our case study to the IMLS community and share this project, which can serve as a useful case study for other museums who are working towards their own collections management needs and priorities.

By Michele A. Parchment, Collections and Exhibitions, The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture

Linda Colet, Collections Management Consultant, DaoPoint Digital, LLC, contributed to this blog.

With a small staff focused on daily operational needs, the Gantt Center did not have the resources to conduct and implement their collections management initiatives. Collections and Exhibitions Manager Michele Parchment and President/CEO David Taylor sought out a Museum Assessment Program (MAP) assessment in 2010 and with a very small team of dedicated workers, secured an IMLS grant in 2011 to implement recommendations from the MAP process.  Taylor works closely with Parchment and wants to see the Gantt Center move forward in areas of collections care and excellence. Our IMLS grant is ongoing until summer 2013.

Michelle A. Parchment and Craig Crawford.

Conservationist viewing with Michelle A. Parchment and Craig Crawford.

Using the funding secured through the IMLS grant, the Gantt Center hired Linda Colet as a consultant to implement her recommendations in areas of inventory, collection management software, conservation, disaster recovery, and digital planning. With this grant, we also hired a registrar assistant, learned how to use the collections management system for documenting the collection, conducted an inventory of off-site works, transported these works to a better storage facility on-site, created museum security guidelines for the Museum, and conducted a three-day conservation assessment.

During this evaluation we examined 72 works of art from the permanent collection, 58 pieces from the Hewitt Collection (a gift from the Bank of America), and 21 works of art that were personally donated to the Gantt Center by Mrs. Vivian Hewitt. The report includes an item-by-item assessment and a report of short, medium, and long-term recommendations for the care and management of the collection.

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The next step is to budget for conservation supplies, storage upgrades, and specific conservation care. A disaster recovery plan will also be completed as part of the conservation follow-up.

The inventory and conservation initiative gave us an opportunity to showcase individual artists, both known and unknown, and opened the door for planning exhibits and digital projects. A budget for upgrading the art storage facility was prepared. We also are developing a plan for making the Gantt collection digitally accessible to the public.

The results of the IMLS work will be shared in a forum-style workshop at the upcoming AAAM conference that the museum is hosting on August 7 – 10. In keeping with the theme of the conference, The Business of Museums: Making Institutions Sustainable, we will hold a lively discussion on how African-American museums stay sustainable in the current museum marketplace. African-American museums offer a unique paradigm in the museum community: presenting themselves as “cultural museums” and providing strong programmatic events that tell a story about our museum collections. How does this all translate to sustainability? We will attempt to answer this question by actively engaging our conference constituents on key sustainability topics that are all African-American museums are facing:

1. How does one establish a collections identity to sustain our brand as an African-American museum while at the same time playing in the overall museum space?

2. What best practices need to be in place to sustain our non-profit business as museum entities?

3. What type of data should we be collecting to cultivate financial sustainability such as marking data, visitor stats, and online stats (e.g., how far does our brand extend in the online space)?

Forum results will be documented and posted on the AAAM blog and website for attendees to continue discussions post-conference. On Wednesday, August 7, The Gathering Place Project will conduct a FREE pre-conference workshop entitled, “Gathering, Growing, and Gleaning Vital Resources for our African American Museum Spaces” at the Gantt Center. We hope to see everyone in Charlotte for the AAAM Conference!

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