The Reinforcement Crew: Colleagues Helping Colleagues

Category: Collections Stewardship
A small black stuffed animal cat sits on a table with various other collections items behind it.
This small stuffed cat toy is one of the artifacts from the Merci Train Collection housed at the Arizona Capitol Museum, one of the sites helped by the 2018 Reinforcement Crew.

Each year since 2007 museum collections professionals from around the nation have donated their time and expertise to help other institutions in need.  This wonderful program improves the stewardship of cultural heritage collections throughout the United States and takes place in connection with and just prior to the American Alliance of Museum’s Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo.

The Reinforcement Crew began as a way for its members to give back to the museum community. The volunteer group gathers the day before the AAM Annual Meeting to assist smaller museums with collections-based projects. Prior to the event, representatives select and work with museums to identify projects and secure archival supplies. On the day of the event, Reinforcement Crew members work side by side with museum volunteers and staff on these projects. Projects range anywhere from helping develop basic collections management forms to the re-housing, condition reporting, inventory and moving of the organization’s collections.

Since the initial event in Chicago, the Reinforcement Crew has helped 35 museums in Denver, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Houston, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Seattle, Atlanta, Washington DC, St. Louis and Phoenix. During that time over 200 volunteer collections professionals have given their time to the program.

Logistics of the Crew

The Reinforcement Crew project begins each year in the late summer when we send out a call to the Collections Stewardship Professional Network listserv looking for host sites. In return for the help of our volunteers, chosen institutions are asked to provide a manageable project as well as lunch for the volunteers. We also work with our sponsors’ Methods & Materials, Inc., Terry Dowd, Inc., and Transportation Consultants International, Inc. to ensure we have funding to purchase archival supplies for the sites as well as to hold a small reception for participants once the work is completed.

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We all realize that budgets are tight and that volunteering for the Reinforcement Crew means coming in a day early for the annual meeting, but we also know this project is probably one of the most rewarding ways to spend that day. Everyone works hard and has a great deal of fun. Each museum is so grateful for even the little bit of help the volunteers provide and the crew members are able to network with other colleagues. We realize that no matter how large or small our institutions, we all share some of the same problems.

For each event, we take up to twenty-five volunteers, but the total number really depends on what each of the host sites can handle and the project at hand. We try to fit each volunteer to the project that suits their skill sets but also take into account their preferences. Some of our volunteers are new to the crew each year and are able to participate because the event is in a certain city and some continue to volunteer for the event year after year regardless of location.

It is always helpful to meet with the organizations the day before the event to make sure everything is ready to go and if they have any questions regarding what will be happening the following day. The day of the event involves a lot of logistics but with the day planned well, everything goes smoothly. The Crew normally does not complete the project for the organization but gives them a start on something that they probably would not have been able to accomplish by themselves. That is part of what makes this project so special. It gives collections professionals of all skill levels an opportunity to network with other like-minded professionals from across the nation and share some of the skills they have learned and help a museum that is very much in need in the process. It is truly amazing what a small group of people can do in just one day that can make such a difference to another museum in need.

This year’s event

For the 2018 Reinforcement Crew event, three Phoenix-area museums were chosen: the Arizona Capitol Museum, the River of Time Museum and the Rosson House Museum at Heritage Square. Once the sites were selected, my co-chair Nicole Paterson worked with them to develop their project and supply needs. This year we worked with three wonderful representatives from each of the museums, Stephanie Mahan, the curator at the Arizona Capitol Museum, Cherie Koss, the executive director at the River of Time Museum and Gina Trujillo, the collections manager at the Rosson House Museum.

The projects for each of the three sites in Phoenix revolved around the inventory, rehousing and condition reporting of their collections. At the Arizona Capitol Museum, the crew worked on a project to photograph and rehouse items from their Merci Train collection. This collection consists of over 2,000 artifacts and paper ephemera that filled a boxcar which arrived in Phoenix on February 17, 1949 and was filled with gifts sent by the people of France to express their gratitude for the food and other supplies sent by the United States in a Friendship Train at the end of World War II. At the River of Time Museum in Fountain Hills, the Reinforcement Crew worked on a project to inventory and re-house the museum’s collections. Alongside their staff and volunteers, the Reinforcement Crew worked to show them the basics of collections management and help them begin to get a handle on their collections which had been piling up over the years. The Rosson House Museum at Heritage Square was the third site for the Crew where members helped by condition reporting items on display in the house. They also offered suggestions on possible treatments for items which could be done in the future.

A grey haired woman examines a basket on a folding table with foam inside it.
Betty Murphy (Heard Museum) examines baskets from the collection of the River of Time Museum during the 2018 Reinforcement Crew.
A woman looks toward a wall in a historic house with an anatomical drawing displayed.
Kristina Husher (Chumash Indian Museum) examines an anatomical diagram on display at the Rosson House Museum during the 2018 Reinforcement Crew.
A bald man stands over a folding table working with the back of a picture frame.
Terry Dowd of Terry Dowd Inc. and one of the event sponsors, works on assembling a custom box during the 2018 Reinforcement Crew event at the River of Time Museum
A grey bearded man in a baseball cap holds an object in a lighbox for a female photographer.
Roger Machin of Methods and Materials Inc. and one of the event sponsors helps photograph collection items at the Arizona Capitol Museum.
Two women hard at work examining several pieces of archival materials at a table with a grey bankers box on it.
Lani O’Donnell (Medford Historical Society and Museum) and Stephanie Mahan (Arizona Capitol Museum) work on matching items to collections documentation at the Arizona Capitol Museum.

 

Nicole and I are just beginning preparations for the next Reinforcement Crew event which will take place before the AAM Annual Meeting in New Orleans. If you would like more information or would like to join in on the fun by participating either as a volunteer or as an institution, please contact me at lkrecek1@gmail.com.


Libby Krecek, CS-AAM Reinforcement Crew Co-Chair, Lauritzen Gardens, Omaha, Nebraska

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