Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Ask

How do you accomplish fundraising? The American Association of Museums recently hosted a webinar providing development advice, which we’ve condensed into ten important steps on the staircase to institutional success.

Fundraising from private sources helped create the new Nature Research Center, part of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

1. Use research to target potential donors. Use your own networks and those of others committed to your organization to “prospect.”

2. Start with those who already have some involvement in and passion for your institution’s mission. Board members should not only give, but they also should be willing to identify and/ or motivate other potential donors. When staff at Wake Forest University’s Museum of Anthropology embarked upon a fundraising letter campaign, they created a mailing list by identifying past financial and artifact donors and added Board members’ recommendations.

3. Offer benefits for donations, even if it’s only recognition. Publicize deadlines for the receiving of benefits.

4. Make a specific case for support. Let potential donors know what the institution will do with the money. Tell them about, and even involve them in, discreet projects as much as possible.

5. Before trying “The Ask” in person, make sure you have invited potential donors to a previous event, have visited them, or have gotten to know them in some other way. The Ask should not be your first contact; it should be an early step in the process of building a relationship.

6. Bring along a trustee or other person involved in your organization who also supports it financially. You and your companion should have made your own donations to your cause before asking someone else to do so. Since museum professionals usually do not have the expendable income that potential donors often do, figure out how many weeks’ pay or what percentage of your income you have given. Proportions should be more impressive and persuasive than dollar amounts. One of the webinar presenters, who is an experienced fundraiser and director of a county historical museum, asserted that it is common for potential donors to ask him how much he has given. Be prepared. If you are not committed to the cause enough to give a week’s pay, then the case you make will not seem as urgent or genuine.

7. Thank donors and update them on the way the funds they have given are used. Consider sending out the press releases you write, not only with the media, but also with your top donors and leaders in your community.

8. Focus on maintaining relationships with ten of your top donors. Keep in touch with them throughout the year by inviting them to events or just checking in with them.

9. Value the feedback you get in the process of fundraising. If potential donors are unwilling to give, ask why. Use each conversation as an opportunity to collect constructive criticism about your institution to help it become more responsive to community needs. Potential donors are not the only gauge of community engagement, but they are an important one.

Constructive criticism can also lead to financial support, as in the case of Confederate flag conservation at the North Carolina Museum of History. Over time Civil War re-enactment groups learned about the large size of NCMOH’s flag collection and complained to staff about the paucity of Confederate flags on exhibit. In the 1980s staff began to use these complaints as an opportunity to explain the need for conservation funds for specific pieces. This process of criticism and opening conversations led to the NCMOH’s successful adopt-an-artifact program.

10. Treat potential grantors, especially private foundations and corporations, as you would individual donors. Cultivate relationships with their representatives, solicit funds, and follow up by showing appreciation and reporting on the projects the grants funded.

Paintings Conservation

Many condition problems with paintings can leave an artifact unexhibitable. Tears, discolored varnish, and dirt layers can distract from the documentary and/ or aesthetic value of a piece. Repairs to a painting’s surface are best left to an appropriately trained and credentialed conservator. At times, fairly simple treatments such as spit cleaning or applying a new varnish layer can dramatically improve the painting’s appearance and not be too costly. Tear repair and filling in losses, however, are more expensive processes.

Most collection managers must focus their efforts on preventative conservation; proper storage and handling procedures can safeguard the artifact from further deterioration. While non-conservators should not work on a painting’s surface in most cases, there are several steps we can take to protect the overall artifact. During C2C’s “Preventative Conservation for Visual Arts” workshop, Conservator Perry Hurt trained participants in brushing and vacuuming the back of the canvas, installing backing boards, and replacing hanging hardware. Read one participant’s account of the workshop and some of the lessons she absorbed here.

As Hurt and Conservator Janet Hessling discussed with our group, a framed work’s backside is not only an important area to protect, but it can also be revealing. The back of the frame, and even the canvas, is often a site where artists, restorers, and owners have left documentation or other clues to the piece’s provenance. In the case of the James “Buck” Duke portrait in the collection of the Duke Homestead Historic Site, the verso offered information about the painting’s condition.

