By Danielle Tucker
The act of deaccessioning, which is the formal change in status of an item to officially remove it from the collection, is a taboo topic for many museums. Deaccessioning became a hot topic in the 1970s when many notable museums, such as The Met, experienced public backlash for their deaccessioning processes. Many thought the actions museums were taking when deaccessioning objects were not supported by set policies and procedures to ensure everything was being carried out in an ethical manner.
The key takeaway museums learned from this debacle was that the public wants to feel connected to the happenings at the institutions in their communities. The public wants to feel respected and appreciated. The way for museums to build that lasting relationship is by being as transparent as possible with their actions. Allow the public to see what it is you are doing, but be sure to explain WHY it is necessary.
So why do museums need to deaccession?
The act of deaccessioning is necessary for the continual advancement of a museum’s collection. One of the biggest inhibitors for museums is s-p-a-c-e. Unless a museum has the land and funding to continually expand its building to house new objects, the museum must continually analyze its collection to see what items are no longer serving the mission of the institution. It’s inevitable, over time a museum will end up collecting items that do not fit its mission. On the flip side, museums will also attain better examples of pieces it currently owns. Items from both of these circumstances are perfect candidates for deaccessioning. By deaccessioning objects, a museum is able to keep itself relevant within the ever changing atmosphere of art and history.
Here is a quick look at how the deaccessioning process works.
• Unfold the quilt
• Locate the object number tag
• Find the coordinating paperwork for that object number
• Begin filling out the deaccessioning form
• Analyze the condition of the quilt
- look for tears, fabric decay insect damage, dye degradation, etc
• Gently remove the object number tag and if a sleeve has been added, remove that as well
• Photograph the quilt
• Refold and box up