European Registrars Conference 2014: Art Theft and Recovery

Vahinko tulee viisaallekin.
Even the wise one sustains damage.
(Finnish Proverb)

The last sessions of the first day saw two speakers who were were different in appearance and presentation style but who definitely pull together when it comes to bringing back lost art: Christopher A. Marinello, Director and Founder of Art Recovery International and Rune Sivertsen, Detective Superintendent of the Norwegian Police. It was the eloquent lawyer and the straightforward law-enforcer speaking – and we were all spellbound for the next one and a half hours.

Chris Marinello speaking about the restitution of a Matisse (via twitter @erc2014)

Chris Marinello speaking about the restitution of a Matisse (via twitter @erc2014)

„Who steals art?“, asked Chris Marinello at the beginning of his presentation „Art lost and found“. He made it clear that art thieves are not at all like they are depicted in Hollywood movies like „The Thomas Crown Affair“ or „Entrapment“. There is nothing romantic or heroic about them, they are just ordinary criminals, the type of guys who steal wallets.

Art theft is an „industry“ making 6 billion dollars per year. But how many „good guys“ are there to prosecute these thefts? Marinello had it in figures: In Italy there is one Art Crime Police Officer for 200,000 inhabitants. In the UK it’s one for 15 million inhabitants and in the US it’s one for 20 million inhabitants. Only 15% of lost art is ever recovered. This is one of the reasons why, in Marinello’s opinion, it’s necessary to have help from the private sector.

He introduced the database „Art Claim“ for stolen, looted and missing works of art. One idea is that museums and collectors can register their art works there before anything happens to them. This makes it clear who the original owner is, so art dealers can check the data base when an artwork is presented to them to make sure it isn’t stolen. Police can check the database when they discover an artwork, for example after a razzia.

Another part of the work of Art Recovery International is the negotiation in restitution cases. Chris talked about some difficult cases, including one from the Gurlitt art find. One can only imagine the difficulties of negotiating in cases where something is regarded as legally acquired under the law but still, morally, belongs to the original owner. Convince someone to give a work of art back without compensation just to do the right thing and to right a wrong that happened long ago? Sounds like really hard work.

Now Rune Sivertsen entered the stage for „The Robbery of The Scream and The Madonna from Munchmuseet in 2004“. We were all ears when this police officer revealed the bitter truth of this theft.

There were some circumstances that made it easier for the robbers, although they couldn’t foresee them: The security guard was positioned outside the room where „The Scream“ and „The Madonna“ were on display and the alarm system attached to the pictures was not properly maintained so it didn’t go off when the pictures were removed. The robbers where well prepared for other circumstances: one carried a gun and they used fitting foam glue to silence the alarm bell.

Picture of the robbery – approaching the getaway car

Picture of the robbery – approaching the getaway car

But there were lucky incidents, too: The robbery was filmed and one witness unknowingly took a picture of the getaway car. While the robbers were masked, the driver wasn’t and was identified. Another robber was identified because he wore the same clothes when arrested in another case. But still it took 2 years and 7 days to recover the pictures, which suffered major damages, and to arrest all the robbers.

What really shocked us as museum professionals was when the true reason for the theft became apparent: The pictures were not stolen to steal art and sell it. They were only stolen to distract attention and absorb manpower of the police from the investigation of a major monetary robbery at NOKAS (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NOKAS_robbery) conducted by the same organization of criminals! Even more shocking – if possible: The sentences for the robbery were low, the only one who was sentenced to a significant amount of time in jail for this crime was the one who carried a loaded gun…

With the impression that maybe its only we who regard art theft as a „serious“ crime we went off to the Midsummer Party at Kiasma…

This post is also available in French, translated by Marine Martineau.

FAUX Real: On the Trail of an Art Forger – Art and Craft Trailer

Hey Trekkers!

picture: LSU University Art Museum

The forger – Mark Augustus Landis
Also known Aliases:
2009 – Steven Gardiner
2010 – Father Arthur Scott
2011 – Father James Brantley
2012 – Mark Lanois
2013 – Martin Lynley and John Grauman

Well, as I think back to August 7, 2008 whilst at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art working on preparations for an acquisitions meeting, I am proud to say that I am the sole individual to bring down the most prolific art forger in history! Now, I can continue to educate people but now in a much bigger and broader scale with a new medium and here’s why!

