As the Reinforcement Crew enters its second decade of serving museums, we thought it was only appropriate to take a look back at how this endeavor began as well as highlight some of the awesome projects our volunteers have helped with.
The idea for what would become the Reinforcement Crew grew out of a desire for members of the Registrars Committee (now Collections Stewardship Network) to be able to give back to the field in some concrete way. Heather Kajic one of the founding co-chairs approached then chair Jeanne Benas about the possibility. “Several regional registrar groups were already engaged in a type of service project where collections-care professionals assisted smaller museums with collections-based projects for one day during their annual meetings. I knew how rewarding these events could be not only for the museums who opened their collections to this type of help but to the professionals who volunteered their time because I participated in the White Gloves Gang events organized by the Mid-Atlantic Registrars Committee. I suggested to Jeanne that the RC-AAM could also develop such a service program to coincide with the AAM annual meeting. She agreed and let me run with it.”
Heather then approached Mark Ryan, who was the chair of the Registrars Committee of the Mountain Plains Museum Association about co-chairing the event with her because she knew that RC-MPMA had a long-established service program, Helping Hands, and she thought that he would instantly understand the concept. Once Mark was on board, it did not take long to find their first sponsor, Terry Dowd, Inc., a company that really believed in the mission of the program. When asked about his involvement with the program, Terry Dowd replied, “I was approached at the formation of the Reinforcement Crew back 10 or 11 years ago about sponsorship of this project for the RC committee. It was a good concept and sponsorship by shipping vendors like TCI seemed to be a great fit. I gladly began participating as both sponsor from Terry Dowd Inc. and as a participant. The most rewarding part for me remains the camaraderie that develops at almost every site that receives support from the Reinforcement Crew. The volunteers, as well as the staff at the institutions, come together to get things done for the benefit of those museums. I personally spend increasing amounts of time on administrative tasks and participating in projects gets me back in touch with the thing I truly enjoy about collections management.”
The inaugural Reinforcement Crew event took place in Denver in 2008. For that first year, twenty-eight volunteers aided two museums, the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center and the Denver Firefighters Museum. At each location, the volunteers separated into several teams to tackle each project. Both sites were engaged and the volunteers were eager. By the end of the Annual Meeting, two other companies – Transport Consultants International Inc. and Methods and Materials Inc. – pledged their support. In fact, the sponsors were so committed to the program’s mission that their staff also consistently still volunteer their expertise on the day of the events.
When asked about his thoughts concerning those early years, Roger Machin of Methods and Materials Inc. replied, “Someone from AAM, I think it was Suzanne (Hale, RC-AAM Development Chair), asked me some years back. It seemed like a worthwhile thing to do, and great to support alongside Terry and Bob. And, then, I really enjoyed participating too, even with the scary Muppets in Atlanta. Also learned a lot about the Registration process, interesting but I think I’ll stick to the big stuff.”
Bob Simon of Transport Consultants International Inc. felt the same way, “I believe that after the first one I recognized that this is something that I believe in and that should be supported. These projects are tangible ways that we can give back to the museum community. The actual participation in these projects is a different set of rewards. The local museums are always thrilled to get something done that clearly would not have gotten done. But more than that it creates camaraderie with all of the participants that I hope continues to push people forward for years to come.”
With each new Annual Meeting came another event a little larger than the one before until the program became a committee of the RC-AAM. In 2009, the crew aided five museums in the host city of Philadelphia, Elfreth’s Alley Association, Fireman’s Hall, Grumblethorpe’s House, Independence National Historical Park and the Mutter Museum.
For the 2010 Reinforcement Crew, volunteers headed to Los Angeles to help five museums with various collections-related projects. At Heritage Square volunteers worked on a project to rehouse part of their textile collection. At Hollyhock House they worked on a project to condition report a collection of Frank Lloyd Wright stained-glass windows. At the Los Angeles Police Heritage Museum, a team worked to rehouse their collection of LAPD magazines. At the Wende Museum and Archive of the Cold War volunteers worked to inventory and label a collection of busts. In addition, the final team inventoried a collection of books at the Vincent Price Art Museum.
In Houston in 2011, volunteers worked on a wide range of projects at a further five participating institutions. At the Buffalo Soldiers History Museum, volunteers worked to identify, tag, and photograph fifty farm implements and household artifacts that were on display. The project at the Museum of Printing History was to re-house a very large collection of sheet music and a collection of small books. At the Houston Fire Museum, volunteers worked to organize and house a large room of artifacts and archival materials. For the project at the Holocaust Museum Houston, volunteers worked on the housing and labeling (some sewing please!) of textiles: uniforms, Nazi flags, armbands, tallit bags, hats, etc. And, at the Houston Maritime Museum, the project consisted of the maintenance and cleaning of objects on exhibition.
