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Read original articles written by MANY's staff about Resources, Community, and Exhibits/Collections. Check out the Letters From Erika to learn about what is going on here at MANY!

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  • January 29, 2020 1:43 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Tourism is New York State’s third largest industry and New York’s museums are significant partners. In 2018, museums helped contribute to the state's 253 million visitors and $114.8 million total tourism economic impact. The New York State Division of Tourism / I LOVE NY helps to promote museums by, creating dynamic marketing campaigns and offerings, funding to local and regional partners through programs like Market New York, which has helped museums  bring in special exhibitions and events and fund capital projects. Earlier this month, I spoke to Ross Levi, Executive Director of the New York State Division of Tourism, about his role at I LOVE NY, how museums are important to New York State's tourism industry, and tried to confirm his favorite museum. “We [I LOVE NY] see [the relationship between tourism and museums] as a very reciprocal relationship and we want to be able to help museums so that museums are able to help tourism,” he said.

    (left) Ross Levi, Executive Director of the New York State Division of Tourism/I LOVE NY, photo courtesy I LOVE NY

    Megan: What is your current title with I LOVE NY? How long have you been there?

    Ross Levi: I am Executive Director of the New York State Division of Tourism, which is often referred to as I LOVE NY, and also a Vice President at Empire State Development (ESD). I’ve been with ESD since 2012 and worked initially in tourism and business marketing before migrating exclusively to tourism, where I've served as Executive Director since 2017.

    Can you give me a brief overview of what you do in your work?

    The New York State Division of Tourism promotes all of New York State as the premier travel destination, and we do that in a number of different ways. We promote New York State through marketing including paid advertising like TV commercials, PR and earned media efforts, digital and social media, and printed collateral. We also do domestic and international sales work like leading sales missions, participating in travel trade shows, and reaching out to tour operators. We also provide industry support by funding local and regional tourism initiatives, and we work on policy development to make New York State a more appealing destination to potential visitors. 

    At the end of the day my responsibility is to inspire travel to New York State by keeping it a top-of-mind destination for travelers when considering or planning a trip. 

    What motivates you to do what you do? What do you get excited about? What are some of your goals?

    First of all, knowing that tourism is New York State third largest industry supporting one out of every 10 jobs in the State – I feel a responsibility to tourism as an economic driver. My aim is to promote the incredible diversity of all that New York State has to offer as a travel destination and also help foster public policies that continue to make New York State a highly desirable place to visit, while supporting our tourism industry partners. They are the ones who are out there spreading the word and at the end of the day,  most responsible for delivering on the promise that we make to consumers. 

    Beyond that, I love to travel, and I’ve always loved to travel. The greatest times in my life were when I was on a trip somewhere and I really love that I can help other people make lifelong memories and experience the joy of travel. It’s pretty great that my job is to convince others to have fun, to recharge, to broaden their horizons, and it’s even better when the product is New York State—an amazingly diverse place as a vacation destination, and a place for which I have a strong passion.

    How many museums do you think you’ve visited in New York State since you become Executive Director of I LOVE NY?

    Wow—at least dozens, but most likely scores. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I have always loved museums. As a kid, I grew up in Connecticut and visited the museums at Yale University; the Peabody Museum of Natural History, the University Art Gallery. I have always loved museums, and not just as an academic exercise but they were always fun for me. There were exciting, interesting places where you're exposed to things and worlds you didn’t know about. I still have a sense of wonder when I visit a museum that I have never been before, no matter the topic—whether its a fly-fishing museum in the Catskills or the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum in Seneca Falls. New York has such an amazing variety of museums that the sense of wonder is never ending. 

    You mentioned tourism being the third largest industry supporting New York State. Do you see museums supporting tourism and helping to drive economic development?

    Oh yes, absolutely We know that nearly 80% of all U.S. leisure travelers engage in cultural or heritage activities such as visiting museums as part of their vacations, according to the U.S. Travel Association. So, we recognize that museums are a vital part of any tourism ecosystem and that is particularly true for a state like New York where we really have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to amazing museums, from the large world-famous destinations that everyone knows to the more niche institutions. We at I LOVE NY, along with the many other tourism promotion partners across the state that we work with, want our museum partners to thrive and we want them to help us help them.

    How can museums in New York State better utilize I LOVE NY?   

    There are a lot of different ways but I'll highlight four:

    One is to make sure that you are connected with your local Tourism Promotion Agent (TPA). Every county in New York State has a TPA that is officially assigned to overseeing and coordinating tourism for their area. They act as our front line folks who we go to whenever we have a new campaign. It is very important that museums are connected with their TPAs, so when we reach out to the TPAs, they are well informed about what’s going on in the museum world in their area. They are also the ones responsible to make sure attractions and museums are listed on the I LOVE NY website and mobile app. 

    Connect with your TPA to make sure you are on ILOVENY.COM and listed on the mobile app.

    Two is to engage with our Path Through History initiative, either by becoming an official Path Through History attraction and/or by participating in a Path Through History Weekend. The Path Through History Weekend is a Tourism Heritage Initiative and a way that I LOVE NY can speak specifically to people who are interested in adding a heritage tourism element as part of their trip. One of its signature activities is the two Path Through History Weekends held each year: one in the spring and one in the fall. You don’t have to be a Path Through History attraction to hold an event and participate in a Path Through History Weekend. 

    Third, it’s great to keep us informed of your public relations efforts because we post press releases on the I LOVE NY website, giving you additional exposure to the journalists with whom we are connected..

    Lastly, if it is appropriate, apply for Market New York funding through the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA). This program allows museums to apply for grant funding that supports capital projects, special events and exhibitions, and special marketing initiatives that get the word out about their institutions. 

    Can you tell me more about Market New York?

    Market New York is a grant program that provides matching funds for tourism marketing projects, special events, and tourism facility capital improvements that will ultimate create economic development by increasing tourism throughout the state. More than $15 million awards were just announced as part of Round IX of the program [See our write up about 2019 REDC museum funding]. We hope there will be a Round X included in the next State Budget and, if so, that application process will open in the spring. 

    How did you end up at I LOVE NY? What led you to this job? What were you doing before?

    I’ve had a very varied career. My first career out of college was in marketing in the film industry for studios like Universal Pictures, Miramax and 20th Century Fox. I then had a second career; I went to law school and was a lawyer and advocate that included a long stint at New YorkState’s LGBT advocacy organization. I was their Executive Director for a few years, and helped coordinate the effort to legalize same-sex marriage in New York State. 

    My first connection to Empire State Development and Tourism was to help launch Governor Cuomo’s LGBT initiative—a tourism project to make a specific invitation to the LGBT community. My overall background allowed me to go back to the future with marketing and led me here and to lead the Division of Tourism when my predecessor left in 2017.

    Can describe a favorite day on the job?

