Corporate Collections and Museums

by Allyson Lazar (disclosure: I moderated this session)

You're a registrar or a collection manager in a museum. Maybe you are understaffed because the administration just told you that you had to let go of a couple people--or maybe you've always been understaffed. You are hoping beyond hope that you'll have enough money in the budget for that acid-free cardboard--you really need it! The rainy season is coming again and you are wondering where the new leaks will be this year.

Sound familiar? Maybe all of these worries result in you daydreaming about the corporate world and how your counterparts who work with corporate collections fare in these situations.

"Dreams Come True" website

NOMA Website for "Dreams Come True"

Well, those who attended last weeks' Corporate Collections and Museums session at WMA 2009 will wonder no longer! Panelists Lella Smith of the Walt Disney Animation Research Library and Allan Peterson and Juan Colato of the Wells Fargo Museums shared with the audience the realities of working in the museum profession but within the umbrella of a for-profit corporation.

Each panelist described the tricky balancing act they have to perform at work: ensuring that their practices live up to museum standards of collections care while always keeping in mind the company's bottom line and figuring out how to demonstrate the necessity of their departments to the corporate heads. Although there are some obvious differences between corporate collections and museum collections, there are some shared values and beliefs:

  • An emphasis on mission;
  • A belief in the importance of authenticity;
  • A recognition that institutional history is important for branding and long-term success and
  • A commitment to measuring the effect/impact on audiences.
Guided by History Blog

Wells Fargo History blog post about "Women Making Financial History" on "Guided by History"

The panelists also described some of the ways in which corporate collections can collaborate with nonprofit museums to great success. Wells Fargo History has partnered with the virtual International Museum of Women to create a new exhibit, Women Making Financial History. Meanwhile, the makers of the latest Disney animated movie, The Princess and the Frog, wanted to give something back to the city of New Orleans after doing a lot of site research there for the movie, and thus was born a new exhibit that is about to open at the New Orleans Museum of Art, Dreams Come True.

But partnerships between the nonprofit and for-profit world don't always go so smoothly. The panelists had some suggestions to help facilitate future cross-sector endeavors:

  • Look for mutual benefit when considering a partnership;
  • Don't assume that the corporate collection has a lot of money;
  • Remember that everything the corporation does is driven by its bottom line and
  • Be aware that just because they work for a corporation does not mean that the employees of a corporate collection don't have museum backgrounds or don't know or follow museum protocols when it comes to collections care, registration and loans.



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