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NIU Anthropology Museum receives federal grant for storage, collections move

September 19, 2014
Senior anthropology major Kylie Robey constructs a complicated mount for Peruvian spindle whorls.

Senior anthropology major Kylie Robey constructs
a complicated mount for Peruvian spindle whorls.

Northern Illinois University’s Anthropology Museum is having a golden year, picking up its second federal grant in nine months.

The museum, currently marking its 50th anniversary, recently received a $150,000 federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to purchase additional compact storage as part of its Collections Rehousing Project. Earlier this year, the museum was awarded a Preservation Assistance Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“The Institute of Museum and Library Services enlists hundreds of library and museum professionals throughout the United States to review grant applications and make recommendations on projects most worthy of funding,” IMLS Director Susan H. Hildreth said. “Receiving a grant from IMLS is significant achievement.”

IMLS museum grants support a wide variety of projects that create learning experiences, strengthen communities, care for collections and provide broad public access. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums.

The Rehousing Project ensures the preservation of more than 3,200 objects in the NIU museum’s cultural collections, increases the accessibility of the museum’s collection for faculty and students and provides valuable hands-on learning experiences to students interested in working in museums, said Jennifer Kirker-Priest, museum director.

Jennifer Kirker Priest

Jennifer Kirker-Priest

“We teach museum studies, and we want to train tomorrow’s museum leaders in best practices,” she added. “We are also very committed to student engagement.”

Compact storage – a series of vertical, movable carriages that move over a specially treated floor – helps solve issues related to growing collections, over-sized items and limited space. It also allows for better organization of collections and safer storage of objects to ensure long-term preservation. The museum’s first phase of compact-storage installation was in 2012.

The new storage system will have an impact on academics, Kirker-Priest said. Collections will be more accessible to students and faculty so they can utilize objects in the classroom.

“We’re making a great museum,” Kirker-Priest said. “I’m grateful to the previous museum administrators for putting us in a position to grow and expand our programming.”

During the spring semester, student workers will take objects out of the metal cabinets, catalog and assess their condition and then transport them to the main exhibition gallery, which will become a living exhibition. During the fall 2015 semester, students will construct new custom mounts for the items and move them into the new compact-storage spaces.

Senior history major Karissa Kessen creates reports on the condition of archaeological material.

Senior history major Karissa Kessen creates reports
on the condition of archaeological material.

The collection move will be closely supervised by Kirker-Priest and museum curator Laura McDowell Hopper, who both have previous experience with moving large collections. Ruth Norton of Chicago’s famed Field Museum will serve as the project’s conservation consultant.

Kirker-Priest and McDowell firmly believe in the educational value of project.

While some of the students will participate in the collections move as part of an academic course, the opportunity to assist with this project is open to students from all majors. NIU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences contributed matching funds to support the student engagement portion of the project.

“These hands on opportunities can be transformative for students,” Kirker-Priest added. “The experience can send a student down a career path they hadn’t even considered.”

Moving collections is also an educational opportunity for the general public.

“It’s a great chance to see what goes on behind the scenes at a museum,” she said, adding that aspects of the project will be on view in the museum exhibition space for visitors to see.

“As a campus museum, we are all about teaching and sharing our work with students and the public,” Kirker-Priest said. Photos and video from the project will be posted on the museum website and on Facebook.

Once the project is completed Kirker-Priest and her staff will conduct workshops for regional museums to train others in collection moves and best practices related to artifact storage.