Adopt An Artifact

Thanks to John Campbell, Director of Collections at the NC Museum of History, for contributions to this post.

If you are considering adopt-an-artifact programs for your institution’s collections, several North Carolina examples may be useful to review.

The North Carolina Museum of History began an Adopt-An-Artifact program in 2007. The idea was for groups or individuals to choose artifacts which appealed to them and were in need of conservation. Often the costs of conservation are more substantial than the museum’s budget will allow. The adopters underwrite those costs, and thus make the artifacts available for exhibition and study, which promotes understanding of the history and heritage of North Carolina. An additional reason this project is so attractive to the public is that 100% of the conservation funds raised by outside support groups goes into the conservation treatment of the object; the museum pays all administrative costs.

flag unveiling ceremony with members of the 26th Regiment North Carolina Troops

The best example of the success of this program to date would be the conservation partnership between the Museum and the Society for the Historical Preservation of the 26th Regiment North Carolina Troops, Inc. to preserve the Museum’s Civil War flag collection. In practice, the Museum and the 26th NCT mutually choose a flag from the collection as the preservation project. This information is transmitted on the 26th NCT website and at meetings so the reenactors can raise conservation funds within their community.

Once the Museum reaches its fundraising target, it contracts with conservation specialists to preserve and frame the flags. When the flag returns, the Museum schedules an unveiling ceremony for members of the fundraising group. This provides a nice reminder of the purpose of the fundraising and showcases the accomplishments of their organization. The 26th NCT has raised funds to conserve 7 flags, which NCMOH would not have been able to exhibit without their support. They have also inspired other reenacting groups to fundraise for conservation as well.  It does take time to form partnerships with fundraising groups, but the opportunity to conserve significant artifacts is well worth that time committment.

portrait of Eliza Estes Evans, available for adoption through the Orange County Historical Museum

While NCMOH’s most successful adoptions have involved partnerships with fundraising groups, its website program description targets individuals.  Appeals to individuals are also the focus of the Orange County Historical Museum and the Museum of the Albemarle adoption programs.  The Orange County Museum has several levels of recognition for adoption.  The top level ($500 or more) allows for donor names to be included on the artifact label whenever that piece is on display, and donors receive a copper leaf on the museum’s Donor Tree. Base-level donors ($25 – $100) are listed on the museum’s Honor Roll.  The Museum of the Albemarle also promises to list names of artifact adopters in its quarterly newsletter

The very premise of an “adoption” program is an emotional attachment to something, an implied sense of nurture in sponsorship.  Although individual adopters probably do not want an unveiling ceremony of the kind that NCMOH holds for its re-enactor fundraising groups, tangible benefits would make adoption programs much more attractive.  Why not set a minimum adoption fee and send small packs of notecards with photographs of the conserved piece to each participant in the adoption program?  Captions on the backs of the notecards could promote the program further.  Theoretically, the adopter would spread at least some of the cards among close associates, folks who may also be sympathetic to your institutional cause.  Notecards are simple and fairly inexpensive to produce using online services like Snapfish or local printing companies.  They would also be a tangible benefit for individuals participating in your adoption program and would further solidify the personal connection the donor likely feels for the artifact adoptee.

What other benefits could your institution offer for participation in its adopt-an-artifact program?

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About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on December 9, 2011, in collections access, collections care, museums, public programs and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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