    In a way, it’s hard to say because there is no typical day at I LOVE NY, but I really enjoy interacting with and helping to support our tourism partners. That's probably one of my favorite parts of the job. We have such a talented and professional group of professionals working in New York’s tourism industrywhether those are destination marketers, or the people who run the attractions, colleagues at other state agencies, and the advocates at our state tourism trade groups. I am really grateful to get out in the field and to speak with and learn from our tourism partners, which includes participating in industry meetings like the MANY Conference or seeing the latest developments at a tourist destination. So, my favorite parts of the job are being out in New York State alongside my colleagues in the tourism industry.

    Final Thoughts?

    We exist to help the tourism industry and that very much includes museums. We can help museums fulfill their missions by helping them attract a larger and more diverse group of visitors often at no cost to the museum. In turn, we know that when museums succeed, they help us meet our responsibility in making New York State the world’s ultimate vacation destination. 

    We see it as a very reciprocal relationship and we want to be able to help museums so that museums are able to help tourism. 

    I emphasize the importance of museums to tourism and we recognize that museums have missions and an important societal role beyond that. As a New Yorker, I am glad for that role, even though  I need to focus on the tourism and economic development piece of it. One of the things that I feel satisfied about is that since I’ve been here there has been increased dialogue between the museum and tourism worlds. While we recognize that there is such a natural relationship there in helping each other succeed, we don’t necessarily speak the same language and that’s ok. There is so much cross over but there are independent pieces as well. 

    Further Reading / Resources

    To learn how your museum can apply for Market NY visit https://esd.ny.gov/market-new-york-tourism-grant-program

    To learn more about I LOVE NY visit https://www.iloveny.com/

    To find you Tourism Promotion Agency visit https://www.iloveny.com/articles/post/county-and-regional-tpa-list/
  • January 29, 2020 1:35 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Owned and operated by the Underground Railroad History Project, the Myers Residence is using the house and objects found on site to challenge longstanding, stereotypical assumptions about free people of color before the Civil War. Its immersive approach to interpretation aspires to empower people to become agents of change in their own communities.

    On Livingston Street in Albany, you’ll find a house that stands out from the rest. A mid-19th century three story brick Greek Revival that was once home to abolitionists Stephen and Harriet Myers. Today it is listed on the New York State Underground Railroad Heritage Trail and is a site on the National Park Service’s National Network to Freedom.

    Purchased and saved from decades of neglect in 2004 by the Underground Railroad History Project, their goal is to preserve and restore the Myers Residence back to what it was in the 1850s. With nearly $1 million raised through grants and individual donations for preservation and restoration work on the building’s exterior, they are now turning their attention to interior restoration and interpretation.

    Preservation with a Purpose

    Mary Liz Stewart, Executive Director of the Underground Railroad History Project (URHP), began the organization out of a want to bring documented information about local Underground Railroad activities into her 5th grade classroom. Her husband, Paul, was writing for a local newspaper, The South End Scene was also searching for documented information about the Underground Railroad in Albany for his articles. Through their research, they uncovered stories of those who had previously been “written out” of history that provided different accounts of the Underground Railroad activism. The Stewarts realized that the story they were uncovering belonged to the community and created the URHP. The Myers Residence is an important artifact of the anti-slavery and Underground Railroad period in Albany and has been documented as headquarters for Underground Railroad activity.

    I met Stewart at the Myers Residence for a tour. When I arrived at 9:30 on a brisk January morning, there were already workers mixing cement for the restoration of the back stairs and preparing the ground for the installation of a new lift. “It’s important for accessibility and to remove as many barriers as we can,” said Stewart. She pointed out that there is only one fence on the property, at the rear, which was also intentional. “People of color have traditionally been excluded, so we decided not to put up fences surrounding the property.”

    The interior walls have been striped back to plain plaster, an industrial carpet protects the original wooden floors, and interior doors have been removed. It is a blank canvas. I asked about any plans to leave parts of the house in an unfinished state. “We’ve had people ask if we plan to leave one room unfinished but with all the wealthy white men’s houses in Albany… the Schuyler Mansion, Ten Broeck, Crailo...it is important to have this home of an enslaved man be restored to the same standards,” said Stewart.

    Splitting with Tradition

    The front room has furniture you might have found in the 1850s when Stephen and Harriet Myers lived here as well as contemporary art. There is a second empire style couch from the 1850s but rather than a “do not sit” sign, visitors are encouraged to sit. It’s part of the overall goal of the Myers Residence to help the house and its history feel touchable for today's visitors. Stewart wants people to feel connected to the house and immersed in its history. By allowing visitors to sit on the furniture, the Myers Residence splits with traditional historic house museums.

    What is most striking in the front parlor is a corner devoted to the Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground Project. Created to pay tribute to the discovered remains of 14 formerly enslaved people, the remains were reinterred in decorative catafalques made from wood and designed by artists. The remains lied in state at the Schuyler Mansion Historic Site in 2016 before being buried at St Agnes Cemetery. Photos of the 14 catafalques are displayed in a corner in the front parlor along with a large mixed media sculpture. This sculpture, created by visual artist D.D. McCullough titled, “The Scales of Injustice,” focuses on the “torture and pain experience by Africans during slavery.” The sculpture was created to accompany the 14 catafalques at the Schuyler Mansion Historic Site, and was then installed at the Myers Residence after being reinterred.

    "The Scales of Injustice" by D.D. McCullough with images of artist designed catafalques displayed on the wall.

    Writing and Murals on the Walls

    Decorating the rest of the walls in the front parlor are signatures of some of those who have supported the Myers Residence and the URHP. The signatures punctuate the unfinished plaster and reflect the community effort that has surrounded this preservation project.

    Written in a permanent market, signatures of Underground Railroad History Project supporters adorn the walls —including the signature of Congressman Paul Tonko, NY 20

    The back parlor is a shared workspace. Two desks are pushed together in the middle of the room. It’s the office hub for all Underground Railroad History Project programming. Beyond the desks my attention was drawn to the brightly painted mural that travels up the stairs.

    The mural, “Seeking Sanctuary” contains 100 events on a timeline that begins in 1741 with the NY Slave Conspiracy. “Each point highlights those who provided sanctuary, those who sought sanctuary, and those events in American and National history that caused the need for sanctuary,” said Stewart.  “It reflects the fact that the Myers Residence was a place of sanctuary in antebellum New York and continues to be a place of sanctuary today as it is used to promote racial reconciliation and healing.” The mural was designed and painted in 2018 by teens in the Young Abolitionist Teen Scholars’ Institute lead by local professional artist Oliver Peters. The mural travels with visitors up the stairs to the second and third floors and to current events.

    “Seeking Sanctuary” mural recognizes 100 events on a timeline beginning in 1741 highlighting people who provided sanctuary, those who sought sanctuary, and events in American and National history that caused the need for sanctuary.