Once Hessling removed the non-archival backing board from the painting, our group was surprised to find a “ghost,” or vestigal form of the portrait. Hurt explained the shadowy image: “Most likely those marks are the result of something coming through paint cracks on the surface. The cracks formed along the brush strokes that model the head and collar. It may simply be dirt, or dirt carried by water, possibly from a cleaning attempt. Sometimes we see similar marks, or more properly stains, when an old painting is varnished. The varnish travels through the paint cracks and stains the canvas support. This type of staining is almost unavoidable with an old oil painting on canvas. The cracks are going to develop over time. If the painting is cleaned and or varnished as a conservation treatment, this type of staining almost always results.”

Does your cultural heritage collection include paintings or other framed works? If you’d like to learn more from Hurt’s expertise and missed a chance to attend the workshop during Preservation Week 2012, don’t despair. C2C, along with Hurt, will be offering the workshop again in Asheville this fall.

The Essence of a Place

How does your institution convey the essence of place or time? Is it through preserving a building or a complex of buildings on a site? Is it by presenting collections of artifacts? Do documentaries or public programs allow visitors and participants to understand what is or was really important about the community your institution represents?

After a visit to the Junaluska Memorial and Museum in 2010, North Carolina author David Cecelski wrote, “It’s so hard for a museum to capture anything truly profound about a people or a community, so much of what’s essential is usually so far beneath the surface of things. But here in Robbinsville, I had a different feeling. This little walking trail made me feel as if I actually glimpsed something important about the Snowbird Cherokee, and it made me feel, too, that I was on sacred ground.”

Artifacts can function as portals to understanding what the past was like. Use them, then, as a salient means to reach the essence of what is important about your site. However, they can remain too distant inside the confines of exhibit cases—with visitors separated from their weights, textures, and smells. As Cecelski points out, objects are not the only means to convey something “truly profound.” Consider other aspects of your interpretive topic. Music, the accent and cadence of local speech, landscape, and stories can all be part of the essence of a community.

As much of Cecelski’s current writing acknowledges, food is both an intimate and broadly social aspect of cultural heritage, and traditional dishes are a wonderful resource for cultural heritage institutions. Some museums, like the Eva Way collection at the Belhaven Memorial Museum, attempt to preserve traditional foods. This jar of possum preserves dates from the 1930s and is one of Belhaven’s many examples of home canned goods. Other institutions preserve food containers, recipes, and cooking implements in order to interpret foodways and to avoid the pest and deterioration problems involved in long-term food storage. Although food is nearly impossible to preserve in a cultural heritage collection, foodways are usually replicable, and traditional recipes fundamentally connect audiences to the land and seasons.

How does your site incorporate local food traditions into its public programming or even its collection? What other non-artifactual elements of cultural heritage does your institution present in order to convey the essence of your site or community?

Introduction to Archival Methods

C2C is well into its spring/ summer round of Archival Boot Camps, taught by members of the Society for North Carolina Archivists. The first three of five sessions in Greensboro, Greenville, and Raleigh, have been well attended and provided useful training for participants. The workshops are especially helpful for librarians and museum staff whose institutions contain archives they must oversee, but who have not been formally trained in that specialization.

Collecting, arranging, describing, preserving, and providing access are the major topics of information and discussion during the workshop.

  • Collecting: As in all cultural heritage collections, good policies serve as guides for both acquisition and maintenance. There are two types of archival collections. An organic collection is a set of records that an organization amassed over time in the course of its activities. An artificial collection has been assembled by a collector.
  • SHS1997.1.1

    Arranging: Archivists need to make judgment calls about the appropriate order for the records they acquire. Organic collections often come to an archives chronologically arranged, or at least chronologically within categories. If a logical arrangement is pre-existing, then it is usually worth retaining. Artificial collection arrangements may be trickier. For instance, if accepting a group of trade cards, would you arrange them by chronology, region, or business type? Your own institutional mission and the anticipated research needs of your patrons should guide the arrangement decisions.

