The Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College. Photograph courtesy of Coreene Kreiser
Are you a first-time accreditation applicant? Is your museum getting reaccredited?
You may be hesitant about taking the leap into accreditation. It can be an intimidating process. But, it’s crucial to take that step to validate your museum’s operations and impact. Plus, funding gets a lot easier when you’re accredited!
To help simplify and streamline the process, we collected advice from museum professionals and the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries (AAMG).
Take the time to prepare.
“Don’t short yourself on the preparation time. Depending on your staff and capacity, it can be a long runway towards accreditation,” recommends Julie Hart, Senior Director of Standards & Excellence Programs at the American Alliance of Museums (AAM).
Is it worth the time? Yes. Julie continues, “You need to meet these standards anyways. It’s not extra. It’s all part of the processes you should be doing to be a professional institution.”
Build buy-in with senior leadership.
Accreditation is a long process. For some it takes four to five years from start to finish. Craig Hadley, Executive Director & Chief Curator of the Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College, encourages you to promote the value of accreditation to senior leadership so that you have support throughout the process.
“Start with the VP of Academic Affairs and other senior leaders. Build buy-in. Build trust,” recommends Craig.
Reputation is important for academic institutions. Accreditation demonstrates that you’re meeting best practices and improves the reputation of your programs. It shows your parent institution that you are on a similar trajectory. It makes the case for why accreditation is important for your museum specifically.
There are a few ways to get your parent institution on board with accreditation.
- Accreditation makes your institution more competitive for grants. Craig shares that deans, the Provost and finance like to hear that.
- Accreditation also makes you more alluring to donors. They'll want to give to professional institutions.
- Accreditation helps better your teaching philosophies and practices. Students can gain credits and experience when working with accredited institutions.
- It is a confidence boost for the community. You’ll be a resource for museum professionals and other museums in your area.
Align with your parent institution’s strategic plan.
Understand where your parent institution is in their strategic plan. Are they about to embark on a new one? Think about your parent institution’s timeline and what makes sense regarding your museum. The timing may be perfect for your museum to get accredited.
Know when the Board of Trustees meet.
Typically the Board meets twice a year. Katie Lee-Koven, Executive Director & Chief Curator of the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art at Utah State University, recommends talking to your President’s Office so that you can get on the agenda.
Why? Most likely you’ll have a Code of Ethics or other documents that will need to be approved by the Board of Trustees. You don’t want to miss a meeting and then wait another six months to start or move ahead in your accreditation process.
Involve all museum staff.
Odds are that you have staff that have never been through an accreditation process. There is a learning curve for everyone and it’s important to loop in the entire staff.
Katie had her staff review every document used in accreditation. “It’s an important opportunity for staff to understand everything about our museum,” Katie shares. She created a shared folder with the Core Documents. This way everyone could work on the documents together and ensure that they were working on the right version of the documents.
Talk to people in Facilities.
Katie also recommends connecting with the people that oversee security systems at your institution. This way they understand why there are certain restrictions and access controls in place for your museum’s system. Not everyone will have access.
The same goes for the HVAC staff. You’ll want to connect with them so that they understand how to solve issues like humidity challenges. Artworks necessitate particular climates.
Installation view, The World Through My Eyes: Celebrating the Legacy of Ben Shahn, William Paterson University Galleries, 2019
Get your Core Documents in order beforehand.
In order to be eligible for accreditation, you must have your Core Documents reviewed and verified. Core Documents are crucial to the process because they demonstrate that your institution has fundamental professional museum policies and plans in place.
You benefit from this process in many ways. For one, you’ll receive feedback on your policies and plans. And, you’ll have a framework that will help you make good and consistent decisions. Risk management documents enable your institution to respond to crises like natural disasters and even our recent COVID pandemic.
What are the Core Documents?
Julie at AAM cautions that, “The documents that we now call the Core Documents were the ones that we found, when reviewing a museum’s accreditation submission, had the most weaknesses. That’s why we created the process to have these reviewed and verified before you’re eligible to apply for accreditation. They are complex and time-intensive to create, but incredibly important.”
Here at Artwork Archive, we can help with the Collections Management Policy. Our platform enables you to record and retrieve the important data that meets AAM’s Collections Stewardship Core Standards.
Let our team of collection management professionals help—contact us here.
Vet documents with experts.
“When I joined my institution, our collection management policy was only two pages—500 words. Now we have a collections manager, but when we started the accreditation process we didn’t so I wrote the collection management policy. I have a background in curating. I am not a registrar. It was good to have someone who is an expert on documents to vet it.” Kristen Evangelista, Director of the William Paterson University Galleries
When creating legal documents, work with your legal office. Get their feedback on documents before sharing them with the Board. You want to vet the documents so that there are no surprises.
Apply to the Museum Assessment Program.
In a recent Association of Academic Museums and Galleries (AAMG) conference panel about accreditation for small museums, all participants recommended applying to the Museum Assessment Program (MAP) offered by AAM. Many museums take advantage of the one-year program to prepare for core documents verification, accreditation or reaccreditation.
Through self-assessment and consultative peer review and a site visit, MAP analyzes your museum’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. You also develop a roadmap to improve operations and meet standards.
Kristen shares her process:
“During MAP we identified areas that needed improvement. We also identified areas that needed funding. We found that a lot of it was focused on collection stewardship. We then applied for funding. And our application was more competitive because we had a peer reviewer that recommended the stewardship next steps.”
MAP offers five different assessments: organizational, collections stewardship, education & interpretation, community & audience engagement, and board leadership.
In addition to the regular MAP experience, AAM is offering a unique opportunity. If your museum completed a MAP assessment during the years 2012-2018, then you can apply for an all-expenses paid follow up visit with your original Peer Reviewer. Applications will be accepted July 15, 2020 – July 31, 2020. You can apply here.
Get the most out of your site visit.
Once you complete the Self-Study, you’ll have a scheduled site visit from peer reviewers. The Visiting Committee consists of two people and they’ll stay for anywhere from a day and a half to three days. The Visiting Committee writes a report for the Accreditation Commission.
Katie recommends giving the Visiting Committee a rich experience so that they can better understand your institution. Think about what’s happening at your museum during their visit. Give them the option to observe. Don’t schedule when you’re closed—on a Monday or for deinstallation.
Katie also shares the importance of being efficient with the limited time— “I didn’t show them around. I had other staff walk them around so they hear from other people.”
Do not embark on last minute projects.
Right before the site visit is not the time to task yourself with last minute items on your to-do list like replacing carpet, painting galleries. But “Yes, take some time to tidy. Have a space that the reviewers can easily walk through,” encourages Julie.
Keep track of your artworks around campus, on loan and in storage with Artwork Archive.
Think of your often forgotten places.
Consider your collections storage and basement. “They’ll look everywhere,” shares Julie.
You’ll already know what is in storage and in what condition if you use Artwork Archive’s location tracking and condition report tools.
Take it one step at a time.
“The accreditation process is daunting, but you can do steps along the way. You can ease your way into it,” shares Kristen.
One important step is to make sure that you have the tools to execute your accreditation process. Do you have the foundation to support your collections?