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Thread: Vans, Trucks, retrofitting, leasing vs buying, art transport tricks of the trade

  1. #1

    Vans, Trucks, retrofitting, leasing vs buying, art transport tricks of the trade

    I am the preparator for the King County Public Art Collection, in Seattle, WA. I work for 4Culture, which is actually a public development authority that is owned by the county. Basically, we are not technically part of the county, but we look after its collection, and we oversee arts and heritage funding here. My predecessor had the same position for 19 years and since retired. During his tenure he used a lot of his own tools including his own vehicle. Now that I have the position I am working on purchasing lots of tools for the collection to have, one being a a dedicated van for art transport.

    My job involves installation as well as maintenance, so I need to be able to safely move art and equipment. Our collection spans portable works, permanently sited outdoor sculpture, and artwork that is integrated into our county's facilities. So, I am looking for a vehicle that can do a lot of things: I need to be able to transport small to mid-sized paintings, sculptures, pedestals, vitrines, etc., but I also need to be able to move heavy, and often times dirty equipment. For instance, I have a job coming up sorting and transporting artist-designed tree grates. They are really heavy, and they are very dirty having spent their whole life on the street getting walked on, and chewing gum accretion on the surface. I might have a day where I will rent (or we might possibly buy) a pressure washer, and the next day I might need to move and install framed prints. I am good using bin boxes and cardboard to isolate objects, I've used e-track spanner bars and plywood to create temporary shelves in a truck for lightweight objects. And I have moved lots of art, from soft packed to fully crated with a police escort. The vehicle can't be a big box truck because of parking limitations, and really, there isn't a need to always have a huge vehicle. As you all probably know, you can transport a lot of stuff in a van.

    In the past I have worked for a couple different art handling companies, and museums. I have seen how these places have retrofitted their vans with plywood e-track walls, tool bins, and tricky little inventions that maximize the limited space in the back of the vehicle. It would be great if we could start a discussion with examples on retrofitting dedicated art vehicles. As art handlers we all have to invent solutions, and usually its when we are out in the field. Packing or stabilizing something in the back of a van or truck is different experience than in a cozy museum or gallery space where all the tools, even the ones you didn't think you needed, are available.

    Also, I am curious what your thoughts are on leasing vs buying vehicles, and if that limits or enhances the amount of retrofitting you can do. It seems to me that if you are running an art handling company, leasing is the way to go because your vehicles will always be updated, and it's a selling point for your clients. But I am wondering if it makes sense for a single collection to lease or own a vehicle. We have a ton of other costs to think about, which I won't get into here. But I think this stuff would be useful to folks who either have an art transport fleet, or folks who just need to use a truck occasionally in their museum or gallery job.

    So, if people are interested in this I will happily share my process in acquiring and retrofitting a dedicated collection van. But I'd love to see some of your inventions and techniques too. Thanks!

    Guy Merrill

  2. #2
    Chair of Publications Chris Barber's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Boston, MA
    Welcome Guy,
    Good idea for discussion. We do not have a forum section about vehicles, but I have moved your thread to Art/Object Handling & Installation.

    I also recommend that you send your introduction out on the ListServ for more exposure and quicker responses.


  3. #3
    Thanks, Chris. I just signed up, and I sent it over.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    San Rafael, California
    Hi Guy! I subcontract for an art handling company in the Bay Area that owns a Sprinter, a Transit, and a box truck, with both the Sprinter and Transit being modified on the inside with plywood and E-Track. The Sprinter has a tighter turning radius, and is the one the guys all want if we're doing any jobs in the city. They are both tall, however, (~75" interior height) which is necessary on the one hand to transport over-size artwork, but sometimes causes problems when looking for parking. For your application, I highly recommend buying a Sprinter, modifying it as needed, and lining the floor with 1" ethafoam. Then when you're transporting dirty items just remove the foam for the day and you can sweep out the van once you're done, and replace the foam for the next day.

    I don't have any direct experience with leasing a vehicle, but I imagine there are limitations to the modifying you can get away with under a lease agreement.
    Thanks for starting the thread!

  5. #5
    You could also try RBI if you're interested in leasing or renting large vehicles for transport.

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