Masks created by artist Zarco. Image courtesy of Cultural Coalition

What happens when there is no designated building to store your institution’s art collection?

This is a case study in how institutions are preserving the legacy of their collections without a brick and mortar space. Join us for a discussion of the opportunities and challenges that are presented when without a centralized location. 

What do you think of when you hear “museum?”

Do images of long corridors and expansive gallery rooms come to mind? Did you envision a brick or stone facade with promotional banners welcoming you in? Do you see visitors stepping through a threshold, into a space, exploring curated collections then exiting through a gift shop? 

That would all seem expected. No matter the diversifying details, odds are, we all just envisioned an enclosed, physical space. 

But there are collections of artworks and cultural artifacts that do not have a designated building for storing the physical objects. 

In some cases these objects may have a home in the near future. Collectors and foundations establish museums around a collection and that means these projects may be in flux–a work in progress. One of our clients, the Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center, falls into this category and will be covered at length in this article.

Other GLAM institutions may have artifacts spread across locations without a centralized building. 

And then there are those that may be undergoing renovations or expansions to create a future space to store and exhibit the collection. The Frances M. Maguire Art Museum at Saint Joseph’s University is transferring their artworks from an unassuming building to a new impressive space that borders campus and town.

Image of the Frances M. Maguire Art Museum's new building within the historic 12-acre Barnes Arboretum at Saint Joseph’s University


Establishing a mission before erecting a building: one organization’s creation of a legacy project 

"We want a brick and mortar space, but if people cannot visit we are excited to share our collection with Artwork Archive.” – Renee Aguiler of the Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center

One of our clients, the Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center in Arizona, started with a collection and a mission, but were without a location. They are not troubled by that fact. Instead, they are utilizing online platforms like Artwork Archive to promote and share their mission and growing collection. 

The Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center was born out of the efforts of Cultural Coalition, a nonprofit that creates arts opportunities and engagement through festivals, performances and workshops throughout Arizona and the Southwest. The artistic director, Zarco, is an artist and makes masks, sculptures and oversized performance puppets that are inspired by the indigeneous cultures of Mexico. Many of his creations are used in performances and festivals around Arizona. 

Zarco and Cultural Coalition’s Executive Director Carmen, Zarco’s wife and an artist in her own right, realized that they had all of these pieces with a rich history of Southwestern arts and culture. What to do with them? They spoke with Cultural Coalition’s Board of Directors and decided to set aside money to start a legacy project that would share the cultural history of Arizona–something that would stand after their lives.

Thus the Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center was born. 

Masks created by Zarco. Images courtesy of the Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center


What if you have objects but no dedicated space?

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

Saint Joseph’s University is leasing the space from the Barnes Foundation. Previously the collection was scattered throughout campus without an official museum or gallery building. Hear how the University is excited to make their collection more publicly accessible.

“We didn’t have a museum. Some works in our collection were on display in one space run by our curator, Carmen Croce, and some were at the Welcome Center, but there was no single dedicated space.” – Emily Hage, Director of the Frances M. Maguire Art Museum 

Even though these spaces technically were open to the public, since neither one was  publicized as a Museum, it was challenging to solicit visitors. Instead each was a space to meet with interested scholars, faculty, and students. “A lot of people don't know we have a collection,” states Emily.

Additionally, there is art around campus–in classrooms, offices, storage, etc.. 

Saint Joseph’s University is in the process of opening a dedicated building for their collection, The Frances M. Maguire Art Museum, which will open in spring 2023. The display of some of the collection across campus will continue, as it is a great way to expose students, faculty and visitors to the collection, but the team is excited to have a centralized, dedicated space to carry out their mission and develop programming. 

L: Cast of the sculpture of the high priest, Laocoon, and his two sons strangled by serpents, (original in the Vatican Museums), Plaster, 19th c. 88 x 67 x 37 in., Long-term loan, Metropolitan Museum of Art.  R: The Devil in the Guise of Old Scratch, Franz van Immerseel, Belgium, 1950, Painted,stained and leaded glass, 31 ¾ x 15 ¼ in., Gift of Carmen R. Croce. Images courtesy of The Frances M. Maguire Art Museum


Utilizing an online art database to centralized scattered artworks without a permanent space

The Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center  team is preparing their collection for their inaugural space. It entails a lot of coordination and organization. Renee Aguiler, a collections specialist, was tasked with finding an online art collection management system so that they could organize the collection and give it a cohesive home before the building was built. 

Renee shares that they are using Artwork Archive to manage the artworks while they are scattered throughout the Southwest. “The collection is a lot bigger than we were expecting.”

