News Column

Museum in works of monumental growth

August 12, 2014

By Joseph Pratt, The Portsmouth Daily Times, Ohio

Aug. 12--According to the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), there are roughly 17,500 museums in the country. While there are thousands and thousands, less than a thousand make up the 6 percent that are accredited by the AAM as credible and accountable by their professional standards. The Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center (SOMACC) has begun its first steps at seeking this accreditation for the first time in its 35 year lifespan.

Last week, Directors Mark Chepp and Charlotte Gordon welcomed professionals with the Conservation Assessment Program (CAP) to review their museum. Due to the museum's building having historic value in itself, a professional of maintaining old buildings also reviewed the space, along with a collections reviewer who specializes in paper.

A finalized CAP review will arrive in November and will tell the museum what they need to complete to have the museum up to their professional standards. The directors said that preliminary opinions of the reviewers seemed positive and one even sent an email to Gordon, telling her the museum was a refreshing experience.

The museum stated they were very lucky to receive a grant from the National Heritage Foundation, a federal organization that oversees preservation of museum collections, in order to pay the CAP professionals.

"This grant is only given to museums that have collections of things, for the purpose of assessing those collections for conservation and preservation, but it is also the first step of the national accreditation of the museum," Chepp stated.

SOMACC currently has three collections under their roof, including Art of the Ancients, the Clarence Carter Collection and the Carl Ackerman Collection of Historic Photographs.

As mentioned, a final report won't arrive until November, but the building assessor did tell the museum directors that they have a structurally sound building

"The building assessor went all around the outside, the inside, in every crawl space, nook and cranny of the building that he could find," Gordon said. "He was just very pleased that we have a lot of unused space. While some of it is very weird and choppy, with its little hallways and cubbyhole rooms, the assessor did give us a lot of really great ideas."

Positive news that the museum considers major is that the roof is in really good condition and the boiler still has a lot of life in it, which are two fears organizations often worry about having to replace.

Chepp and Gordon suspect the major culprit against their space is the lack of control they have with humidity and temperature. Controls involving temperature control aren't working properly and the museum has no humidity control options.

"These are big issues we are going to have to address," Gordon said. "When you look at relative humidity, all of the paintings are on stretcher bars. Most of the time these are very old stretcher bars, too. What we end up seeing is them drying out and expand and contract with humidity. As the stretchers expand and contract, so do the canvases. This repetitive expand, contract, expand, contract leads to paint loss and eventual harm to the artwork."

Gordon stressed that even two degree constant changes within the museum can alter the life of the artwork.

Chepp explained the importance of preservation, stating the most important goal of a museum is maintaining their housed collection, because that is essentially the main reason for a museum's existence.

The CAP review provides professional recommendation for the museum officials to use to apply for further grant money to update their building.

With an updated building, the museum can push forward with seeking national accreditation.

Chepp and Gordon have both been involved with the accreditation process in their past roles with museum and have an intimate understanding of how the process works.

"It is a daunting task that most museum don't even challenge, because it takes up a lot of staff time," Chepp said.

Being accredited essentially gives the museum a stamp approval, stating that all their procedures are done correctly and that the space is perfect for storing and maintaining artwork. Being accredited opens a lot of doors for the museum. The most important benefit of being accredited would be the ability to bring in more profound artwork and larger scaled shows.

"Once we are accredited, we can borrow objects from larger institutions that would not otherwise loan to us, because they now know we have all the proper climate and handling controls and that we are able to take good care of their artworks," Gordon said. "It would give us a lot of nation attention and would be a very good thing for Portsmouth to have an accredited museum."

Joseph Pratt can be reached at the Portsmouth Daily Times 740-353-3101, EXT 1932, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.


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Source: Portsmouth Daily Times, The (OH)

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