The sites for the Reinforcement Crew in Minneapolis in 2012 served not only as a way for our volunteers to help with projects but also as a potential for collections based training of the organizations’ volunteers and staff. At the Goldstein Museum at the University of Minnesota, volunteers assisted with the production of padded hangers, packing donuts, etc. for proper storage of a textile collection. At the Hassan Area Historical Society, volunteers worked on the re-housing of books and image-based collections as well as the relocation of collections objects. They also used this as an opportunity to train the Society’s staff and volunteers on the basics of collections management.
At the American Swedish Institute, volunteers worked on the re-housing of some of their print-related archival collections. The archivist at the time wrote this to the volunteers afterward, “Thank you so much for all your help and hard work this past Saturday as our AAM Reinforcement Crew volunteers! I can’t even express how thrilled I am to have had such an amazing group of people in to help protect the Posters. The work you did was so professional and truly top notch, not to mention efficient! All my volunteers have been coming in this week and gasping with delight when they see all those beautifully wrapped books! You have made a huge difference in the life and work of the library and archives. We could not have done it without you!”
During the 2013 AAM Annual Meeting held in Baltimore, changes came to the Reinforcement Crew. According to Heather, “By the seventh event, Mark and I decided that the program was well established and that it was time to turn the reins over to the next generation of collections-care professionals to organize the program and make it their own.” As a long-time volunteer with the crew, I told them that I wanted to help. Nicole Paterson, who worked at one the of the host museums in Baltimore, was asked to be my co-chair. This has been a very successful pairing as I had worked on most of the events as a volunteer and she had worked as a host, so we both knew what it took to continue to make the event a success from both sides.
The next Reinforcement Crew event in Seattle was set up as a transition year. Mark and Heather were both there to help with all of the logistics, but a good portion of the responsibility fell to Nicole and me to make the event a success and to keep it going. We had a few bumps along the way, including a site dropping out at the last minute, but the event in Seattle went relatively smoothly. We assisted four organizations with their projects. They were the Historical Society of Federal Way, the Issaquah History Museum, the Northwest Railway Museum and the Rainier Valley Historical Society.
The 2015 Reinforcement Crew event in Atlanta was the first solo outing for Nicole and I and we assisted two museums, the Center for Puppetry Arts and the Atlanta History Center. At the Center for Puppetry Arts, the crew worked on re-housing their collection of Jim Henson puppets, which was a highlight for our volunteers except for Roger Machin, who later I found out was actually afraid of puppets. The evening wrapped up with some of the members of the crew attending a screening of The Dark Crystal, which was a thrill because members had just worked with many of the props from the film earlier in the day.
Since that initial year, the crew has assisted the Heurich House Museum and the Montgomery County Historical Society in Washington DC, the Wildwood Historical Society and the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis and the River of Time Museum, the Arizona Capitol Museum and the Rosson House at Heritage Square in Phoenix.
All told in the last eleven years, 250 Reinforcement Crew volunteers have helped thirty-seven museums in eleven different cities across the nation. While our volunteers work hard, we also have a lot of fun. It is our opportunity to give back to the museum community and pass on some of what we have worked so hard to learn. It allows us to step away from our issues for a day and play in someone else’s collections, which is a rewarding experience for both the host organization and the members of the crew.
LongtimeReinforcement Crew volunteer Sebastian Encina puts it this way, “Reinforcement Crew has been a much needed and successful program on various levels. As a volunteer myself, it is a great opportunity to see behind the scenes of museums in a new city. It also offers us a chance to meet our colleagues in a more intimate setting. Since RC is held before the conference, we befriend people we can see throughout the week and have connections with. Reinforcement Crew is also an opportunity for us to give back to the museum community. We bring together people with a specific set of skills that are invaluable to museums, and we get to put them to good use. The host museums receive our services, and it feels wonderful that we can assist them with their projects.”
Thank you to all of the people who have volunteered their time and expertise over all of these years who have made this project such a success. We would also like to thank our sponsors who have not only been generous with their funds but with their time. We could not have done it without you and are looking forward to your help in making our next decade as much of a success as the first.
Libby Krecek has been involved with the Reinforcement Crew since the very first crew either as a volunteer or as a co-chair. We are always looking for new people to join in on the fun. If you are interested in either hosting the Crew or volunteering, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.