The film, Art and Craft that debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, will hit theaters in the US on September 19 at Lincoln Plaza in New York City. Art and Craft has been getting rave reviews from all the festivals in which it has been an official selection and much attention from movie goers. I am certain that the museum realm will once again open their eyes to my findings once Art and Craft hits theaters.

For those of you not in the US but want to see the film, EARLY 2015 you will be able to find Art and Craft on DVD, Amazon Instant Video, NETFLIX, iTunes, Hulu and other streaming media.

Trekker, your daily work is a big contribution to the museum community and don’t think for a moment it goes unnoticed! That day in August, yeah I never thought this would happen!

Here is a link on Youtube.com for the official theatrical trailer. Please share on your social media sites so you can help me continue to spread the word about the most prolific art forger in history!

Talk Soon,

Matt

This post is also available in French, translated by Marine Martineau.

European Registrars Conference 2014: Assessing Risk in Lending and Borrowing

Niin metsä vastaa kuin sinne huudetaan.

The forest answers in the same way one shouts at it.
(Finnish Proverb)

After lunch there was again a difficult choice to make: Assessing Risk in Lending and Borrowing or Shipping Challenges. I could talk hours about shipping challenges in a Science and Technology Museum, but they are mainly inside my own institution, so I chose lending and borrowing.

“I look forward to hearing from you”: A lending and borrowing scenario was presented by Kate Parsons, Head of Collections Management at Tate, UK and Jane Knowles, Head of Exhibitions, Chair of the UK Registrars Group.

It started with a short look at the history of risk assessment in lending and borrowing with some hilarious finds concerning art transportation:

venue

handling valuable pictures

Generally speaking, there are three types of risks when it comes to loans:

1) Financial risks
2) Logistical risks
3) Curatorial and ethical risks

All the risks must be addressed as early as possible in the process. To show how to do this Kate and Jane established a scenario: The Royal Academy wants to loan some works of art from Tate. Taking the roles of the lender (Kate) and the borrower (Jane) they showed how the loan process is established, how risk assessment is done continuously on both sides and how communication is key.

As most loan processes, the one in this scenario didn’t go smoothly. For example, the borrower sends in the climate graph of one of the exhibition rooms, which looked like this:

graph

Is it okay for an alabaster sculpture? Well, even with considering very much in favor of the borrower, it isn’t… They have to find an alternative room for display and there are concerns because of the weight of the statue and transportation issues. In regards to another artwork the borrower finally decides to draw back his loan request. The lender has already invested time in conservation measures, so he sends an invoice for the costs, which, of course, the borrower didn’t expect and hadn’t accounted for. So it went on, but in the end they reached a good agreement for both sides and lived happy ever after…

Gee, I really wish all loan requests and procedures were handled in the decent, polite and collegial way of this scenario! That’s really acting in favor of the artworks, institutions and of course, the colleagues involved. In a nutshell: Lender and borrower should both work together and discuss risks openly and collegial. That’s good risk assessment

Next up was Eva-Lena Bergström with „Lending and Borrowing – Calculating Risks“. She took a look at the historical development of risk assessment in loans and especially on the development of state indemnity programs. Some of the facts and figures I recall (or could look up in my notepad):

  • In 2009, 22 of 30 European countries had a state indemnity program
  • Since then 2296 exhibitions were covered by state indemnity and there were 16 reported cases of damage/loss introduced for at least 100.000 artifacts included in these loans (0,016%).
  • Out of 84 institutions that took part in Eva’s survey only 2 didn’t do risk assessment in any form.

This was followed by an in deep look at the data from the survey the ERC2014 delegates were asked to fill out online before the conference (hopefully published soon).

The following panel discussion soon focused on the practice that some loan contracts include a passage that the borrower can be held responsible for damage that becomes visible up to 6 months after the loan. This is a passage that seems to impose an unbearable risk on the borrower. But a German delegate stressed out that this might be a misunderstanding: under German law (as far as I understood it, but I am not a lawyer) the claim for compensation for an occurred damage during the loan period has to be done immediately after the loan is back. This makes it impossible to claim for hidden damages that only become visible a short time after the loan is back but that are caused evidentially by the conditions during the loan time. Therefore German loan contracts often include such a passage that expands the time to react on 6 months after the loan.