  • Describing: Depending on the research value of the collection and the materials it contains, descriptions can be collection-level, box-level, series-level, or item-level. Given the sheer numbers of individual items in most archival acquisitions, item-level descriptions are usually impractical. Archivists must analyze each collection to determine the level of specificity that makes the most sense. Archivists’ Toolkit is a data management system that supplies controlled vocabularies to assist in the description process. A variety of online sources can help with the task of developing finding aids that align with professional archival standards.  
  • Preserving: Acid-free folders and boxes and regulated environmental conditions are crucial for the preservation of paper and photographic materials. Whenever possible, provide dark, cold storage for most archival collections. In addition to the preservation tips that C2C provides through workshops and online materials, websites like the Image Permanence Institute’s and the Northeast Document Center’s offer a wealth of information relevant to archival holdings.
  • Providing Access: Archives usually exist as reference resources. In many cases, they are open to the public with certain schedules and handling policies. See the State Archives research room policies as an example.  In other archives, access is limited to internal users—usually employees of the institution generating and maintaining the archival records. Archivists need to be aware of laws such as FERPA  and HIPAA , which prohibit access to certain types of data. In some cases, archivists should redact social security numbers, health records, and other forms of sensitive information from photocopies of collection materials. Institutional Review Boards work with certain archives to determine whether individual researchers can access records containing potentially sensitive information.

The next Archival Boot Camp will be in Asheville on June 25th. If you want to learn more about archival methods, consider registering for the workshop in Belmont, which several Charlotte-area archivists will team teach on August20th. C2C looks forward to a continuing partnership with SNCA in order to perpetuate this valuable instruction.

Vehicle Collections Care

This post is by Bob Hopkins, Exhibits Coordinator for the North Carolina Transportation Museum, and Bruce McKeon, volunteer extraordinaire for NCTM.

At the North Carolina Transportation Museum our non-operational fleet is drained of all fuel and the vehicles are placed upon jack-stands. We have had problems with fuel going stale in our operational vehicles if not driven often enough. For awhile, we tried to keep minimal fuel in the gas tanks, but with some vintage vehicles, it’s difficult determining the appropriate level due to primitive/ faulty/ or absent fuel gauges. Then there are questions about safety and collections preservation when leaving any fuel in an exhibited vehicle. 

 One of our auto volunteers, Bruce McKeon, developed a system that we have started using with our operational fleet whenever practical. The portable fuel tank is really a 6 gal. marine fuel tank with a fuel bulb and a two-part “quick disconnect” to prevent fumes from exiting and/or dust, pollen, and bugs from entering. There are three steps to follow when installing and using the portable fuel tank.

  1. Drain fuel from existing vehicle fuel tank and remove short fuel hose (identified in green in diagram above).
  2. Mount “quick disconnect” to structure in trunk area. Drill hole in trunk, install hose and grommet in a convenient and safe location.
  3. Install portable fuel tank assembly. Plug into “quick disconnect” and pump fuel bulb to obtain head pressure to the fuel pump.

McKeon humbly comments, “These fuel systems are used in boats all over the world. All I did was adapt it to the museum’s automotive needs.”

As far as how often the operational collection is driven actually depends on the vehicle. We have developed an “exercising’ schedule of every three weeks. This was determined by the number of volunteers, work hours and number of vehicles on the schedule. A rule of thumb, an operational vehicle should be driven a minimum of 17 minutes, no less than once a month. We try to exercise our operational collection at least a half hour, every three weeks. 

Why 17 minutes? 17 minutes is enough time to evaporate the condensation in the exhaust system and to get coolant rate up as it flows through the engine. Some vehicle’s batteries are recharged only when the vehicle is moving, not just running (like in modern cars with alternators). The vehicles need to be driven for a half hour or more; and then sometimes at a minimal speed to keep the batteries charged. Otherwise, we’d need to place them on a battery charger. But there are other benefits for exercising the vehicles too, such as; water and fuel pumps need to be worked or will break down, brake systems need to be worked or will lock up and fail, etc.

Thanks to Hopkins and McKeon for sharing their vehicle collections knowledge!

Vault Your Collection to Security

On May 23rd the Connecting to Collections Online Community hosted a free webinar on collections security. Consultant (and a former police chief) Stevan Layne  presented some great advice on protecting collections. Click the online community portal to link to Layne’s PowerPoint presentation on preventing collections loss, as well as a technical leaflet he wrote for AASLH, entitled “An Ounce of Prevention.” Two of the highlights of his presentation included points about developing a “Collections Protection Plan” and a daily closing procedure checklist.

Get all staff, volunteers, and contractors involved in your institution’s collections protection plan. Make sure they are familiar with it and feel comfortable suggesting revisions. All hands on deck need to use their eyes and ears for observing and reporting suspicious activities or potential problems.

