By Derek Swallow
Cascading crystal chandeliers, softly illuminating Beaux Arts wall murals with gilded foliated reliefs, border the massive ballroom: a breathtaking setting that one participant described as “the Versailles” of Chicago. This expansive, opulent hall in the historic Chicago Hilton Hotel, once hosting glamorous balls and formal receptions, now served as our conference room: a somewhat humbling setting, in contrast to the small, utilitarian offices in our home museums. It seemed an incongruous choice of venue at first. With reflection the sense of the location gelled in my mind.The spacious room and dynamic decor metaphorically represented the energy, optimism, and breadth of the newly created ARCS organization and the glittering wealth of knowledge held by the 530 attendees from 28 countries. Selecting Chicago as host city was also ideal: a cultural center home to innovative world class public art and esteemed institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum, to name but two.
The three day conference offered 24 sessions with 60 presenters. The diverse topics appropriately reflected the broad scope of interests held by such a large and eclectic group of participants.I felt fortunate to participate in this important inaugural event and would like to personally thank all the organizers, presenters and particularly the founding benefactors whose generous support made it all possible. To enhance our comfort the sponsors provided participants with a cornucopia of delicious, waist-expanding food that sustained us through the information packing sessions.For those unfamiliar with ARCS, the acronym stands for the Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists. Its mandate and mission:
“…to represent and promote Registrars and Collections Specialists, nationally and internationally, to educate them in the professional best practices of registration and collections care, and to facilitate communication and networking.”
For the benefit of Reg Trek readers, in follow-up articles, I will synthesize the information from those sessions that I believe inform about topics of global interest to registrars, collections managers and other museum professionals. The first of these will explore the session entitled: Deaccessioning: Is there One Right Way? moderated by Devon Pyle-Vowles ARCS Board Member and Conference Chair with presentation by Dawn Roberts, Collections Manager at the Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum; Elizabeth Varner, Executive Director of the National Art Museum of Sport; and Linda Wilhelm, Associate Registrar, Collections, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. To end I’d like to return to the beginning: the formative era leading to the conception of ARCS. The roots for this organization run deep, starting with the appointment, in 1880, of the first US registrar tasked to manage the collections of the National Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Nearly 100 years lapsed before the next major step occurred. In 1977 the US registrars formed the Registrars Committee of the American Association of Museums (RC-AAM) followed two years later by the UK Registrars Group. Subsequent years saw registrar groups surfacing around the globe. “Best practices” and dialogue enhancement now tethered widely separated colleagues. The early 21st century witnessed an upsurge of international loans and the attendant need to develop global standards for transport, documentation, etc. To cultivate such standards an appropriate forum was required. The RC-AAM fabricated one by sponsoring four international registrar’s symposia, the first in New Orleans in 2004. At the last, in Houston in 2011, the renowned US registrar Jean Gilmore proposed the creation of a new organization to meet 21st century needs. After many months of intensive work the Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists materialized: an inclusive, yet highly focused group targeting the challenges of our profession in the new millennium.
“For the first time, registrars and collections specialists have stepped forward as a unified, independent, international group to provide programs and services directed especially to the collections worker.”
(History – Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists – Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists. http://www.arcsinfo.org/about/history).