    Artifacts Challenging Stereotypes

    The back room of the second floor (once a bedroom and now the reading and exhibit room) is where visitors will find just a few of the artifacts found onsite. The Myers Residence uses archaeological artifacts that have been excavated on the property to tell more of its story. A pair of boots, pieces of a ceramic doll, a child’s tea set, slate pencils, and other artifacts are displayed. “There are a number of artifacts that had they been whole and intact, would have been part of a complete dinnerware,” shared Stewart. This dinnerware set found onsite is now used to share the Myers’ story and their role in Albany in society. “We use those pieces as a way to help displace some of the stereotypical notions that hover in public memory which usually suggest that free people [of color] before the Civil War did not have much. Finding artifacts like this [dinnerware] indicates the opposite for Harriet. This large collection of dinnerware pieces becomes an indicator of Harriet having a full set of matching dishes,” Stewart said. In addition to the artifacts changing previous stereotypical assumptions, the house plays an important role. “The house itself becomes an artifact...its ten rooms, the Greek Revival Style architecture, gas lighting, crown molding… all of these things are easily acquainted with the white wealthy families,” said Stewart. “This building speaks to both the wealth as well as the capacity of people of color before the Civil War who contributed to the health and vitality of the community which they were based.”

    Pieces of a ceramic child’s tea set found on the property during archaeological excavations. This archaeological evidence reminds visitors that the Myers were also a family in addition to their work in civil rights activism.

    Paper Trail

    There are also important paper documents about the Myers that have been discovered in recent years that help provide a more comprehensive understanding of their lives. Visitors can flip through copies of chattel mortgages (the originals safely held in the Albany County Hall of Records) that list items owned by Stephen and Harriet Myers used as loan collateral. “These are incredible records of their personal possessions that gives us the opportunity to have a better understanding of what their personal world was like, what daily life was like, and what we are going to do when it comes time to furnish the building,” Stewart said. The goal is to interpret the house on a multi-dimensional scale. To portray the lives of Stephen and Harriett Myers as more than abolitionists, but as community activists, parents, working and supporting their family. “They were people with full, rich lives who engaged with organizations and activities beyond the Underground Railroad activism...but all efforts that were about equity and civil rights.”

    Leaving Empowered

    Comments left by visitors decorate the walls in the reading and exhibit room.

    Stewart hopes that by using these artifacts in the interpretation of the house and its programming, visitors will connect with the Myers and draw connections from their lives in the 1850s to today.

    There are post-it’s that cover the walls in this reading/exhibit room. These are thoughts left by visitors about their tour, about what they learned, what they liked, and how their visit affected them. It is an immersive experience.

    “We want to empower people to engage and to become agents of change in their own networks, in their own communities working towards a more equitable and just society for everybody,” said Stewart. “We hope that when people come and become engaged with the Myers Residence, they will leave empowered and recognize that people of color have had a more significant impact on the American narrative.”

    The Myers Residence is open for tours Monday to Friday, 5 – 8 PM and on Saturdays 12 – 4 PM.

    For more information about the Myers Residence and the Underground Railroad History Project visit: https://www.undergroundrailroadhistory.org/

  • December 30, 2019 10:25 AM | MANY Staff (Administrator)

    Dear Members of the MANY Museum Community,

    This last "Letter from Erika" in 2019 is different.

    It is a first look at data provided by 206 museums (15% of our state’s museums) who answered over a hundred questions in our 2019 State of New York State Museums survey.

    This first survey of the field conducted by MANY since 2011, paints a new picture with charts, graphs, and data visualizations created by Megan Eves, MANY’s Marketing and Social Media Coordinator who studied this summer with Edward Tufte, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Statistics, and Computer Science, Yale University. The full report will be published in March 2020. 

    This letter also includes testimony I delivered on Thursday, December 12 at a hearing on Capital Funding for Arts and Cultural Organizations called by the Assembly Standing Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports chaired by Assembly Member Daniel J. O’Donnell (District 69) and the Assembly Subcommittee on Museums & Cultural Institutions chaired by Assembly Member Robert C. Carroll (District 44). My testimony was shaped by the survey data that illuminated differences in distribution and types of funding to museums. 

    We have included a map and an alphabetical list of the museums who shared their information. We are grateful for the time and generosity of our colleagues. When published, the charts and report will be located on a members-only access page of the website. Members will need to log into their MANY profile on the website to access the report. 

    About the Charts

    Not every museum answered every question in the survey. You will find an “n” number on each chart to support the data; text analysis will include the phrases “of those who responded to the survey,” and “of those who responded to the question.”

    Charts included in this letter are: 

    Thank you for your support in 2019. We served a record number of museum professionals through our conference, workshops, and Meet-Ups. Our membership has grown to almost double what it was just three years ago. 

    Your membership helps us sustain operations and produce important publications like our newsletter and the State of New York State Museums. A tax-deductible donation to our annual fund will help MANY ensure a better future for all New York Museums. Click here now to make a donation; gifts of any size are welcome and deeply appreciated.

    With thanks and wishing you a Happy New Year,

  • November 27, 2019 12:01 PM | MANY Staff (Administrator)

    NYS Capitol Building in Albany, NY

    Dear Members of the MANY Museum Community,

    This fall we saw hundreds of museum professionals at Meet Ups and Workshops in every region of our state. We were immersed in planning the programs and events for the 2020 annual conference and developing new member benefits, including a partnership with the New York Council for Non Profits that will allow MANY members access to NYCON services at greatly reduced rates. 

    When I look back at our fall calendar, I am filled with gratitude for our hosts and our program attendees. I am also grateful for support from our elected officials. Behind all the public facing work we have done this year to support best practices and professional development, there has been another project quietly developing. 

    I am pleased to share the news that on October 28, New York State Senator José M. Serrano introduced Bill #6819 which is an act to amend the arts and cultural affairs law in relation to providing financial assistance to museums, zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums and other cultural institutions located in low-income urban, suburban, or rural communities, or that provide educational services to such communities, otherwise known as The Museum Education Act. We extend our thanks to Senator Serrano for his leadership and bill sponsors Senators Comrie, Hoylman, Kennedy, Little, Lou, May, Ortt, and Sanders.  This new bill would allow funding to museums chartered by New York State Ed as well as to museums chartered by the Secretary of State or other legislative action. These two changes to the proposed law greatly expand the number of museums who would be eligible for funding. While we are awaiting confirmation about the bill’s introduction in the Assembly, we were pleased to learn this week that the new acting commissioner of the State Education Department, Shannon Tahoe will include the Museum Education Act in her budget testimony.  

    I will be testifying on December 12 at a public hearing conducted by the Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports. The focus of the hearing is to examine the enacted 2019/2020 budget as it relates to the funding of art and cultural institutions. I will share information about museum capital funding needs, challenges with the application process, and capital projects completed or underway. We have some great data from our State of New York State Museums Survey (report coming soon!) but if you did not participate in the survey or would like to send an update about your capital needs or your projects, please send me an email and let me know what you are working on in your museum.

    In other Advocacy news, registration is open for AAM’s Museums Advocacy Day that will be held February 23-25, 2020 in Washington DC. In 2019, New York had the largest delegation of any state in the nation. We had great fun talking to our Congressional Representatives and their staff about the importance of museums to our state and our nation. If you have ever thought about joining us at Museums Advocacy Day, with the 2020 election coming up, this is the year to do it!

