Museums, Galleries and Collections

Looking at Art, Past and Present

What is a Museum?

A museum is distinguished by a collection of often unique objects that forms the core of its activities for exhibitions, education, research, etc. This differentiates it from an archive or library, where the contents may be more paper-based, replaceable and less exhibition oriented, or a private collectionof art formed by an individual, family or institution that may grant no public access. A museum normally has a collecting policy for new acquisitions, so only objects in certain categories and of a certain quality are accepted into the collection. The process by which an object is formally included in the collection is called accessioning and each object is given a unique accession number.

Museum collections, and archives in general, are normally catalogued in acollection catalogue, traditionally in a card index, but nowadays in a computerized database. Transferring collection catalogues onto computer-based media is a major undertaking for most museums. All new acquisitions are normally catalogued on a computer in modern museums, but there is typically a backlog of old catalogue entries to be computerized as time and funding allows.

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What makes an artist worth collecting or purchasing for a permanent collection?

Class Discussion on defining a museum.

Small Groups create a list of criteria for buying artwork.

Compile lists and compare to reading below.

Accessioning is the formal, legal process of accepting an object into a museum collection. Because accessioning an object carries an obligation to care for that object in perpetuity, it is a serious decision. While in the past many museums accepted objects with little deliberation, today most museums have accepted the need for formal accessioning procedures and practices. These are typically set out as part of a museum's Collections Management Policy or CMP.

While each museum has its own procedures for accessioning, in most cases it begins with either an offer from a donor to give an object to a museum, or a recommendation from a curator to acquire an object through purchase or trade.

Several issues must be considered in the decision to accept an object. Common issues include:

  • Is the object relevant to the museum's mission and its scope of collecting, as defined by its governing body?
  • Was the object lawfully acquired and if foreign in origin, imported in compliance with international law?
  • Does the owner of an object have legal title to the object and therefore the right to transfer it?
  • Are there any other parties with an interest in the object (e.g. heirs of a donor, descendant groups for cultural objects, etc.)?
  • Is the object encumbered by any legal obligations or constraints (e.g., natural history objects that require special permits)?
  • Would the object pose any threats or dangers to other objects or staff?
  • Does the museum have the resources to properly care for the object (e.g., appropriate storage space, adequate funding)
  • Is the object encumbered by any donor restrictions?

Answering these questions often required investigating an object's provenance, the history of an object from the time it was made.

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  • Go to the link for the virtual museum and with your partner select one artist that you believe should be added to the "Museum Education Page for Kids"

  • After selecting the artist, collect research data and sources
  • Next, design a kid friendly page to share at the museum which includes artist, image, and DIDACTIC (explanation and background info for audience to understand the art on display) details.
  • Create the page digitally for presentation, and if approved, print in color.



Museum Manners at the Milwaukee Art Museum

Top 100 Most Collectible Artists from ARTNEWS.

What Can Students Gain from Interning at a Museum?

MAM Teens Reflect on their Milwaukee Art Museum Experience