It became obvious that the wording in the contracts must be clear and that it’s not acceptable to take over uninsurable risks. Lending and borrowing is a key responsibility of museums and lenders must accept that every loan comes with certain risks that can’t be imposed completely on the borrowing institution.

This post is also available in Italian, translated by Silvia Telmon.

Silica gel – it’s not magic, it’s physics

I sometimes run into wrong assumptions concerning how silica gel works. One is that silica gel in a display case keeps absorbing water until either the silica gel runs out of capacity or the the interior of the display case reaches 0% RH, which isn’t true.

Probably the most helpful thing to know is that the physics laws that govern how silica gel works are the same ones that govern the behaviour of paper, leather, wood, photographs and a great many other things found in museums. What happens when you put a piece of paper into a new environment? Depending on the condition that the paper was stored at before, it will lose or gain water until it reaches some kind of equlibrium with the new environment. If we now raise the RH, the paper will increase in water content until a new equilibrium is reached. Similarly, if we drop the RH, the paper will lose water until it reaches equilibrium with the new environment.

So this is all about an equilibrium between the water in the object and water vapor in the air around the object. One last little detail is that in all of these “dry” materials, the water is aDsorbed (with a “d”) and not aBsorbed (with a “b”) In aBsorption, the absorbate is held within the body of the absorbant. Fill a sponge with water and if was possible to cross-section the sponge without the water running out, we would see large and small holes filled with water. This is also a relatively large scale event. With aDsorption, individual molecules of adsorbate are stuck to molecule surfaces in the adsorbant like little refrigerator magnets. They stick on relatively easily and they come off relatively easily.

Adsorbed gases are considered to be in a condensed phase. More common condensed phases for water are liquid and ice. so what we have is a phase equilibrium between the adsorbed phase and the vapor phase.

Most likely we want to maintain some given RH so we’ll condition the silica gel to our desired relative humidity. We pour the silica gel into the display case and if the case condition and the silica gel are at equilibrium, then nothing happens. If they aren’t at equlibrium, then the silica gel, just like paper, will adsorb or desorb water until equilibrium is reached. This follows Le Chatelier’s principle which says that if a system is at equlibrium and we impose and change on it , (in out case, we might change the RH, temperature, or atmospheric pressure), then the equilibrium will shift in the direction that opposes the imposed change. So if the RH in the case goes down, then silica gel will desorb water and the RH will rise again (although not quite back to where it was.) If you want to put on your lab coat and safety glasses, then you can tell people that it’s obeying the first law of thermodynamics: the conservation of energy.

-Doug
Douglas Nishimura
Image Permanence Institute
Rochester institute of Technology .

This post is also available in French translated by Aurore Tisserand.

European Registrars Conference 2014: Security Matters

Älä laita kaikkia munia samaan koriin.

All eggs should not be put in one basket
(Finnish proverb)

After the opening introductions and first session „But is it art?“ by Daniel Birnbaum there were parallel sessions: Security Matters and Couriering 101. As we seldom courier in my museum, I chose security.

Maybe the most impressive presentation was given by Tygve Lauritzen, Head of Security and Operations at the Munchmuseet in Norway. His presentation included practical hands-on security advice for transportation as well as a few general warnings.

What impressed most of us deeply was a map showing attacks on trucks in Europe (green lowest, red highest):

Tygve Lauritzen on the risk of road transportation

Tygve Lauritzen on the risk of road transportation (picture via twitter @ERC2014)

In fact, art that is transported on the road is 1000 times more at risk than art that is delivered by airfreight – which is somehow logical but also frightening. One of the thoughts Tygve gave was to reconsider sending couriers on these roads. In his view the risk you impose on your most valuable good – the life of your colleague – is much higher than the benefit. What can the courier do if the truck is on fire? What can he/she do when the truck is held up and hijacked by false police?