    It is taking many hands to build this bigger platform that will help create a stronger voice in advocacy and expanded funding streams for all of our state’s museums. We will need museum professionals from all of state’s museum, no matter your budget size, discipline, or location to speak up in 2020 and share with your elected officials how your museum makes a difference in your community. We also need your support to make all that we do possible. Each and every donation, no matter the amount allows us to help you. Making a donation to MANY is easy. Just click here and help us help you amplify all the great work being done in New York’s Museums.


    With thanks,

    Assemblyperson Jonathan G. Jacobson (left) from NYS Assembly District 104 attends the Hudson Valley meet-up at Dia:Beacon and gives remarks.

  • November 27, 2019 11:57 AM | MANY Staff (Administrator)

    The Alice Austen House on Staten Island represents the life and work of Alice Austen (1866-1952), an early American photographer and a woman ahead of her time. She was one of America’s most prolific female photographers and captured over 8,000 images throughout her life. The house was restored to its former glory after years of neglect as interpreted as a traditional historic house museum. In 2015, the museum received a planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to re-interpret the museum to focus more on the life of Alice Austen and in 2017 updated their National Landmark designation to become a National Site of LGBTQ History.

    Exhibition panel as part of the new permanent exhibition “New Eyes on Alice Austen”

    Photo courtesy Danielle Bennett

    “Clear Comfort”

    Alice Austen’s home, “Clear Comfort” was built in 1690 as a Dutch Farmhouse. She moved to the house in the late 1860s where she lived with her mother. In 1917, Gertrude Tate moved in and they both lived in the home until 1945 when financial problems forced them out. “Clear Comfort” had been in the Austen family for nearly 100 years. The house fell into neglect and a group of citizens (later the Friends of Alice Austen House, Inc.) successfully saved the house in the 1960s, gained it historic landmark status, and restored the house in the mid 1980s. 

    When current Executive Director Victoria Munro first visited the house, it was a simple self-guided tour that focused on period furniture placed to replicate the late 19th century. “I didn’t know who Alice Austen was. I only knew that I was visiting a historic house in a park. There were some photographs in the entryway and the rooms were filled with furniture from the time period of the home and there were two contemporary art galleries. But I left not really knowing who Alice Austen was, not knowing that she was a photographer and definitely not knowing that she was a lesbian. As an artist who is gay, that would have been really big for me,” said Victorian Munro, Executive Director. 

    The “Family Tree” exhibition panel

    Photo courtesy Danielle Bennett

    Interpretation Changes at the Alice Austen House

    Munro first came to the house in 2015 to write programming about women’s history and help create a more structured women’s history program. In 2017, she became the Executive Director. Under her leadership the house received a $250,000 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant for the implementation of a new onsite interpretation and expanded website content called New Eyes on Alice Austen: Redesigning the Museum’s Permanent Installation. The museum used scholars to help re-envision the permanent exhibition that would incorporate Alice Austen’s contributions to photography, immigration, women’s and LGBTQ history. 

    Before this grant the house only included 25 photographs from Alice and did not help to tell her story. The scholars brought in as part of the NEH grant helped to create an overarching voice for the museum by using more of Alice’s photographs and life. Scholars helped contextualize Alice Austen in New York City history, women’s history, immigration, LGBTQ history, and photographic history. “We felt like we were finally doing justice for Alice and her story,” said Munro. “As the installation for this new permanent exhibition was forming, the scholars helped us pull together every quote possible on Alice’s work to create an identifying voice for the museum. We unfortunately don’t have her voice. We have notations on her photographs, but by the time Alice was interviews she was in the final years of her life, she was homeless, and wasn’t exactly in a position of power to speak about her younger years.”

    The installation of the new permanent exhibition took around two years and used high-resolution photographs and updated text that was recommended by the scholars. The museum no longer displays period furniture, since most of it didn’t belong to the family. Alice’s story was integrated into all educational programming. Victorian Munro reflected that there were times during this transformation where it was difficult to explain to people about the interpretation changes. “We had people who just really loved the Alice Austen House but they were so receptive to what the changed looked like and the new visitor experience. They see how the rooms are interpreted without any furniture but they can move through it, see Alice’s camera, see her work, and it’s an amazing experience.”

    Alice Austen’s photographs of what the house looked like when she lived there replace the period furniture. Photo courtesy Danielle Bennett

    The Alice Austen House expanded their mission to include “exploring personal identity” to help highlight LGBTQ interpretation and other programming. Photographs of Alice’s partner Gertrude were hung on the walls of photographs and when the house was designated an LGBTQ Historic Site in 2017, a new introductory text panel was installed in the museum entrance that acknowledges the 53-year relationship between Alice Austen and Gertrude Tate. This reinserted Gertrude as a central figure in Alice’s life and including her into the physical space of the house.

    Content Inclusion

    “In accepting the amendment to our national designation, it gave us a huge responsiblity to the LGBTQ community, to actively program for them, and also provide inclusive programming for everyone else because it’s everyone’s history,” said Munro. Since the new installation of the permanent exhibition and new designation as an LGBTQ Historic Site, visitorship has doubled. “We have had visitors that have been here before and come back and have been so overwhelmed, especially if they are part of the LGBTQ community. They are so moved to see Alice and Gertrude’s relationship included in our narrative, to see Gertrude included on the family tree.”

    Historian Danielle Bennet who worked at the Alice Austen House as Visitor Experience & Social Media Manager during its transformative time said, “If you open your house to a story that’s about differences, you not only embrace that particular difference but you end up becoming more open to exploring others and embracing the community however it comes. I think it makes a museum more open and vulnerable as an institution.” Bennett commented that the Alice Austen House is now much more robust in its new permanent exhibition and by sharing the story of Alice and Gertrude, the house is providing more inclusive content to its visitors. 

    Interpreting Queer History

    “I’ve found that sometimes museums know what they have in the collection, object wise, but going back to read the content within the collection, the letters, diaries...and to look at this content with fresh eyes to see what’s there,” said Bennet. “There are probably some really interesting pieces awaiting uncovering and interpretation. “I ask people to grapple with uncertainty. As historians were never going to know exactly how things were like. We can make best guesses and its harder to make a guess about queerness and transness because it has been scrubbed from the record but if you find something there, the odds are actually probably pretty good that there’s a reason why something persisted to present day.”

    As historic house museum tell the stories about the other people who lived there and wonder how to best interpret queer history, Bennett suggests looking at the history with a bigger lens. “Houses need to talk about the other people who lived there, the other people who were closest to the houses’ namesake. Their stories are going to have something interesting. [Museums] need to ask who counts here? Are you only counting people who have certain kinds of privilege? If someone who lived in these spaces seems like they were queer, does that make their story count less?” Bennett also suggests from her research and experience working with historic houses is to create and work with community panels or advisory groups from people who know the topic, a queer academic or a queer person with a similar life experience. “People from a certain group can see things that staff might not see and it’s useful to bring in people with different viewpoints, especially when interpreting queer history.”


