Monthly Archives: July 2015

What Historic Sites Have Learned After 25 Years with ADA

This is a useful discussion of an important topic we’ve discussed before in this forum. Specific examples offer tremendous guidance on enhancing accessibility.

Engaging Places

ADA logoThis month marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which ensured equal access to persons with limited mobility, limited vision, limited hearing, and other disabilities. Shortly after this law was enacted in 1990, museums and historic sites were scrambling to figure out the consequences, especially the cost of installing ramps or hiring sign-language interpreters.

Much of it also revolved thinking bigger and realizing that improving access for the disabled would improve the experience for everyone.  For example, lever handles replaced doorknobs, which makes it easier to open a door when you’re carrying a package; enlarging type and increasing contrast on exhibit labels makes them easier to read (which I really appreciated as I grew older); and integrating ramps and removing thresholds is nice for visitors in wheelchairs and for staff who are always hauling tables and chairs for events.  For several years, professional associations hosted sessions…

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Musical Instrument Stewardship

Last month the Southern Appalachian Archives of Mars Hill University’s Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies acquired Fiddlin’ Bill Hensley’s fiddle, “Old Calico.” Below Master Fiddler Roger Howell and members of Hensley’s family pose with “Old Calico.”Along with previously accessioned Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s “dehorned fiddle,” the instrument raised an important ethical question for collections stewardship.  Should the fiddles be repaired by an experienced luthier so that they can be played briefly as a special feature for the festival that MHU hosts every year in October?

courtesy, Hannah Furgiuele

courtesy, Hannah Furgiuele

According to one conservator,

As a species of museum object, musical instruments can provide the curator and conservator with some dilemmas. Musical instruments are designed to be functional objects. They have moving parts or they require physical interaction to fulfil the purpose for which they were made. They have this in common with many other objects including clocks, transport vehicles, arms and armour, hand tools, domestic utensils, scientific apparatus and industrial machinery…The primary function of an instrument is usually to produce sound. If we are not permitted to hear the music it makes, our experience of an instrument is limited and its role as a historical document can only be partially fulfilled.

Lengthier treatment of the issues surrounding playing musical instruments in cultural heritage collections is available in a manual ICOM produced on the subject.

If playing accessioned musical instruments, at least occasionally, is important to your institution, it is a good idea to outline that use in your institution’s collections policy. For one example of an instrument playing policy click here. The highlights of this policy include:

  • collection instruments are not available for rehearsals.
  • playing time limits are strict.
  • appointments are required.
  • player cannot bring additional objects into musical instrument gallery.

Does your institution’s collection contain musical instruments? If so, is the original purpose–to create sound–maintained or exhibited? We hope to share future updates on Mars Hill’s decisions concerning the Hensley and Lunsford instruments.