Transporting art on the road is a risk in itself that can only be reduced, but not avoided by good organization. Some of the recommendations were:

  • planning the drive ahead, including breaks, safe parking possibilities and alternative routes
  • providing the drivers with all the phone numbers and directions what to do and whom to call in which occurring situation
  • providing the drivers with printed out cards saying „I’m not allowed to open the window, please call name/number and escort me to the next police station“ (in all languages of countries the truck has to pass). Many cases of trucks hijacked by criminals dressed as police are known and drivers should not open the windows for their safety. Real police has no problem with escorting a truck to the next police station.
  • number locks that only show the same number if they were not opened during the transport is a good way to check if something went wrong on the trip

Considering the risk that something might happen on the road it is only logical to define a value limit for art transported on one truck. This is easy on paper but the key is to enforce this policy under all circumstances in the practice.

Tygve stressed out that it’s important to go into „future crime mode“ as registrars. Art is nowadays used as a form of payment in organized crime and we shouldn’t underestimate the risk. We should be prepared that insider information is very valuable to the criminals and that they are very actively trying to get it. Seemingly harmless questions like „Can you give me a telephone list of your institution?“ are not harmless at all. In fact, if you hand it out it’s like you opened a backdoor for the criminals. They will start to do researches on these people to find a weak point, and they will find it. Someone in urgent need of money, someone with an alcohol illness, someone with personal problems…

Thinking in „future crime mode“ also applies to document security. We are often not aware that information we send per email or carry around on our phones or tablets are also documents. Some of Tygve’s recommendations:

  • Password protect every document before you email it. Be aware that normal, unprotected email is something like a postcard – the content can be easily spied out. Never ever send documents open.
  • Give the password to people who need to read the documents per phone, not per email.
  • Dropbox is not a safe place for documents with sensitive information.

In the next session Simon Mears, Consultant for Security Risks and High Value Asset Protection in Denmark, introduced GRASP, the Global Risk Art Survey Program. It is a system invented by insurers as a reaction to certain incidents that involved art, like thefts or fires. It is a holistic approach to make a risk assessment in all fields of possible risks for a collection, including not only thefts and catastrophes, but also damages due to climate issues.

Pascal Matthey speaking on risk aggregation

Pascal Matthey speaking on risk aggregation (picture via twitter @ERC2014)

The last speaker was Pascal Matthey, Head of Speciality Risk Engineering, XL Group, Switzerland. He talked about Holistic Risk Management for Museums. Some of the key thoughts I still remember:

  • In holistic risk management, you have to look at the Maximum Foreseeable Loss (MFL) in one incident. It’s Murphy’s Law in practice: a fire starts, the sprinklers don’t work, fire brigade is late… how high is the maximum foreseeable loss?
  • Be aware that insurance has nothing to do with risk management in the first place – the money doesn’t bring back the lost art and it doesn’t bring back your reputation after a theft.
  • A good approach to do holistic risk management is risk aggregation, to define the risks for different parts of the museum instead of defining the MFL for the entire loss of the collection, which is very unlikely to happen. This will also help to keep insurance rates at a reasonable height.
  • Example: The highest risk for your galleries might be theft and fire, so here you try to reduce risks through organizational measures (i.e. do everything that a thieve has to invest much time into stealing and leaving the building, so police has a chance to catch him when he’s still in the building) and insure the MFL in case of fire and theft. If the galleries are not on the ground floor, damage done by high water might be low. If your storage is in the cellar, here the risk of fire might be low, but you will insure the MFL in regards to high water.

As you can imagine, we had enough food for thought and talk for the following lunch break…

This post is also available in Italian, translated by Silvia Telmon.

How was Helsinki? A report from the European Registrars Conference 2014

Helsinki white night with the art deco station

Helsinki white night with the central railway station in the background

When people ask me how my trip to Helsinki went I start telling them with enthusiasm about the beautiful city, the white nights, the friendly people, the good food, the seagulls,… only to realize then that what they really wanted to know is if there was something useful, innovative, important or in any way interesting at the conference. Okay, sounds legit, after all this wasn’t a holiday trip, although I had lots of fun.

DSCF0338
Welcome to Helsinki, the famous Cathedral
14 item(s) « 1 of 14 »

Of course there were lots of interesting things to take away from the sessions. In order to tell it in a way that makes sense to someone who couldn’t attend I started with ordering my thoughts and my notes. The last one was easy, I constantly tweeted from the conference so I only needed to put together a storify to have an easy to access notepad: https://storify.com/RegistrarTrek/erc2014-the-twitter-notepad. I did the work to order the tweets by sessions two times, but unfortunately the program messed it up without me knowing what I’ve done wrong and without the possibility to right the wrong without investing hours. (Note to self: write post about the possibilities and challenges of tweeting from a conference).