    About the Alice Austen House

    The Alice Austen House is a New York City and National Landmark, on the Register of Historic Places and a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s distinctive group of Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios. In June 2017, the Alice Austen House, where Austen and her life partner, Gertrude Tate, lived together for nearly 30 years, marked its national designation as a site of LGBTQ history and updated their designation to become a National Site of LGBTQ History. This was an achievement of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, funded through a grant from the New York State Historic Preservation Office and made possible by the National Park Service.

    Further Reading

    Alice Austen House 


    LGBTQ Heritage 


    NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project


    Visit the newly redesigned Alice Austen House and celebrate its rich history and innovative events


    Danielle Bennett, Historian and Museum Professional


  • November 27, 2019 11:51 AM | MANY Staff (Administrator)

    How Albany’s Heritage Sites Promote and Expand Cultural Experiences 

    According to a 2013 tourism research report, the average cultural heritage tourist according is likely to spend more and stay longer when compared to the leisure traveler. The City of Albany worked with the Albany Heritage Tourism Advisory Council and Discover Albany (Albany’s Tourism Promotion Agency) to create a strategic plan specifically for heritage tourism. The Cultural Heritage and Tourism Partnership incorporated the mayor, and elected city officials, heritage sites, and Discover Albany to carry out the goals and strategies outlined by the strategic plan. 

    via the Cultural Heritage and Tourism 2018 Report

    Telling Albany’s Stories

    In 2016, Maeve McEneny was hired as the Heritage Tourism Program Coordinator and she began with seeking input from heritage partners. “I needed to meet with the museums and figure out what we’re doing,” McEneny said. Maeve put out a call to museums and cultural sites in the Albany area to meet and talk. These quarterly meetings were marketed as “Let’s CHAT” (Cultural Heritage and Tourism) and focused on collaboration and input from the heritage tourism community to identify priorities, create visitor experiences and market these experiences to cultural heritage travelers. “I ended up doing a lot of listening and what I discovered was that there are similar types of programming happening across each site...and potential for these sites to partner together.” These partnerships were exactly what the strategic plan called for to help promote and expand Albany’s existing cultural heritage experiences. “Similar programming happens with major anniversaries like Suffrage, the Erie Canal Bicentennial, and Hamilton. Hamilton was probably one of our most popular. We knew Hamilton* fans were traveling to Schuyler Mansion but they had a capacity issue. Other sites worked together in a partnership like the Albany Institute for History & Art, Proctor’s, Ten Broeck… to get in on the Hamilton excitement and extend it,” McEneny said. “By partnering together, these heritage sites could take advantage of the tourists coming in by supporting one another.” In total, the Albany Institute, Schuyler Mansion Historic Site, and First Church took part in the “Hamilton in Albany” program. Discover Albany promoted “Hamilton in Albany” on its website, social media channels, created a brochure, and pitched it to national media. Schuyler Mansion attendance from June to September in 2016 increased by 116% and the Albany Institute attendance increased by 53%. 

    *Hamilton: An American Musical is a musical about the life of AlexanderHamilton with music, lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.

    via albany.org

    Some of these partnerships are planned but others evolved organically.  “Tastes and Traditions” came from a discussion between Maeve McEneny and Albany Institute Curator and MANY Board Member Diane Shewchuk at a MANY conference. “From that conversation I learned that there was a group of different heritage sites doing kitchens and I thought that it would be interesting to pitch to the group,” said McEneny. Over 80 sites and businesses participated and created 117 events and programs. Discover Albany used input from the CHAT partners and created events, tours, classes and exhibits hosted on their website as well as devoting a page to Tastes and Traditions in the Discover Albany Visitor Guide. 

    Initiatives like these are why Mave McEneny says that this group works well with Discover Albany. “It’s one thing that we’re coming up with all of these plans and themes and sharing resources, but by telling me and the Discover Albany team about it, including our social media coordinator and marketing directors at these meetings (CHAT) who are looking and listening for content for the website, social media, and blog posts that we can listen for stories and connection that Discover Albany can market.” Posting events, tagging the themes on the Discover Albany website help their social media coordinator to find relevant content and write blog posts connecting similar events and programming together that can extend a visitor’s experience. “We will use it for travel writers who are coming in for a familiarization tour to help them visit multiple sites around a similar theme and that’s really the goal for when heritage tourists come in, to visit multiple sites and hopefully stay overnight. The heritage tourist is likely to spend more money and engage in cultural sites than the average, so Discover Albany wants to make the area inviting.”

    Extending the Invitation Beyond Museums and Cultural Sites

    The CHAT group also includes partners from outside museums and heritage sites. “We’ve invited playwrights, a dance company, artists, and others who could help us tell Albany’s stories,” said McEneny. For example, Historic Cherry Hill wanted to do Suffrage anniversary programming but did not have a direct connection to the movement (in fact the matriarch of Cherry Hill was anti-suffrage). Through the CHAT group, Historic Cherry Hill connected with Kysta Dennis, a lecturer in Creative Arts at Siena College, who wrote an original one-act play “The Burden of the Ballot.” Historic Cherry Hill and Dennis collaborated to bring this play to the site and be part of the Suffrage anniversary programming.

    Heritage Tourism features via albany.org

    Artists from the Albany Center Gallery were also included in these meetings to know about important anniversaries. Discover Albany featured Herman Melville in 2017 for the 125th anniversary of his death as part of their “Literacy Legacy” program where various heritage sites and cultural institutions highlighted Melville’s life in Albany. The Albany Mural Project (Capital Walls) administered by the Albany Center Gallery had artists include a whale in some of the art murals throughout the city to accompany “Literacy Legacy.”

    Collaborating Not Competing

    Before the Albany Cultural Heritage Tourism Strategic Plan, Albany museums, cultural and heritage sites chose collaboration over competition back in 2010 to create Partners for Albany Stories (PASt). The group was a collaboration of historical, cultural, and preservation associations that worked together to create a comprehensive telling of Albany history. Participating organizations included the Albany City Historian, Albany County Historical Association (Ten Broeck Mansion), Albany Institute of History & Art, Crailo State Historic Site, Historic Albany Foundation, Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region, New York State Capitol Tour Program, Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation of NYS, Shaker Heritage Society, Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, and Historic Cherry Hill. Its creation occurred at the same time as the Regional Economic Development Council and so by partnering together, their shared goal was to seek multiple capital funding project grants for Albany’s  historic sites and developed into collaborative programming. 

    Having this partnership background for Albany’s heritage sites, helped the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Partnership in 2016. “At first I thought that there might be some resistance but the cool thing about Albany was that people were hungry to work with each other...they wanted to share and they were excited about the people that they met [at these meetings],” said McEneny. 

    The Future?

