What do you do if there’s no designated building for your institution to house your art collection?

This case shows how institutions can preserve the legacy of their collections in a space that is not a brick-and-mortar location. We will discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by a lack of a central location.

What are you thinking of when you hear the word “museum”?

Are there images in your mind of long corridors or large gallery rooms? Imagine a brick- or stone façade with banners welcoming you inside. Imagine visitors walking through a threshold, entering a space to explore curated collections, and exiting through the gift shop.

This would seem to be normal. We all had visions of physical, enclosed space, regardless of the divergent details.

However, there are many collections of cultural artifacts and artworks that don’t have their buildings for storage.

These objects might find a new home in the future, depending on their condition. These projects are often in flux, as they may still be under construction. Foundations and collectors create museums around collections. The Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center is one of these clients and will be discussed in detail in this article.

Artifacts may be spread across different locations by other GLAM institutions without a central building.

Establishing an organization’s legacy project: establishing a mission before building a building

“We would love a brick-and-mortar space. But if people can’t visit, we are thrilled to share our collection.” – Renee Aguiler, Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center.

Our client, the Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center, Arizona, began with a collection of objects and a mission but was without a place to put them. This is not a problem for them. They are instead using online platforms such as Artwork Archive to share their growing collection and mission.

The Cultural Coalition created the Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center. This non-profit promotes arts engagement and opportunities through performances, festivals, and workshops in Arizona and the Southwest. Zarco is an artist who creates masks, sculptures, and large-sized performance puppets inspired by Mexican indigenous culture. Many of his creations are used at festivals and performances in Arizona.

What happens if you have objects but not enough space?

We sat down to talk with Emily Hage (Director of the Frances M. Maguire Art Museum, Saint Joseph’s University) about their museum setup.

The Barnes Foundation is leasing the space to Saint Joseph’s University. The collection was previously scattered around campus without a gallery or Museum. Hear the excitement of the University to make their collection more accessible to the public.

Although technically, these spaces were open to the public, they were not publicized as Museums. It wasn’t easy to attract visitors to them. Each was instead a place to meet scholars, faculty, students, and other interested parties. Emily states, “Many people don’t realize we have a collections.”

Using an online art database to centralize scattered artworks without having to have a permanent home

The Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center team is preparing their collection to go into their first space. This requires a lot of coordination and organization. Renee Aguiler was assigned as a collections specialist to find an online system for managing the art collection. This would allow them to organize and give it home before construction.

Renee explains how she uses an online CMS to facilitate this process. Zarco is present when Renee meets her in his studio. She takes photos, collects artwork details and captures the story behind each piece. Renee says that Zarco is an artist who is passionate about telling stories, which is great for exhibitions. They are making sure to capture videos of Zarco and other artists. These videos will be uploaded to Artwork Archive for storage and sharing with the public.

If your institution is in transition

As mentioned, the Frances M. Maguire Art Museum will move into the Barnes Foundation’s former building. It will be open to the public in Spring 2023. It will be long-term leased to St. Joseph’s University.

Preparing the collection for its move takes a lot of effort. Emily says they will need to “get the collections in-line”. They are currently creating a spreadsheet with all works, including their locations. Then, they will move that data into a database. The artworks can be moved and installed when the space has been fully renovated.

Emily is eager to prioritize programming for the community. The Museum has a strong Latin American art collection, and Emily is excited to share it with the public. The Museum will also have a teaching gallery, where students and professors can curate shows.