Just when I started my report, I realized that the UK Registrars Group had set up a new blog where they posted articles about all the sessions. You can find it here: http://ukregistrarsgroup.blogspot.co.uk/

Helsinki Harbour

Helsinki Harbour

Because of this I feel somehow relieved from the pressure of reporting in an overarching way and instead can focus on some points in the sessions that seemed especially important to me. I will report in several posts in the order the sessions came up at ERC 2014.

And now, before we dive into the sea of registrar’s techno-babble, please allow me one last picture taken while approaching Helsinki accompanied by the words of the Finnish writer Alexis Kivi, which I unfortunately only found in English:

onplane

What is that land of hill and dale
That is so beautiful,
The land aglow with summer days,
Land with the northern lights ablaze,
Whose beauty all the seasons share,
What is that land so fair?

The Finnish Land

This post is also available in French translated by Aurore Tisserand.

Storage Solutions: Alternative Button Storage

Recently we posted the button storage solution of the MJH. But what if you don’t have a skilled preparator and no time on your hands for such a solution? Well, there’s the approach the Curator of Collections Management of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, Jenny Yearous, sent us.

oject in bag

She told us how they do it:

card cut to take pinAcid Free card stock cut smaller than the zippered bag. Small slits are cut in the card stock to accept the pin mechanism. The artifact is labeled with the catalog number, the card is labeled with the number and the outside of the bag is labeled with the number. If/when the artifact goes on exhibit, it can always be reunited with the packaging later. While this artifact is not barcoded yet, the barcode is also be placed on the outside of the bag.

drawer1
The bags are stored vertically in a drawer or box numerically by catalog number. Because they are in the bags, they can be handled without worry about gloves. Under the right supervision, researchers can easily look at them too.

This is a very easy method, it is inexpensive and can be done relatively quickly with very little training. I will often have pieces of card stock cut ahead to fit the zippered bags sizes that I use.”

Thanks for this storage solution!

Remember: if you have seen a great storage solution, please inform us by commenting or sending a mail to story@museumsprojekte.de

This post is also available in Italian, translated by Mazia Loddo and in French, translated by Marine Martineau.

FAUX Real – How did I get here?

How I became a registrar V

Matthew C. Leininger

matt condition reportWell Trekkers it is great to write to you once again after seeing the world premier of Art and Craft at the Tribeca Film Festival! The film is great and is going to make history with this whole Landis deal. As I said in the film ‘he messed with the wrong registrar’! Cool thing is gang, Art and Craft will hit the big screen in theaters in the USA late fall, early summer, then the DVD and eventually will be televised. Really neat stuff and I was the registrar to make this all happen.

But why me and how did I get here?

After being encouraged from a young age by my high school art teacher, Barb Sailor, I worked hard at art all my life and went to college to study the arts. My concentration was in printmaking and stone lithography was my gig. I began my career as an unknowing intern at the Kennedy Museum of Art at Ohio University where I was working on obtaining my Master of Fine Arts degree. Eventually I was hired on at the Kennedy as curator, registrar and preparator. You can say I jumped in head first into what turned out to be an over fifteen year career in the fine art museum field. I met my wife Jen in 1996 and was married in 1997. 17 years wedded bliss this month! I graduated OU in 1998 and took off with my new wife to become the registrar at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. There I was challenged to move their entire collection from the old fairgrounds building to the new facility which is now downtown. Carolyn Hill was the director at that time, sadly she is no longer with us. Carolyn use to tell me that I was the heartbeat of the museum; she even did so to donors and trustees about me. Pretty big shoes to fill! Eventually I was made Curatorial Department Head overseeing registration, the curators, film and education. I was a whiz at making budgets and keeping them in the black and eventually I was responsible for well over 150 exhibitions during my career.