    The CHAT group has made significant progress since its creation in 2016 to create immersive visitor experiences with collaborative input from the Albany heritage tourism community. With a strong partnership foundation, Maeve McEneny says that the group is looking to what the next step is. “In 2020, sharing resources and continuing education are two areas of focus. We recently worked with Advance Media who lead a Facebook training workshop for the group.” 

    Discovery Albany is also helping to track attendance figures year over year to help recognize trends, track the impact of marketing campaigns, and help to identify priorities which are shared with the CHAT partners. 

    According to the CHAT Report, a total of $58,277 has been spent on advertising for heritage tourism including digital and printed materials to promote new tourism products created by Discover ALbany and the CHAT partners and to capitalize on the heritage tourist.

    Want to bring this type of initiative to your own Tourism Promotion Agency?

    “Start with your heritage partners first,” said McEneny. “Put a call out to directors and museum educators to come together and talk and then approach your TPA where you can show them the successes of coming together as a unified voice.”

    Further Reading / Resources

    Cultural Heritage and Tourism Results Report


    Albany Heritage Tourism


  • November 27, 2019 11:49 AM | MANY Staff (Administrator)

    The Role of a Museum Editor 

    Megan Eves’ Interview with Richard Price, Museum Editor at the Corning Museum of Glass

    Recently retired at the end of September Richard Price has worked at The Corning Museum of Glass (CMOG) since April 1985. As the Head of Publications, Price has edited every edition of the Museum’s annual publication including prestigious Journal of Glass Studies, Notable Acquisitions, and the contemporary glass exhibition-in-print, New Glass Review. Additionally, Price edited every catalog for Museum exhibitions and other publications among the best known: Glass from World’s Fairs, 1851-1904 (1986), Drawing upon Nature: Studies for the Blasckas’ Glass Models (2007), and Tiffany’s Glass Mosaics (2017) which won the W.E. Fischelis Award from The Victorian Society in America. 

    I spoke with Price to learn more about how he entered the museum field, his time as Museum Editor at CMOG, and reflected back on some of his favorite projects.

    Richard Price, Head of Publications at The Corning Museum of Glass poses with a few of the publications he has worked on throughout his thirty five year with the Museum.

    Megan: Describe what you did as a museum editor at CMOG. What are the main roles/responsibilities? 

    Price: I edited the manuscripts for the publications from academic journals to annual reports to collection and exhibition catalogues. I worked closely with curators and with writers for our academic journals who came from around the world. I enjoyed learning about these different subject areas that were sometimes very different from what the museum was pursuing but they gave me an opportunity to learn from these scholars. I enjoyed encouraging help these young people to get their work published, get it up to standard, and I thought that was a very useful thing to do. I was very touched by these people who when they learned I was leaving they took the time to write and thank me. 

    How did you enter the museum field? How did you end up being CMOG’s museum editor for over thirty years? What were you doing before?

    When I went to journalism school, I learned that I wanted to be an editor so I took those classes out of sequence. I jumped all news writing prerequisite to take editing. I had a wonderful teacher who worked with me and really taught me my craft. I worked for our local newspaper on and off for ten years. I also worked in the local library. I started at the museum in 1985 so I already had experience working with the local newspaper The Leader in Corning and what was then the Corning Area Public LIbrary and those were good stepping stones to what I ultimately did. 

    I left The Leader in 1984 and basically was between jobs for a year. My mother ran a store on Market Street in Corning and put me to work. Someone let her know that the person in charge of publications at the Corning Museum of Glass was going to retire and my mom said “you need to apply for this.”

    I was familiar with the museum because of our four generations of family connections. Starting with my grandfather who designed the 200-inch disk for the reflector telescope for the Palomar Observatory. He worked for what was then Corning Glassworks. who designed the 200-inch mirror blank for the Hale Telescope—the single largest piece of Pyrex ever made—which allowed astronomers to see farther into space than ever before. Still today, it resides at the Palomar Observatory in California. The first, failed attempt at this giant piece of cast glass is a staple of the collection of The Corning Museum of Glass. My dad was an othormic engineer. He worked on what were then photoray lens that darken in the sunlight. He would travel to Arizona with a colleague and they would put samples on a roof of a motel and test them for how quickly the lenses would darken and then fade. So I’m the third generation and my daughter works here now as the Media & Public Relations Manager. My son worked he for a number of years as a security guard, so the family is well represented here. It’s a wonderful place to work and it’s given me the opportunity to learn more about a subject that connects with a lot of people in my family. So I’ve had the opportunity to put out publications for the museum that is probably at the forefront of its field which is a humbling experience from time to time. 

    Rick with his wife, Sheila, and daughter Kim Thompson

    What made you excited about editing catalogs for CMOG?

    I feel that it is a very important role that you are backstopping the institution. You’re trying to prevent the material misstatement. You're trying to prevent errors of any kind and it’s a big task but it’s rewarding.

    Can you share a favorite project?

    One of my favorite projects was Cage Cups: Late Roman Luxury Glass by the late Dr. David Whitehouse, a former director of the museum. This was a project of which I was blissfully unaware until one day Whitehouse called me over to his desk and let me know that he had been working on this publication quietly for years. He shared that he had recently received an unfortunate diagnosis and would die within months from the time we met. He asked me if I could handle it. Of course I said yes. I knew that cage cups where the luxury glass of the Roman Empire. There are not many of them but they are phenomenal pieces. There are some disagreements about how they were made and so Dr. Whitehouse wanted to produce a book that would bring the findings of the day that would give a good context and make it a very readable book. 

    After he passed, we learned of some cage cups of which he was unaware. I started digging around with help from one of the former curators and we were able to identify and locate thirteen additional cage cups. We went to publication with over eighty cage cups identified. The discovery of these cage cups gave me the opportunity to interview excavators, curators, museum directors and others who had a hand in finding these things. It was really gratifying and because in some cases people were so excited to be part of the book that they provided photographs free of charge, they gave us copies of documents that helped that section come alive. I know that a lot of people in the curatorial world were aware that he [Whitehouse] was writing the book but I was not until he gave it to me about six/eight months before he died and I just took it as valedictory work. Dr. Whitehouse was one of the leading scholars of ancient Islamic glass in the world. I was very honored to work with him and edit his exhibition and scholarly catalogue. It was a great joy for me to bring Cage Cups to publication in late 2015.


    A favorite project of Price’s was his work on the publication Cage Cups: Late Roman Luxury Glass by the late Dr. David Whitehouse, a former director of the Museum. Whitehouse’s book was incomplete at the time of his death, and Price continued his research, talking with curators and excavators around the world and uncovering a number of additional masterpieces which were included in the publication.

    What did you learn from editing your first catalog to the most recent?

    I learned as you went. One of the things that I did was put together a museum style manual that I had originally intended for my own use. I used it for the academic and popular adult publications. I put it together over the years as I learned different things. I built a fairly long vocabulary list and needed to know how these words were spelled, what they meant and how they were used. 

