What is Collections Management?

art history career advice

Statistical Mediation & Moderation in Psychological Research (7)-1Two of the most popular career paths after getting a graduate degree in Art History are Curatorial or Conservation. However, most undergraduates (and graduates!) don’t realize that there is so much more to the museum field beyond these two ultra-competitive career paths. Today, I’ll focus on the Collections Management department.

Collections Management is an excellent blend of care of collections and hands-on work and would suit those that are good with logistics, operations, and project management. Within Collections Management, there are several paths to take: Preparator or Installer, Registrar, Collections Care or Exhibition management. Depending upon the museum, Exhibitions may be its own department.

Preparators/Installers are the worker bees of the CM department, actually handling the artworks and preparing them for installation, packing and unpacking them for transit, and moving the artwork to and from storage and the galleries. Contrary to popular belief, preparing an artwork for installation requires much more than just conservation work. Many artworks need to be display glazed, with UV plexi protection, for safety reasons. Preparator/Installers unframe the artwork and install plexi in the pieces, oftentimes having to make slight adjustments to the frame and cut the plexi themselves. In addition, they also constantly work with the frames, making a buildout so that the artwork will hang properly against the wall. Preparator/Installers also have to be very good at mental math. During every installation, they have to do many quick calculations to ensure that the artwork is level and looks right on the wall.

Registrars are the project managers and operations coordinators of every project whether it be exhibition, loan out, or permanent collection management. They are often the ones that work with other departments to ensure that a project meets target deadlines and budgets. This job is the perfect fit for someone who excels at project management and is detail oriented. Registrars are constantly managing multiple projects and also multiple staff involved in each project. Therefore, being able to act gracefully and efficiently under pressure is key.

Collections Care revolves mainly around storage maintenance. Once a new artwork is acquired and acquisitioned, what next? The artwork needs to live safely in storage. Oftentimes, that means it needs a protective housing. Collections Care is the department that takes care of this. They build safe housings and ensure that the collections are stored properly. They also manage fun tasks like pest management. Collections storage, like any building space, is susceptible to bugs and infestation. Collections Care manages things like humidity and temperature control in collections storage, usually along with Facilities, to ensure that museum standards are kept.

Finally, exhibitions management handles everything exhibition related including gallery design and gallery installers. Designers often have to be skilled in both aesthetics and mathematics, finding a delicate balance. It is very similar to architecture in this perspective.

Janet graduated from Wellesley College with a dual major in Art History and English. After Wellseley, she went on to complete an MA in art history from the University of Glasgow. She is now the Senior Assistant Registrar at the Harvard Art Museums within the division of Collections Management. She manages all campus lending projects and the University Loan Collection, Harvard Portrait and Clock Collection, and the Student Print Rental program. She also worked at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and managed two major traveling exhibitions: John Singer Sargent Watercolors and Sisters in Art.

Janet’s areas of expertise focus on 18th and 19th-century European and American art and architecture. She is a specialist in 19th-century British literature.  At Cambridge Coaching, she deeply enjoys teaching and tutoring art history.  She also has extensive experience tutoring creative writing, essay writing, and analytical writing.

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