  • A person funtioning on your institution’s behalf should serve as an initial visible deterrent to theft. The same idea that Walmart perpetuates with its greeters can help your collection become secure.
  • Set up physical barriers when possible between the public and collection treasures. These can be elaborate and expensive exhibit cases, simple stantions, or less obtrusive. For instance, monofilament can secure objects to riser blocks or to table tops in historic houses.
  • Establish regular and irregular patrols. Eyes and ears working on behalf of your collection should get around as much as possible and as often as possible.
  • Consider electronic or solar-operated security devices. Video surveillance in storage areas may be an unattainable ideal for small institutions, but sign-in sheets and limited key access should be achievable.
  • Establish reasonable policies and procedures for collection security. Make sure all workers at your institution become familiar with, contribute to, and implement them. The guidelines you set should consider storage and internal theft opportunities as well as securing collections on exhibit.

Because the vast majority of museum thefts are internal and because most theft overall is related to substance abuse, conduct pre-employment screenings and consider annual screenings for all staff members, volunteers, and contractors.

Develop a checklist for closing procedures. A staff member should be responsible for conducting and signing the list each day. Fire outweighs any other threat to cultural institutions and many of these measures can help prevent or mitigate that danger.

  • Disconnect small appliances such as coffee pots and space heaters. Humidifiers and de-humidifiers may be helping your collection’s RH needs, but consider unplugging them when staff are absent.
  •  Close interior doors; check locks on all doors and windows.
  • Remove trash; keep exit routes clear of debris and clutter.
  • Make sure flammable chemicals such as cleaners are stored properly. A closed metal cabinet works well for this purpose.
  • Note the license plate numbers of any potentially suspicious vehicles in parking lots.

Three additional tips:

  1. Keep artifact moves unpublicized. The fewer people who are aware, the smaller the risk of unwelcome intervention.
  2. Consider MOAB training for your staff. This program is designed to teach strategies for dealing with aggressive behavior. Problem interactions could stem from visitors to your institution or even from within the staff itself.
  3. Any time an incident occurs, review policies and procedures and conduct retraining exercises. An unfortunate event will serve as a reminder for all those involved in your institution of the importance of collection security and give them fresh ideas for making improvements.

Herringbone Stitch

Stitches count in both textile conservation and mount making. As part of our C2C “Textiles Intensive” workshop during Preservation Week, Instructor Paige Myers led our group in learning four different stitches. Myers, the Textile Conservator at the North Carolina Museum of History, explained why the herringbone stitch is the one she uses most often.

If your job includes any mount-making responsibilities, it may be worthwhile for you to practice this stitch. [Click here for a tutorial on the herringbone stitch.] It is a good way to secure a fabric layer to a substrate—like quilt batting—without having to bring the stitch all the way through the substrate layer. The stitch is also very flat, while being fairly strong. The flatter the stitch, the less pressure the historic textile placed upon it encounters. Another way to keep stitching as flat as possible is to avoid knots. A back stitch or a perpendicular stitch can help keep the thread tail in place without introducing a knot on the mount surface. To see photos of padding layers stitched to a mannequin and learn more about the process, see the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum’s discussion of preparing floating forms for a costume exhibition.

Orange County Historical Museum 1982.021.1

A great way to get an up-close view of herringbone stitches is to look closely at crazy quilts in your institution’s collection. Late-nineteenth-century quilters often used a variety of fancy stitches to join one scrap of fabric to another, while securing them to supportive layers. The herringbone stitch is one of the simpler stitches they used for crazy quilts and served as an important staple stitch. A detail from the Rebecca Wall quilt in the Orange County Historical Museum‘s collection shows herringbone stitches curving along the piece of red calico below the 1862 embroidery. Rebecca and her late fiance’s mother and sister made the quilt in 1883 to commemorate him and embroidered it with the year of his birth as well as many other symbols representing his life. Another example in the North Carolina Museum of History’s collection shows plenty of herringbone stitching throughout. Lina Gough of Lumberton made this quilt in 1890.

NCMOH1980.92.1

Do you have any techniques that work really well for making mounts? If so, please share them with our NC cultural heritage community. Also, consider joining C2C staff and Paige Myers at our upcoming Mount-Making Summer Camp in Yadkinville on July 9th. During the workshop we will share mount-making ideas, practice creating various mounts, and learn more about local sources for preservation-appropriate supports.

Hurricane Season

NASA Earth Observatory image of Tropical Storm Alberto–May 19, 2012

June marks the beginning of another hurricane season, and we’re not talking about North Carolina’s only professional hockey team! We have already seen the effects of damaging weather in this year’s early hurricane season. Two named storms have come and gone, and one caused a good bit of damage to our coast in the forms of heavy rain, flooding, and tornado outbreaks. 

