• Moving Your Collection: A Midsize Museum's Perspective

    By Drew Talley, Registrar (photographs by Darryl A. Smith)

    The California African American Museum (CAAM) recently reopened after a 3.8 million dollar renovation to improve and update its infrastructure, which lasted 18 months. Improvements included automated remote monitoring HVAC system, CCTV security system, dry-pipe fire suppression system, hardwood floor installation, new roof and automated light dimmer system. CAAM is a midsize museum in Los Angeles funded by the State of California with a 1.8 million dollar annual budget and a 3,000-object collection. The Museum had to relocate its collection during this time period and I will summarize how the museum was able to safely move its permanent collection, during our renovation, under less than ideal circumstances. These conditions included substantial budget cuts and moving the collection during the demolition phase of the renovation project.

    We began the process of moving the collection by contacting four fine art packing companies, who we regularly used and that consistently gave first-rate service, and asked them to submit an estimate for our packing and storage needs. The bids were evaluated by the experience of the packers, the amount of time and detail that went into analyzing the move and the associated costs.

    Initially the Museum Registration staff was to handle all the inventory control, however, due to State budget cuts we lost our Assistant Registrar position and the packers had to perform these duties. CAAM was charged an hourly wage fee for labor and inventory control in addition to materials and trucking. Five and a half months prior to the move I worked with the contractors to determine which items would be crated for safely transporting and storing the work. The criteria we used for deciding the packing container was based on the fragility and size of the object. Most of the artifacts designated for crates included fragile antique furniture, rolled textiles, breakable contemporary art sculpture and over-sized traditional African sculpture. Thirty crates were created for the move and the remaining items were boxed or placed in bin-boxes. I physically labeled all items with a visible accession or loan number, which the packers used to correlate with their box or crate numbers. I also placed the location numbers on the tags for the move back into the facility. I then used the list generated by the packers to update the new locations of the objects in our collections database

    The CAAM Registrar was the only staff member available to assist the packers with the movement of the collection. Our Exhibits Preparation department, who would typically assist in such a move, was heavily involved with the demolition phase of the renovation, which unfortunately occurred simultaneously with the collection move. Therefore, we had to establish timeparameters for access to our shipping/receiving entrance and had to create an alternative workspace for the packers so they would not be exposed to the noise pollution, dust and diesel fumes associated with demolition. We emptied out our accession room and set up the packers there with tables. We also had to hire extra security to watch over the packing process since there were other demolition contractors on the premises. We were very fortunate that no damage occurred during the transition.

    Considering the circumstances, I feel our collection move went very well and would offer that flexibility is a very important aspect of any decision requiring coordination of diverse disciplines (fine art packers, registration, general contractors, etc.). Be prepared to justify any additional costs associated with the move to your fiscal department. I discussed the value and integrity of a museum collection. Selecting the right packers for your museum's needs is essential to insure the longevity and protection of the collection. The packers we contracted spent nearly six hours assessing the collection several months before the move, had a long list of credentials and submitted recommendations for the type of packaging best suited for the collection needs. Moving a collection is a huge undertaking for any institution and must be coordinated well between all parties involved. I feel confident in handling other collection management concerns now that I have coordinated CAAM's collection move.