mattcleanEight years in Oklahoma City, we decided to move back to Ohio where the end was coming for my career as a registrar, but I did not know it at the time. The Cincinnati Art Museum hired me on as Chief Registrar and I oversaw three fellow registrars that I miss… three good people with much experience. My position, believe it or not, was ‘eliminated’. The reasons I was told I was let go were all bogus and I finally burned my copy of the letter. I believe it was due to financial issues as I was making a seriously big salary for a registrar with full benefits. I think a big contributor however was my link to finding and tracking Mark Landis. A few weeks before I was let go, I was told not to talk about Landis on museum time. So I did not. No phone calls or emails. But you all knew where I was working and if you wanted information on Landis, you called or emailed. I adhered to CAM’s wishes and only talked and worked on Landis at home. I really did not do personal work on Landis at CAM anyway so not sure why they were worried. CAM is in Art and Craft and Cincinnati, OH is pasted all over the big screen. My gain, and a big win for Cincinnati even though the city is not aware of the film hitting the theaters!

After looking for museum work for 14 months, and anything I could find to produce an income, I was hired on by a franchise shipping company. That lasted four months and I knew something was wrong with the company when my direct report had to borrow against life insurance to pay me. So out of work again and back to being a stay at home dad with my six year old angel! But the story goes on to where I am today. I am currently a Fulfillment Associate with Amazon.com. Basically what I have been doing for them in this monster size warehouse, is if you order something online, I go get it to have it shipped to you! It is a whole new world but refreshing and showing me that my career as a registrar can pay off in other fields.

Delivery1When I left Ohio with my new wife in 1998 I had no clue as to what I would be doing 17 years later. So take my life as a prime example, you will never know what the plan is for your life or career. So be happy where you are today and make each day count as tomorrow brings changes. Sometimes small changes or big, but be prepared. Change is coming. I was scared and worried three years ago when I lost my job which was the first time in my life. But here I am today, a hard working blue collar man with an awesome wife and daughter and I am honored to share how I got here!

Talk Soon,
Matt

This post is also available in French, translated by Marine Martineau.

Home from Helsinki: Presentation from #ERC2014

impression from a Helsinki White Night - picture taken around 11 at night!

impression from a Helsinki White Night – picture taken around 11 at night!

Just arrived home from Helsinki and it will take a few days to review notes, pictures, thoughts… everything. I’m still overwhelmed by the various impressions from the conference, the speeches, the presentations, the high professionality and friendliness of our hosts from the Nordic Registrars Group, the talks with colleagues, the laughter and the fun and especially from the politeliness and discreet warmth of the Helsinki people. But at least I want to make the presentation I did at the end of the conference available to all of our readers. More reports coming up.

The Next Generation: Breaking Barriers with the Project Registrar Trek

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Hyvää päivää. Mitä kuuluu?
Mina olen saksalainen.

Unfortunately, these are the only words I can speak in Suomi, one of the languages in this wonderful country that I had the pleasure to be a guest in for the last few days.
Not more than “Hello, how are you, I’m German.” There is a barrier, a language barrier. Today, I’m speaking about breaking down barriers. Language barriers and other barriers.

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Maybe as we sit here together we think that language barriers can be overcome by learning another language. This way we are able to communicate and exchange thoughts, for example in English. While it is true that English enables us to hold conferences like this one, we should keep in mind that we all have just crossed a barrier that leaves other colleagues behind. Who attends this conference? Registrars and collection managers who feel able to follow a conference that is held in English. Others who are not so confident about their language skills stayed at home.

The language barrier might be a problem in understanding each other. But on another level we understand each other very well: we share the language of collections people.

If we talk about lending and borrowing, about storage needs and documentation problems we understand each other, no matter what our mother tongue is and which continent we are from. We understand each other so well that it doesn’t come to mind how difficult it is for other people to understand what we do. This is a barrier not only between us and the visitors in our museums; this is even a barrier between other museum professionals and we, the collections people.

There’s a third barrier. A barrier that is so close to us that we need others to let us see it: it’s the barrier of our everyday work experience, the barrier of our own museum’s walls.
Today, I’m going to introduce a project we started a while ago to work towards breaking these barriers. Some of you might know it already: It’s called Registrar Trek: The Next Generation.

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I think there’s no use in clicking through a website and telling you what you see at a conference. That can be better done at home. I think it’s better to tell you something about the general idea of this project, about the spirit of Registrar Trek:

Let us now start to approach the three barriers, starting with the language barrier.

