With few exceptions museums rely on grant funding to supplement their annual budget. While it’s recommended a museum cultivate a stream of income that supports its yearly activities, most museums can only afford to keep the lights on and maintain a spartan staff.
Image: University of Missouri’s Museum of Art and Archaeology
The University of Missouri’s Museum of Art and Archaeology exists to “advance…understanding of artistic and cultural heritage through research, collection and interpretation. [They] further their mission by preserving, enhancing and providing access to the collections for the benefit of present and future generations.” A museum staff of 12 (including part-time and student help) manage a collection of almost 16,000 objects, with a particularly strong antiquities collection.
Working with collections in a library, archives, or museum (LAM) setting requires knowledgeable professionals. Through a combination of specialized education and experience gained in the field, professionals amass knowledge and skills developed for a very niche area. Most positions found within a LAM will require a high level of education and experience, but not every professional position needed can be funded.
As discussed in a previous Library, Archives, and Museum (LAM) post, archives and special collections are often found within museums. While “special” is indicated in the name, the specialness can cause heartache and extra work for staff members who aren’t used to working with Archives and Special Collections (ASCs). This post will help define what ASCs are and identify common areas where ASCs aren’t special.
At any given time, museum visitors only see 10% of a museum collection. When I was working at the Smithsonian, I believe the statistic was even lower—a whopping 1% of collection materials were on display! Now consider the possibility of a related but differently categorized collection – that of the museum’s archives. Archival materials rarely make it onto the museum’s exhibition floor and yet they are critically important to correctly interpreting the museum’s objects.
Museums are filled with experts in collections care, display, and education, but they aren’t always filled with experts in project management. Defining and measuring project success is not a practice I see conducted consistently in museums.
Staffing shortages are a common issue for museums. As in many nonprofit sectors, museums manage staffing shortfalls with volunteers. Volunteers can be a huge benefit to a museum because they often come with expertise and skills acquired from a lifetime of experiences.
Museums are now expected to have an online presence. At first, this meant museums needed a website with information about their hours of operation. Later, it meant museums should publish content and information about current and permanent exhibits. Now, the expectation is that museums have a digital presence for all artifacts.
There’s no one model for libraries, archives and museums to coexist and interact. Each entity can be a stand-alone repository, a mixture of two entities, or contain all three entities. Library, Archive, and Museum (LAM) professionals are trained in organizing and categorizing items in their respective collections. Since this is their specialty they’ve applied the same principles to classify LAM entities separately, due to the LAM's slightly different functions and collection materials.
Grant writing can be a complicated and intensive process. Each grant application will have a different emphasis and process to follow, and if you’re new to grant writing, it can be intimidating. While all grants are different, there are aspects that remain the same. From the dozens of grants I’ve written, read, and edited, I’ve compiled the top 8 tips to a bulletproof proposal.
The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is the largest art museum in Atlantic Canada; it is an agency of the Province of Nova Scotia and one of the premier arts institutions in Canada. The Gallery is a gateway for the visual arts in Atlantic Canada and is responsible for acquiring, preserving and exhibiting works of art, and for providing education in the visual arts. They manage their collections with Argus.
Through working with granting agencies, providing grant reviews, and writing grants with museums and archives, I’ve seen a specific set of mistakes museum professionals make all the time. I’ve even made some of them myself. I want museums to be stronger applicants and am here to share the most common museum grant pitfalls to know and avoid.