And the collection continues to grow as Zarco discovers more pieces in his studio. 

Renee shares how she utilizes an online CMS with this evolving process. She meets Zarco in his studio, takes pictures, gathers the artwork details, and makes sure to capture the story behind the piece. “As an artist he is all about the story, which is great for exhibitions,” Renee states. They’re making sure to record videos of Zarco and other artists. Those videos will be uploaded into Artwork Archive to be stored and shared with the public. 

Plus, they are actively acquiring artworks. Cultural Coalition partners with a lot of artists. They are using these relationships to grow their collection. Zarco’s pieces are just the start. The museum is purchasing pieces from local artists to establish a more holistic collection. 

Screenshot from the Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center's Public Profile displaying a past exhibition, Caras Y Mascaras. Artwork Archive's online art database makes it easy for institutions to share their collections with the public. 


When your institution is in transition

As mentioned earlier, The Frances M. Maguire Art Museum will be housed in the former building of the Barnes Foundation and open to the public in the Spring of 2023. It will be a long-term lease to St. Joseph’s University. 

A lot of work goes into preparing the collection for its move. Emily shares that they’ll have to “get the collection in-line.” They are currently putting together a spreadsheet of all the works in the collection including location, and then will migrate that into a database. Then, when the space is fully renovated and ready, the artworks will be brought over and installed.

Emily is excited to prioritize programming for the community. They have a strong Latin American art collection and she's excited to engage the public with it. The Museum will have a teaching gallery where professors and students can curate shows.

The museum staff wants to produce something useful for both the academic community and the city of which they are a part.

Museums should be living, breathing spaces that speak to people now. So we’ll have contemporary art and rotating exhibitions that will respond to our own collection in interesting ways. We’ll include bilingual labels for Latin American art. We’ll discuss how these works relate to issues like colonialism especially since we are a Jesuit school. We’ll discuss issues of 'Now'.” – Emily Hage

Accessibility is actually crucial for Emily and her team. They are changing the building to make it accessible (alterations like ramps for wheelchairs) but to also make the art more accessible. They want to not only bring people into the building, but to bring them back time and again. 


Using a CMS to garner support and rally patrons

The Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center  team is at the beginning of their fundraising and location siting efforts. They are using Artwork Archive to garner support and rally patrons. 

Renee shares more about their process:

“We’re still in the infancy of the project. We’re strategizing on the next steps of conducting a capital campaign to get the funds that are needed. We want to find a space that is appropriate in a city that we think will reach the intended community. So we’re still in search of a space.”

The Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center is using Artwork Archive to show the possibilities within the museum. They’ve uploaded past exhibitions into the database with videos, photographs and promotional materials. 

They are creating ready-packaged exhibitions to showcase the rich history and culture preserved by the museum. Renee is using Artwork Archive’s Private Rooms to share potential exhibitions. She picks out pieces from the collection, pairs the works with narratives and descriptive text, and then sends the Private Room link to potential exhibitors and funders so that they can review the materials and book or support the exhibition. 

The Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center recently had a soft launch to their board and investors to get a buzz going. They used Artwork Archive to show the progress and potential. 

For instance, they produced custom reports within their account to showcase how many objects they had in their collection and all of their great updates to the Board. 

Screenshot of The Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center's Mercado collection showcased on their Artwork Archive Public Profile to drive sales and funds to the Museum.


The Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center is excited to utilize the Interactive Map on the Public Profile to showcase the breadth and scale of Zarco’s work – how his pieces have been commissioned and awarded prizes throughout Arizona. The Interactive Map also shows that the other participating artists are found throughout the state – in train stations, along canals, in parks, etc. 

Renee is also excited about the participatory nature of the map with their local communities.

“Looking for something fun to do on a Saturday?” asks Renee. “Check out our cool Interactive Map and discover art in your backyard.” 

The Mask Alive Museum & Cultural Center plans to use the Artwork Archive Public Profile to not only boost discoverability and engagement with an additional online presence and increased SEO traffic, but to also contribute to fundraising goals.

The Mask Museum plans to set up donation amounts and market them on the Public Profile. Those that want to contribute to the museum and its mission can donate via the Public Profile. 

Renee also plans to set up two different accession numbers within the Artwork Archive account – one for the permanent collection and another for the Mercado collection. The Mercado collection will consist of objects that people can purchase – like different types of masks that are studies of different art forms. 

Whether you’re in the middle of a move or renovation, or you’re looking for a brand new space to house your collection’s legacy, Artwork Archive will help you seamlessly track and coordinate all of the details and moving pieces of your collection so that it stays safe, secure and relevant. 

Sign up for a free 30-day trial today.