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  • 1.  Financially Protecting University Collections? #collections #seekingadvice

    Posted 17 days ago

    Hi All,
    I am working with a university museum and discovering several significant collections "hidden" throughout the colleges of the university. When a new Provost or Chairperson was hired, they questioned the purpose of the collections, and their staff were pushed into basements and closets. This has happened several times over the history of the collections. Two staff are working for free to continue to protect and catalog the collections. The museum has no budget to bring the collections within the museum collection (the museum exhibits are objects loaned from the college collections).

    What have other universities done to protect collections financially? 

    I have a few thoughts:
    One would be to try to create an endowment to fund the collections, and another would be to try to have the collections adopted by the state museum. 

    Thank you!

    All the best, 
    - Mark

    Museum Planning, LLC
    Mark Walhimer
    Cell: 415-794-5252

    Mark Walhimer
    AAM Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo, Baltimore, May 16-19, 2024, click to learn more

  • 2.  RE: Financially Protecting University Collections? #collections #seekingadvice

    Posted 14 days ago
    Hi, Mark - I am now retired, but my last museum (an academic one) and the parent institution found themselves in this position... repeatedly.  The institution's CEO had also attempted to engage the interest of a wealthy alumnus by accepting for long-term loan a collection of works by a World-renowned artist to be installed around campus.  Sadly, these were frequently damaged and placed in closets, etc. (and worse-"lost").  During the "loan," the lender died and the works became orphans with neither the estate nor eventual foundation he established willing to accept ownership.  Eventually, under pressure, the museum was forced to provide housing for the collection.  The only humorous element of this sad tale is that I discovered the amazing nooks and crannies (basements, hidden closets, attics, tunnels) in the 150-year-old-campus-wide search for lost objects!   This was only one example of similar events that I inherited.

    Deeds, provenances and proofs of ownership will always be an issue in such cases as well.  It is fortunate that my institution and museum had (have) significant endowments.

    Your intuition regarding an endowment is, in my opinion, well founded.  Depending on the types of objects, it's doubtful that another institution will accept without clear title.  Another option is to investigate your State's laws regarding abandoned property.  If one exists and the objects can fall within the law's parameters, the museum may be able to sell them at auction.

    One final note; depending upon your State's employment laws, it may be illegal for the institution to allow full-time (exempt) employees to work without pay.

    Good luck with this.  It sounds dicey.  Vivian

    AAM Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo, Baltimore, May 16-19, 2024, click to learn more

  • 3.  RE: Financially Protecting University Collections? #collections #seekingadvice

    Posted 4 days ago

    Not as much discussion here as I thought there would be...


    I echo the previous statement regarding endowments. Our tactic here at Texas is to build endowments with very specific requirement on how those endowments are to be spent. Endowments are a financial vehicle that university administration understands, and if you are building them as we are, it demonstrates support from the community.


    Where I often see natural history museums and collections fail is in outreach to our governing boards and administrators. We do not typically have the visibility that art and history museums enjoy. Natural history exhibits are slower to turn over, it is expensive to mount a single skull, much less an entire dinosaur... But, we do research, we support research, we provided data for research, we are the repositories that provide for repeatability in research. Show that off.


    When I was a curator at the San Bernardino County Museum, we had enormous success as a (primarily) natural history museum and we receive strong support for the collection. We succeeded by educating the chain of command about our mission through show-don't-tell experiences. It was a lot of work, but staff were supported financially, benefits improved, the museum and collections expanded.  Our strategy was to invite county supervisors and their chief staff members to all of our events and create incentive and enticements for them to come. We followed up with their staff, we checked schedules and made sure that we had a little something special for them to see and do. If a supervisor was interested in birds, we showed them research on the egg collection that saved local birds, or work on bird migration that produced a PhD dissertation. If they were motorheads, we invited them to Route 66 events and "Train Days". We developed eco-tours and behind the scene exclusives for these VIPs. At each event we repeated our mantra of the importance of museum collections for primary and continuing education, research, and culture in our area of the world; we emphasized up the value in terms of return on the tax dollars that museums provide, the attraction to local business, and related community improvements.


    When I was first hired at the SBCM, we did none of this. The museum had virtually no support from the County government, and was on the precipice of losing accreditation. After myself and several other new curators came on board, we adopted this educate-your-bosses and boards approach, and raised millions of dollars. We enjoyed strong support from the County for museum expansions and renovations, and we added satellite museums. We received accolades from the museum community, accreditation reviews, and DOI sections for whom we served as repository. We achieved success because of the relationships that we built with county supervisors their staff and other state officials. Once they understood the importance of collections and the politically advantage of FREE good news from their support of cultural venues, we turned just about every one of those politicians (most of them staunch conservatives) into supporters.


    My other comment is specific to state-owned collections - these are public collections held in trust for the people. There is a fiduciary responsibility for those collections to be supported. This should be clearly articulated to the powers that be, preferably in a tone that reflects it as an honor and privilege, rather than an onus. Government's public trust responsibility is existential - if a government cannot support its own physical property and culture, then what is it? How can they claim an ability to govern if they aren't able to protect the property of the state? Your governance should know the legal pitfalls of failing to fulfill their public trust responsibilities as well as the benefits of doing so.


    My 2 cents -




    J. Chris Sagebiel  (he/him/his), collections manager

    Texas Vertebrate Paleontology Collections

    J.J. Pickle Campus, The University of Texas

    10100 Burnet Road, VPL Bldg. 6

    Austin, Texas 78758


    AAM Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo, Baltimore, May 16-19, 2024, click to learn more