Breaking down the language barrier

The language barrier was the barrier that originally started this project.
We started with three languages: English, Spanish and German. Sure, our translations weren’t always perfect, but it was a start. As soon as we started,

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others joined us and right now we have 30 translators from 19 countries providing 16 different languages.

Of course, we don’t have all the posts in all languages right from the start. We are volunteers, mainly working in museums, some studying, some interning, some retired, others job-hunting. So, you can imagine that we are all busy. But because we are many, most of the time we can provide at least 2-3 languages when publishing a new post. Others are added as soon as they arrive.

The good news is that you can’t have too many translators. The more translators we have, the easier it is to balance the workload and the faster we are in adding translations.
So if some of you want to join, I will be glad to say: welcome on board.

Let’s approach the second barrier: The barrier of registrar’s lingo.

Breaking down the barrier of registrar’s lingo: Telling what we really do

We all know what we do every day. When we talk to each other we don’t have to explain many things. We know what a loan contract is and what a disaster plan looks like, we understand categorizing issues, we feel for a colleague that has to upgrade to a new version of a data base, the list goes on and on.

When we talk to “strangers” about our profession we often realize that it’s extremely hard to explain in a few words what the job of a registrar or collections manager consists of.
The question is: why is it that way? We have such a wonderful, thrilling job, why is it so hard to get the message across? So hard, sometimes even our family members have no idea except that we “work at a museum”?

Personally, I think a big part of the challenge is that we try to explain our jobs in an abstract way.

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Let me give you an example: I sit together with colleagues at lunch. The educator tells how he guided a difficult class, the press officer tells how she organized a great speaker for the next event and I say that “I did some integrated pest management”.

While I understand what the educator and the press officer did, they don’t understand what I did.
Why didn’t I break this barrier by saying that I had checked and baited mouse traps the whole morning? Well, that’s not exactly slaying dragons, but in the museum perspective, it’s pretty close.
That’s exactly the approach of Registrar Trek to break this barrier: by telling stories.

I know that „storytelling“ has become a buzzword in the museum field, but the truth is: telling stories is a very ancient way of getting messages across in an entertaining way.

A story about what one has to consider when storing earphones or how one built a box for hundreds of buttons gives a better impression of our job to an outsider than collection policies and job descriptions.

A story about how you climbed the roof of your storage area five times to supervise the craftsmen working there will give a better hands-on impression of the job duties than any handbook.

It will help students and young emerging museum professionals decide if collections is really the perfect fit for them or if it might be better to pursue the marketing or education path.

A story about how you found information about an object that proves its significance for the collection and your community will give other museum professionals like educators and press officers food for their own work and an idea why the work you do is important for the museum.

But telling stories can also help us to approach the third barrier: the barrier of your own museum’s walls.

Breaking down the barrier of the own museum’s walls

When you work for a specific museum a long time you become blind to its shortcomings and, more often, you don’t see what works well any more. I brought you a picture:

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I don’t know how many of you have had this kind of situation. When you are heading for a museum career you absorb everything about best practices, about good storage conditions, about wearing white gloves. Then you take up a job and start with all the enthusiasm of the young, aspiring museum professional. And then, the real museum world hits you.

In short: you have all the knowledge and the guidelines how it should be but literally no one has prepared you for the situation as it will be.

The trouble is that reading guidelines and official publications of museum associations in such a situation isn’t helpful. Instead it’s depressing. But what might be helpful or at least encouraging is to read stories about how someone brought order to such a mess – or how it could be worse. And if you cleaned out this mess it can feel fabulous to write an article for Registrar Trek about it.

I think our author Anne T. Lane said it best when she said:

“Our triumphs are not like other people’s triumphs. Our crises are not like other people’s crises. It’s good to find ourselves part of a community that understands.”

And maybe, when you publish it, you will suddenly get feedback from colleagues from around the world helping you to see your own situation from a different angle.
When you and I look at the picture the immediate thought is: “What a mess! We have to start cleaning and wrapping those objects, someone go, fetch some archival boxes”
But in a small rural museum in Germany, your colleague (who most certainly will also hold the title of director, visitor guide, administration officer, janitor and webmaster) will say: “Oh, lucky you! You have a room for storage, the roof isn’t leaking and it seems all those objects have labels!”

