Building Museums™ Reflections: Tamara Schlossenberg

Building a More Inclusive Museum (Session 10: Deconstructing White Space)
Inclusivity of race, class and culture is a hot button topic in the museum world. As the museum world diversifies with more BIPOC entering the workforce, both as artists and art preservationists, making museums more inclusive is a prevailing question. To Dread Scott, a panelist on a plenary session called “Deconstructing White Space,” the answer is that “location matters.”

The final plenary session of the Building Museums Symposium held a panel discussion that explored the ways that museums are experienced by people off different racial backgrounds, and how to make museums more inclusive for BIPOC. Moderator Ivan O’Garro asked the panelists what their earliest museum experiences were; the three panelists of various backgrounds had very different experiences. Tracey Riese, a Trustee at the Brooklyn Museum, grew up in in Manhattan as a white kid who traveled a lot. She spent a significant amount of time in museums after school and felt very at home at them. Stephanie Archangel, a curator at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and is originally from the Dutch Antilles, in contrast stated that museums were not part of her upbringing. Dread Scott, a visual artist, felt neutral to museums as a kid growing up as a middle-class Black student and attended them more into adulthood when he went studied at the Art Institute. As an adult however, he felt that he was viewed with suspicion and it was subtly and unsubtly enforced that he didn’t belong in the museum space.

The session explored how different elements of the museum affect how inclusive it feels including the architecture, content, and the location of the museum. As Scott stated, even the type of museum plays a part in how inclusive it feels because different types of museums illicit different expectations of visitor behavior, for instance, a fine art museum expects a certain behavior, person and use where a contemporary art museum assumes a different use and interaction with the art. The architecture of a museum can also turn people away due to the cultural meanings of different elements and how they represent different things to different groups. The Rijksmuseum felt imposing and intimidating to Archangel when she first visited because the entrance resembled Dutch colonial forts, which for her had connotations of aggression and colonialism.

Location was another of the panelists’ biggest concern. From where the museum is located, to how the museum can be reached can determine the demographics of their visitors. If you want a museum that is meant for the people of a city, it should be placed in their neighborhoods where they can get to it. Both Reise and Scott emphasized at different points of the conversation that security can be a boundary to some people, and it is important to strike a balance between ensuring the museum is safe without dehumanizing visitors. Diversity in museum content was another big concern, even more important than the architecture and location, because as Archangel stated, “a museum is its collection.” Programming can attract audiences that may not normally attend a particular museum. It is also key to make room for voices like Black artists that are not usually heard and to make it clear that making room for others isn’t about displacing but making a space where everyone feels safe and seen.

The conversation ended on a brief discussion of Scott’s piece Man was Lynched by Police Yesterday, a banner with white text on black background, inspired by a civil rights awareness campaign against lynching in from 1920-1938, where the NAACP’s New York headquarters flew a flag the day following a lynching. The piece has been shown both inside and outside of museums though Scott prefers it to be seen outside. He notes that the current patronage model makes museums shy away from controversy. Significantly, he found that no museums were willing to show the work in the summer of 2020, amidst the Black Live Matter marches.

Creating a Flexible and Energy Efficient Collections Facility for the Modern Age (Session 5B: The Modern Collections Facility)

Determining the best way to ensure the long-term preservation and stability of artifacts, while also allowing for future acquisitions and changing facility needs is an ongoing challenge for museums. As Doug Satterson, senior associate of Ayers Saint Gross, states collections facilities “are not just a warehouse.” These are spaces that require ongoing monitoring, and flexibility. The Tuesday session titled “The Modern Collections Facility,” went through the design process of the new collection facility for the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum at the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles and some of the specific challenges of designing a collections facility for that collection.

The Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum is spread out over three facilities: the main museum at the National Mall, the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles, and the Garber Facility that is the old collections facility. The old space was over crowded and outdated with environmental control being a key issue as the building was not designed with HVAC in mind and there was no A/C. When designing the new collections space, it had to be able to accommodate collections of various sizes and special storage needs, it had to be flexible to accommodate changes in the collections and in the needs from the collection space, and had to be able to maintain a stable environment for the collections.

The Smithsonian’s Douglas Erickson, the chief of collections processing unit at the National Air and Space Museum, noted one of the first things to do when designing a collections facility is to understand the collection and the equipment used to move it. The new collections space for the Air and Space Museum had to accommodate artifacts ranging in size from small artifacts that can be carried by hand to large artifacts that include aircrafts and space shuttles. Satterson and Erickson noted several accommodations to the facility. First was a large 25,000 lb, 17’ x 21’ freight elevator to be able to accommodate large artifacts. They also made sure that the columns were spaced far enough apart to accommodate large aircrafts and equipment. The facility was designed so that the first floor could accommodate the heaviest largest artifacts with smaller artifacts as you moved up the floors, with upper floors having rooms for special collections, like cold storage. Erickson noted for others designing collections facilities to be mindful that when designing the height of the room to remember to include space for HVAC and sprinkler systems as well as the required space between the top of the artifacts and sprinklers. Since part of the aim of the new collection’s facility is to eventually house all of the Air and Space museum’s collections, it was built with flexibility and growth in mind. Satterson noted that the end of each addition has knockout panels on each floor so that each future addition can easily be added on. The panel recommend for others creating collections facilities to place floor rails for compact storage from the outset, like they did for the Udvar-Hazy center. There was also room built into the facility for future chillers and pumps if additional climate control was needed in the building in the future.