    Every project was different. It wasn’t a case of becoming more and more confident in a particular area because people were writing about different things and you had to familiarize yourself with everything but you learned from each and every one of them. Because I was focused on one thing at a time, I were able to devote more time to digging deeper and make suggestions to authors such as “should we include something like this?” or “is that pertinent?” I was able to engage in a dialogue with them more by virtue of the fact that over the years I have learned cumulatively from a number of projects. 

    What advice would you give someone looking to do something similar to your position?

    I think that the only thing you can do it that’s the kind of thing you want to do is to make inquiries to museums. I know that there are a number of museums that do some publications, some more than others, but some of it is freelance work and some of it is staff. I don’t know that you can study it in an academic environment but  you get involved in museums and express and interests and if you've studied journalism or have taken courses in editing like from the American Society of Copyeditors that would be a good stepping stone to get into this kind of work.  

    As you retire from your position, what else stands out about your time at CMOG?

    Every project has been important to me, we have put out a number of books either as catalogues or as adjunct materials for an exhibition, some of those are more popular books, others are more scholarly but each one I have felt has been very important. It’s one thing when you’re working in the field of newspapers and magazines, those things are here today and gone tomorrow but in the world of glass and particularly glass scholarship I have been very mindful of the fact that our books are meant to last generations. It was vitally important that we devote the time and effort to make these things free of misstatement or free of factual errors and getting them right for scholars for generations to come.

  • November 18, 2019 1:39 PM | MANY Staff (Administrator)

    New York State Council on the Arts Awards

    Museum Association of New York $46,000

    New York State Council on the Arts Grants Support

    Vital Cultural Programs Statewide

    New York, NY— The Museum Association of New York today announced that it has been awarded two grants totaling $46,000 from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) for FY2020 with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. NYSCA grants support the transformative impact of the performing, literary, visual and media arts in New York State.

    The Museum Association of New York is one of 462 arts organizations across New York State receiving a total of $8,383,993 million in grants through NYSCA’s Round II FY2020 funding to support arts programs that drive New York State’s economic growth and community health.

     “The arts and culture are a critical driver of health in people and places,” said Mara Manus, Executive Director, New York State Council on the Arts. “Our state’s creative industries generate a total of $120 billion to the state economy, account for 466,000 jobs, and play a significant role in revitalization, education and social justice.

    "NYSCA's support of MANY's annual conference and programs throughout the year helps us serve museums and museum professionals across the state no matter their geographic location, budget size, or discipline" said Erika Sanger, Executive Director Museum Association of New York. "New York's Museums steward and share our state's history, arts, and culture with audiences and support for professional development is critical to advancing and sustaining our sector."

    NYSCA will award a total of $41 million to arts organizations across New York State for FY2020. The second of three rounds of NYSCA funding for FY2020 includes support for museums, theatres, and arts organizations that drive tourism and anchor communities and arts education programs essential to learning for all ages, including public school students, aging populations and at-risk youth.

    NYSCA Round II grants also support creative arts programs promoting physical and mental health and personal and professional development in historically underserved and vulnerable communities, including those in geographically remote areas; disabled communities; impoverished and homeless populations; and justice-involved youth and adults.

    The Museum Association of New York received funding through NYSCA’s Folk Arts Program Project Support for the Museum and Folk Arts Forum as part of “The Power of Partnership” 2020 annual conference in Albany, NY. This Forum will explore and strengthen the ways in which museums and folklorists can work together to build understanding around shared informal learning practices, investigate how folk arts can strengthen the interpretation and presentation of community traditions in museums, how museum audiences can experience traditional arts, and how folk arts can build relationships between museums and their communities.  

    The Museum Association of New York also received funding through NYSCA’s Museum Program for annual statewide support for “The Power of Partnership” 2020 annual conference, professional development workshops, and the Museum Institute at Great Camp Sagamore.

    Annually, NYSCA grants are awarded in 15 discipline programs and the Regional Economic Development Council initiative. Over the last two years, NYSCA has awarded an additional $30 million in capital funding to 71 organizations statewide fueling community development and tourism, and will announce additional capital grant awards this year.

    “New York’s cultural sector is a driving force in our state’s economy,” said Katherine Nicholls, Chair, New York State Council on the Arts.  “As our arts organizations expand their audiences and programs with NYSCA support, we will serve many more New Yorkers and build the vitality of our communities statewide.”    

    NYSCA Round II grant awards were made through the agency’s Arts Education, Special Arts Services, Museum, Theatre, Music, Dance, Literature, and Visual Arts Programs. A list of NYSCA grantees searchable by program and location is available here.

    Additional NYSCA funding will be announced in late 2019, including support for presenting organizations, individual artist commissions, and, through the Regional Economic Development Council, programs driving economic growth and building New York State’s workforce.

    About The New York State Council on the Arts
    The New York State Council on the Arts champions community and creativity by preserving and advancing numerous aspects of the cultural heritage that makes New York State an exceptional place to live, work and visit.

    NYSCA upholds the right of all New Yorkers to experience the vital contributions the arts make to our communities, education, economic development and quality of life. Through its core grantmaking activity, NYSCA awarded $51M in FY2019 to 2,400 organizations statewide through direct grants and regrants in our 15 programs, the Regional Economic Development Council initiative and the Mid-Size Capital Project Fund. NYSCA funding supports the visual, literary, media and performing arts and includes dedicated support for arts education and underserved communities. NYSCA further advances New York's creative culture by hosting convenings with leaders in the field and providing organizational and professional development opportunities and informational resources.

    Created by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1960, and continued and expanded to the present day with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, NYSCA is an agency of the Executive Branch of the New York State Government. For more information on NYSCA, please visit: 

    About the Museum Association of New York (MANY)

    The Museum Association of New York inspires, connects, and strengthens New York’s cultural community statewide by advocating, educating, collaborating, and supporting professional standards and organizational development. MANY ensures that New York State museums operate at their full potential as economic drivers and essential components of their communities. For more information on MANY, please visit: www.nysmuseums.org.

  • October 31, 2019 9:46 AM | MANY Staff (Administrator)

    Wayne Higby,Director and Chief Curator, Alfred Ceramic Art Museum; Brian Whisenhunt, Executive Director Rockwell Museum of American Art and MANY Board Member; Erika Sanger, and Susan Kowalczyk, Curator of Collections and Director of Research, Alfred Ceramic Museum

    Wayne Higby,Director and Chief Curator, Alfred Ceramic Art Museum; Brian Whisenhunt, Executive Director Rockwell Museum of American Art and MANY Board Member;  Erika Sanger, and Susan Kowalczyk, Curator of Collections and Director of Research, Alfred Ceramic Museum

    Dear Members of our Museum Community,

    I have found that inspiration can come from bewildering sources and energy can flow from unpredictable places. Then there are the sure things--places I can go and people I can turn to when the edges of my thoughts get fuzzy and I can’t quite figure out the next best step in a process. Museums, gardens, and places where water meets land have been my touchstones and my mentors have been generous. 