Are you prepared? Most hurricanes affecting North Carolina develop in late summer, so now is the time to make sure your institution is as ready as possible for hurricane season. Lets take a look at some of the things we need to consider when developing our Hurricane Plan.

Storm Surge/Tide

Storm surge and large waves produced by hurricanes pose the greatest threat to life and property along the coast. Storm Surge is an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm’s winds. Storm surge can reach heights well over 20 feet and can span hundreds of miles of coastline. More intense and larger hurricanes produce higher surge. In addition, shallower offshore waters contribute to higher storm surge inundation. Storm surge is by far the greatest threat to life and property along the immediate coast. 

Tornadoes

Hurricanes and tropical storms can also produce tornadoes. These tornadoes most often occur in thunderstorms embedded in rain bands–well away from the center of the hurricane; however, they can also occur near the eyewall. Usually, tornadoes produced by tropical cyclones are relatively weak and short-lived, but they still pose a significant threat.

 Winds

Hurricane-force winds, 74 mph or more, can destroy buildings and mobile homes. Debris, such as signs, roofing material, siding and small items left outside become flying missiles during hurricanes. Winds can stay above hurricane strength well inland.

 Rainfall

Tropical cyclones often produce widespread, torrential rains in excess of 6 inches, which may result in deadly and destructive floods. In fact, flooding is the major threat from tropical cyclones for people living inland. Flash flooding, defined as a rapid rise in water levels, can occur quickly due to intense rainfall. Longer-term flooding on rivers and streams can persist for several days after the storm. Rainfall amounts are not directly related to the strength of tropical cyclones but rather to the speed and size of the storm, as well as the geography of the area. Slower moving and larger storms produce more rainfall. In addition, mountainous terrain enhances rainfall from a tropical cyclone.

 So, are you and your institution ready? Here are some things to think about now

  • Determine safe evacuation routes inland.
  • Learn locations of official shelters.
  • Check emergency equipment, such as flashlights, generators and battery-powered equipment such as cell phones and your NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards receiver.
  • Buy food that will keep and store drinking water.
  • Buy plywood or other material to protect your home or institution if you don’t already have it, and practice how you will install them.
  • Trim trees and shrubbery so branches don’t fly into your home or institution.
  • Clear clogged rain gutters and downspouts.
  • Decide where to move your boat or other outside objects that could float.
  • Decide where to move objects and collections to higher ground, and practice it.
  • Do you know how to cut off all utilities (electric, water, gas) to your institution?
  • Review your insurance policy.

Happy Birthday to …

For museums and historic sites, most attendance is event-driven. The director of one museum in a major urban area, who has worked to transform the organization into a relevant community institution, recently reported that 85% of visitors to that museum attend through events. Exhibit openings and other public programs encourage the media to highlight a museum or historic site and help harness local attention and support.

How can you maintain a regular schedule of events to build and sustain community engagement on a low budget? Public programs are usually more affordable than new exhibits, and simple ideas deployed creatively and strategically can be big hits. Families with young children are an important demographic for most institutions to attract, and programs need to appeal to kids and well as contain some mission-related content.

Birthday cake at Historic Oakview County Park

Hosting a birthday party, for a person that your site honors or another character related to your institution, is a simple idea that can have broad appeal and avoid budget-busting. Recently, Historic Oakview County Park in Raleigh planned a very successful birthday party for its two resident goats—Boyd and Quint. About 150 people attended the event—mostly families with young children—and staff spent less than $200 for food and decorations (including goody bags for kids to take home).

The birthday party theme leaves room for crafts and activities with educational content related to your site’s mission. Games like Bingo and Pin the Tail on the Donkey can be customized to your site. Pin the boutonniere on the birthday boy (a vintage photo blow-up), for instance, could be as fun for kids as the donkey version but would also focus their attention on the person your site commemorates. Goody bags with a few inexpensive take-aways related to your site will surely be a hit with young visitors. Short educational presentations can be effective interstices between playful activities like games and refreshments. For example, the Oakview goat birthday party schedule included a check-up from a veterinarian with a presentation about routine goat care.

Is there a person (or pet) associated with your institution who would make a fun birthday party subject? Do you have other simple, replicable, low-cost public program ideas to share?