So, the benefit of writing stories and articles for Registrar Trek is not only to help and encourage others, it can also be a chance of reflecting on our own position. And you create a chance for professional discussion.

Best practices are in constant development and improvement and need creative input that comes out of our everyday, hands-on working practice.

Breaking barriers needs many heads and hands

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Right from the start Registrar Trek was meant to be a project designed to involve many people from our profession. It was never about one or two people telling their stories and the others just translating and commenting. (Otherwise I would constantly bore you with stories out of collection management in a German Science and Technology Museum).

We wanted to have collection professionals from around the world bringing in their views, their articles, and their stories. For example, Tracey Berg-Fulton who did the wonderful session before this one wrote an article about how she became a registrar, and that’s just one out of many.

We want you to bring in your views, your articles, and your stories.

The core of Registrar Trek is that it is a common project of colleagues. Standing here alone and telling you about Registrar Trek feels somehow wrong. So, to speak for the authors of Registrar Trek I’m very glad to have Derek Swallow here from the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria.

Derek Swallow enters the stage and says the following part:

Thank you Angela.

I want to very briefly touch on two points: how you can contribute if you choose and secondly the rewards of being a Registrar Trek author.

Currently we have four main sections in Registrars Trek any of which you can contribute to: the first is Articles which covers broader issues of common interest and a share point for ideas; next is Stories – this section is comprised of real shared events celebrating learning by way of our successes and failures; the third is called the Registrars Tool Box containing practical solutions, and facts to assist with our day-to-day work; and finally Registrar Humour – I find I need a daily dose of humour to keep me sane in this wonderful but stressful job.

Now the rewards of being a Registrar Trek author: personally, it’s about the process of engaging in communication about museum topics with collections specialists from all over the world. For example, in past articles I’ve presented a new approach to conducting collections committee meetings adopted recently at my museum. I’ve also posed the question: how does authenticity relate to collecting in the 21 century museum? I’ve discussed how our roles as registrars are perceived or misperceived by both the general public and other museum employees.

As a result of writing these articles I’ve received important feedback which has helped evolve and clarify my ideas as a professional in this field as well as establish professional connections with colleagues in Europe, North America and Africa.

I want to leave you with one final thought. In this room 34 nations are represented. If even one person from each nation were to join Registrar Trek as a writer or contributor what an amazing network of communication would open up for us all and can you imagine how broad and rich our exchange of ideas would be?

I thank you all.

Thank you so much, Derek.

I believe we’ve said all we wanted to say about our project. Don’t forget we are always glad to publish your stories. Maybe you haven’t killed a dragon. But maybe you found a great new way of reorganizing your storage space. Or to pack an X-Ray-tube. Or you accidentally loaned 200 artifacts and want to tell others how to avoid this.

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Keep up the good work, thanks for listening and may the road rise to meet you.

Kiitos paljon, Helsinki!

Final preparations for Helsinki

Registrar Cat checks if documents are complete for the trip.

Registrar Cat checks if documents are complete for the trip.

Things are busy right now, so you might realize we are not as quick with adding new material the next few weeks. There are various reasons, including that there was a major server issue with deleted webspace that forced me to backup to a previous version (some might have realized we were offline a few days) and that I’m preparing the site to be fully functional in French, too, which means some additional effort. Oh, yeah, and there is my little side job as the collection manager of the TECHNOSEUM, along with garden, man and cats. But especially, I’m busy preparing my presentation and trip to Helsinki.

I’m all excited to speak at the European Registrars Conference about Registrar Trek (see full programme here: http://www.confedent.fi/erc-2014/programme2/) and hope my colleagues will like it. As far as I can see, I’m the only registrar from a Science and Technology Museum attending, so I somehow feel like a representative for an entire museum field and hope I don’t mess this up. I’m looking forward to meet many colleagues there who I only know via email, twitter or linkedin so far and I’m especially glad that Registrar Trek contributors Tracey Berg-Fulton and Derek Swallow will be there.

I guess there will be much to write about when I’m coming back and I hope to inspire some colleagues to contribute their stories and articles with my presentation.

See you after ERC 2014!
Angela