    One of things that surprised me most when I began my work at MANY was the energy created when a group of people who share a commitment to our communities’ access to our history, heritage, and culture come together. At our Meet-Ups and Workshops this fall I felt rooms buzz with conversation, heard laughter echoing off walls, and felt warm greetings from colleagues. 

    I’ve been traveling quite a bit this season and you might have seen me arrive somewhere a bit road weary. But a quiet walk through a gallery or an historic site, a cup of coffee, and an inspiring conversation later, the fatigue has worn off and I actually may find it hard to fall asleep later that night, my brain filled with overflowing thoughts. 

    By the time we reach the last MANY Workshop and Meet–Up at Dia Beacon on November 13, we will have spent time with more than 400 colleagues in twelve different places. I know we are making a difference in the lives of museum professionals by creating a community that enjoys coming together, sharing knowledge, and supporting each other’s work, not just by the buzz and the energy, but through incredibly affirming notes we received from colleagues this fall:

    Thank you for renewing my spirit here!  It was a great event and the meet and greet, also awesome. The most connected I have felt, in a long time.

    This Meet-Up was another great opportunity to promote unity within the local museum field, thanks to MANY.

    Really enjoyed meeting the folks -- and it seems we all have the same obstacles -- but it helps to talk about it.

    Our 2020 annual conference The Power of Partnership will be in Albany March 29-31 with exciting tours, workshops, and a special pre-conference Folk Art Forum on March 28. Proposals are flowing in and it is going to be an amazing lineup of sessions. I hope you can join us. We need your support to continue to offer these opportunities in every region in our state. Our annual appeal letter will be coming your way soon. If you attended a program this fall, used our job board to help you hire staff, or accessed resources on our website, you know how MANY is making a difference and helping our museum community succeed. You can also donate now through our website and save a stamp! 

    With thanks for your energy and your inspiration,

  • October 31, 2019 9:42 AM | MANY Staff (Administrator)

    By Kate Jacus, The Photo Curator, LLC

    If you work or volunteer at a museum, library, or historical society, you know that objects should be displayed and stored in archival-quality materials. “Acid-free,” “lignin-free,” and “photo safe” are terms that get used a lot, but what do they really mean when it comes to your photography collection? There is more to a material being archivally safe than its pH measurement and lignin content. Understanding the science of what makes something archival can help you make informed decisions about the materials you use to protect your institutions’ cultural heritage. Photographs are the standard baseline material for measuring archival quality. 

    ISO 18902

    ISO 18902 is an international standard that covers archival materials. You may have heard of ISO numbers in relation to film speed, or in a manufacturing setting. The International Organization for Standardization develops specifications for products, services, and systems, to ensure quality, safety and efficiency. There are over 22,000 standards ranging from railway engineering to food technology that answer the question: “what’s the best way of doing this?” 

    The standard’s full title is ISO 18902:2013 Imaging materials — Processed imaging materials — Albums, framing and storage materials. The standard is overseen by a Technical Committee, TC-42, Photography. Because photography is a sensitive medium, the standard is  a good baseline from which to judge archival products. If a material is safe to use with photos, you can assume it will be safe for other, more stable, objects. The ‘2013’ in the title refers to the date of the last revision; further information on the ISO website shows that the standard was confirmed in 2018 after a five year review. 

    The standard covers the entire range of products that you might use for storage, display, or labeling, including papers, plastics, adhesives, and printer ink. Each type of material must meet a standards set with different combinations of tests and requirements. Only materials that meet ALL specifications of this standard can be considered photo-safe, and thus archival. 

    It’s worth noting here that the standard’s definition of photo-safe refers only to the chemical reactivity of a material and does not apply to how it might interact physically with a photograph or object.

    Image Permanence Institute

    We are lucky in Rochester to be the home of the Image Permanence Institute (IPI), an academic research center at Rochester Institute of Technology.  They have long been involved in developing international standards, including part of ISO 18902, the Photographic Activity Test. Among other things, they are an independent laboratory providing testing for ISO 18902. Companies send samples of their products to IPI where they run a series of five tests related to the standard.

    This image is from an IPI chart, showing the five tests that make up ISO 18902, what they test for, what part of a photograph is affected, and the damage that can be caused to each layer of the photograph. Uncovering the science behind these tests gives high level overview of what it means for a material to be archival.

    The Five Tests

    The PAT, or Photographic Activity Test, is actually an ISO standard in and of itself, developed by IPI. It’s a very good measure of archival quality, but not the full measure. IPI tests samples of materials by layering them in a very particular order in little jigs, or casings. These are placed in an incubator for 15 days to simulate aging in high heat and humidity. After this tropical sojourn, scientists test those materials for oxidation and reduction reactions, which cause fading, spots, and silver mirroring, and also for chromophores (the part of a molecule responsible for its color) which cause yellowing. 

    All of the materials covered in ISO 18902 must pass the PAT.  

    Next is the pH test only performed on paper and adhesives for ISO 18902 Acids, are naturally occurring in wood pulp used in  paper, and are damaging to many kinds of materials. Highly alkaline environments can also cause decay. IPI does a simple pH test on materials, looking for the pH to be in the neutral range of 6 -7  for unbuffered paper and the alkaline 8 - 10 range for buffered paper. 

    The bump into alkaline territory for buffered paper is due to the alkaline reserve, or amount of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) embedded in the paper during production. This calcium carbonate neutralizes acids either present in the environment or created through deterioration in storage, acting as a buffer and protecting your objects. The third ISO 18902 test, for alkaline reserve, only applies to paper. IPI soaks a sample in water, then measures  the amount of acid necessary to neutralize the alkaline buffering; looking for an alkaline reserve of at least 2% CaCO3.

    The fourth test, the Kappa test, also only applies to paper. Lignin is the “glue” that holds the wood together, and during the pulping process, it gets removed from the wood fibers. The most common measurement of lignin is the Kappa number, which IPI measures by breaking down the paper sample back into pulp form, soaking the pulp in a chemical solution, and measuring the results. . To be considered lignin-free, paper has to have a Kappa number of less than 5, on a scale of 1 - 100.  

    The final test of ISO 18902 is the colorant bleed, and it applies to both paper and labeling materials. IPI tests if dyes or pigments used to either color paper or to write and print on it, have the potential to stain things touching them. The test material is held next to some bond paper and soaked in water to see if anything transfers when it shouldn't.

    Get The Numbers

    So what can you do with this newfound knowledge? Be an informed consumer for your institution. If a product is labeled “acid-free” or “photo safe” but does not give you any additional specs to back up that claim, you can’t be positive it’s archival quality. Reputable archival suppliers will list detailed specifications about their products that include these test results. 

    With the best quality archival products your institution can get, the objects in your care will have the best possible shot at longevity, and visitors decades from now will have you to thank!

The Museum Association of New York strengthens the capacity of New York State’s cultural community by supporting professional standards and organizational development. We provide advocacy, training, and networking opportunities so that museums and museum professionals may better serve their missions and communities.

Museum Association of New York is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization. 

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