Todd Garing, Vice President of Muller Associates, noted that when building a collection facility it is important to consider the LEED performance of the building from the engineering to the technology that is going to be installed. For the Udvar-Hazy facility they used pre-cast concrete to reduce the loads to ship the parts and save energy costs. The facility took into account the local temperatures and dew point when creating environmental controls. He noted that gradual, seasonal adjustments to the internal temperature and relative humidity may be better for the long-term health of some collections and more energy efficient than maintaining exactly 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 50% relative humidity year-round, with the exception of cold storage which should be a small percent of the total collection. Polarized air filters were used as they are more energy efficient, have low air pressure that adds to energy savings, and a long-life translating to reduced maintenance costs. The lighting is all dimmable LED that is occupancy sensor with emergency and standby power. Some final thoughts that Garing noted for others designing collections facilities was to know if they needed floor and roof drains, and if mitigation for hazardous materials was necessary. The design for the new Air and Space museum collections facility required an awareness of problems facing old collections facilities, awareness of the collection and how its unique storage needs, and clear communication between the museum, building engineers, and technology specialists.

Session 3A: Building a Better Budget

Making sure capital projects are properly funded is one of the key challenges an institution will face when undergoing these types of projects. As noted by Laura Linton, budget problems can brand a project and an institution, so it is particularly important to get the budget right. The session “Building a Better Budget,” stressed the need for budget realism when planning capital budgets. The session was designed with small to medium sized institutions without robust planning experience in mind. The idea of budget realism is to think about how a capital project will affect the overall budget as they are likely to be the largest project and institution will undertake. Linton notes that different constituents and audiences will have different need. The project team should be the earliest people to get on board for the need of budget realism, the benefits of the project and managing it in the long-term, and why the project matters and how it connects to the institution’s mission. Linton describes five main groups of stakeholders for a capital project as the leadership team, the board of the institution, the funders, the museum staff, and the public. The Leadership will need to know the basics of the project and the long-term effects and be engaged in the process of budgeting the project and implementing it. They will include the owner of the museum but also may be the heads of other departments that might be concerned about how the project might divert funds from there work. The next is the board who are there to guide the institution to fulfill its mission and a long-term fiduciary responsibility to the museum.

Getting to know the board can be helpful as some members might have previous capital budget experience and they are likely to have excitement for the project that can help sustain the budget and fundraising. The leadership team and board should be asked for constant feedback for the project. The third group, the funders can be indirectly or directly engaged in the project and they have an interest in knowing that their money is being used well. For the museum staff a capital budget can be exciting and overwhelming, and they may feel anxiety over the shift in priority. They need to know the big picture, should hear major announcements first, and celebrating milestones can help to alleviate anxieties and keep the staff engaged with the project. The final group is the public which is the largest group, and they need to know the least details about the specifics of the budget and the project. The public includes friends of the organization, the press, and critics. There are a variety of ways to inform the public including the press, media and social media.

Establishing the big picture for a realistic capital project Anita Ayerbe describes involves the items that go into typical capital budget such as design, construction, getting the proper permits, exhibit, and art handling, but also IT costs, ongoing and dual operations, fundraising, marketing, start-up, as well as staffing and training. The Architect and their team is usually about 12% of the budget. The largest part of a capital project is the construction costs, consisting of 60- 70% of the total budget. It includes materials, logistics, labor, and fees. Construction also often includes exhibit fabricators, furniture, fixtures and equipment. It typically doesn’t include permits, performance bonds, the owner’s construction manager or the commissioning agent. About 20% of the budget usually is for exhibit fabrication and art handling and storage costs. Building technology and infrastructure and ongoing/dual operations need to be budgeted for.

Technology and infrastructure with take time and have its own costs. Ongoing and dual operations include renting temporary space to work from, moving operations and the cost of any exhibitions or events held during the length of the project. Finally, Ayerbe suggest setting aside 5% of the budget for unexpected costs. The final thing discussed in the session was how to figure out the staffing costs for the capital project and developing the budget format. The program manager for the Smithsonian, Michael Zisk advises that the project manager look at what parts of the project fall into the project managers current job, which tasks are related to the new project, what has to be done by the project manager, and what can be delegated. The project manager should seek out help as early as possible and build knowledge along with the development of the project. When undergoing a capital project, it is helpful for a museum or institution to have a visual that quickly summarizes the key information for each constituent group. For the Smithsonian, Zisk notes that they have a standard two-page layout with the first page summarizing the project, the budget on the second page and then they have a back page that can be added to include updates and problems for relevant parties such as the board.

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