THE CARE AND HANDLING OF OBJECTS: NYU’S ART COLLECTION PROGRAM

by leslierankowfinearts

Last week we learned about the many practical facets involved in the maintenance, installation and display of art objects. An academic program that directly addressed these concerns has been developed by the highly qualified Geri Thomas, founder and owner of Thomas and Associates, an arts and cultural search firm, for New York University’s Continuing and Professional Education Studies. It is a landmark program responding to the international growth of museums, galleries, private and public collections. Geri is here to describe the particulars of the program and happy to answer any questions about the course in particular or working in the arts field in general.

WHAT WAS YOUR IMPETUS IN CREATING PROGRAMS FOR NYU? I HAVE ATTENDED THE CONTINUING AND PROFESSIONAL STUDIES SCHOOL IN THE AREAS OF FINANCE AND ECONOMICS AND THOSE COURSES WERE OUTSTANDING. WHAT WAS LACKING IN THE AREA OF THE ARTS THAT PROMPTED THIS ASSOCIATION?

In 2003, I was asked by the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London to present a paper on leadership, management and staff development training in U.S. museums, and in 2004, I presented a paper on the status of the museum workplace in the United States at ICOM’S Annual Meeting in Seoul, Korea.

These assignments underlined the lack of training and formalized study in the area of Collections Management. In my own work as a consultant on collections and exhibition projects, I began to notice a lack of or a drop  in professional standards by those who are responsible for the care and handling of objects. I approached NYU, where I’ve taught for over a decade, with the proposal to develop a program for the field. I realized that there was no coursework available like this and the lack of standardization in the handling of objects, their display and the exacting work of a registrar in maintaining up-to-date cataloguing of works of art.

The only programs that existed were Master Degree programs. These represent a much more significant commitment of time and money and still did not focus on the practical skills that are essential for the professional in the field who is caring for handling and installing works of art and artifacts. Most people simply learned on the job and through experience without the advantages of an organized program that would address each of the issues that they will face in the workplace.

I WOULD LOVE TO KNOW ABOUT THE INCEPTION AND HISTORY OF THIS PROGRAM. WHEN WAS IT LAUNCHED? HOW MANY ATTEND? WHAT ARE THE SPECIFIC AREAS OF STUDY?

The Certificate in Art Collection Management and Display was launched in September 2011. Museums, foundations and private collectors need trained specialists who can manage, install and care for art.

The response to the program that we launched in 2011 has been overwhelming, with a maximum number of 25 students enrolled in each course. From what I can determine, at least one-third of the students already are working in the field, in museums, galleries or managing private collections. The program is rigorous enough for people with training in this field and attracts students who want to formalize their skills with a certification or transition into this field.

It also attracts people of several generations: those just starting their careers who have an interest in art, those who want to hone their existing skills and experience, and those who are interested in making a career shift from, for example, the financial service industry, to something for which they have more empathy. For this type of student, the program provides an introduction to training and working in the arts and culture field. Whether you are planning a career as a curator, collections manager, registrar, art handler or installer, the Certificate provides this expertise.

THERE MUST BE A WONDERFUL SYNERGY BETWEEN THE ARTS COLLECTION MANAGEMENT PROGRAM AND YOUR AGENCY THAT FOCUSES ON RECRUITMENT IN THE FIELD OF ARTS AND CULTURE.

I AM SURE WE ARE ALL INTERESTED IN KNOWING THE PRACTICAL ASPECTS OF ENROLLMENT AND CERTIFICATION AND THE JOB POTENTIAL THAT A GRADUATE CAN EXPERIENCE. I LOOK FORWARD TO LEARNING THE SPECIFICS.