Ten Questions to Ask When Looking for Art Storage

October 14, 2016

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Are you looking for a place to move your artwork while you remodel your apartment? Inherited artwork that you’re not sure what to do with? Running an art gallery and need a place to keep work you are consigned? At UOVO, we understand that knowing what to do with your art in these situations can be confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are the top ten questions you should ask when looking for an art storage facility:

 

1. Does this company specialize in art storage?

Storing art isn’t like storing seasonal items or everyday household objects. Art requires a level of care beyond what a typical self-storage facility provides. The facility should have specific environmental conditions, a strong security system, natural disaster planning, and staff trained to care for art. Putting your valuable collection in a warehouse won’t ensure that its condition and value will be maintained.

 

2. Has the facility been vetted and approved by insurance companies? 

One of the best ways to find an art storage provider is to ask your insurance broker, especially if the firm is familiar with policies for fine art. (For more on fine art insurance, check out our FAQs here.) Brokers will either have experience with reputable facilities or will be able to direct you toward a list of approved providers compiled by the insurance company underwriting your policy. You can also ask a prospective provider for their facility report to run by your broker.

 

3. Is your storage unit climate-controlled?

Art storage facilities are often either temperature-controlled (humidity isn’t monitored) or climate-controlled (both temperature and humidity are regulated). While the exact temperature and humidity requirements needed depend on the medium (for example, photographs require much colder temperatures than paintings), it is crucial that they are consistent. Textiles are especially delicate so fashion storage must be climate-controlled as well. Swings in temperature and climate can cause wood, paper, and other materials made from natural substances to swell, crack, or smear. Keeping works at a designated temperature and humidity ensures that they will retain their appearance for as long as possible.

 

4. Is the facility purpose-designed for storing art and other valuables and does the company own the building?

Purpose-designed art storage facilities have taken key factors such as access control, climate conditions, elevator capacity, racking, and loading docks into consideration. When looking for a place to store your collection, look for a building that has been specifically retrofitted or purpose-built for art storage. Art storage facilities should be single-use: if there is another company or manufacturer using the same building, that is a sign of danger for the environmental conditions and security.

It is also worth asking a prospective provider if they own their building. If they are on a short-term lease, there is no guarantee that you will not be asked to leave sooner than you planned. Find out who manages the building and how extensive their facility management experience is.

 

5. Do they have a digital inventory management and control system?

Art storage facilities are often massive buildings with tens or even hundreds of thousands of square feet of storage. Ask prospective providers how they track their inventory so you know your art won’t get lost among thousands of other pieces. Although a digital inventory management system seems like a no-brainer, there are many providers who still rely on paper records. If your collection is being tracked on a clipboard, it’s time to look elsewhere.

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6. Is the staff trained to handle art?

While it’s important that the building itself will protect your art, even the best climate conditions and strongest security system won’t protect your art from human error. Make sure that the facility has a staff of professional art handlers who know how to handle a variety of media and will treat your collection carefully. Find out if there is a formal training program for the team.

 

7. How many loading docks are there and are they covered or enclosed?

Art storage facilities should have a minimum of one loading dock per 40,000 square feet of storage, with three loading docks being the absolute minimum. Fewer docks might mean longer wait times if you’re having works delivered to the facility and greater hurry on the part of the staff, who will want to get the works into the facility quickly and not necessarily as safely as possible. If you are expecting large shipments or need to store very large works, look for a facility that can accommodate a 53-foot tractor trailer.

Enclosed docks are ideal for maintaining climate conditions and not “shocking” the art when it is brought from the truck into the facility, but covered loading docks are also sufficient as they ensure that your art will never be exposed to inclement weather.

 

8. Can you bring in or take out inventory easily?

If you want frequent access to your collection for any reason, be sure to ask what the rules are. Will you have to pay every time you go to the facility? Can you rent a private unit or do you have to see your work in a viewing room? Be sure to ask if you are allowed into any co-mingled storage: if you are, that’s a red flag for the facility’s security measures.

 

9. Is the facility prepared for emergencies?

Emergencies can vary from natural disasters to break-ins. The facility where your art is stored should not only have a strong security system but a plan for protecting your art if the system is breached.

With natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy occurring more frequently, your art storage facility should be prepared in the event of flood, earthquake, or fire. Find out if a prospective provider is located in an area prone to natural disasters (Check out the FEMA flood zones here). If they are, ask if they have an evacuation plan. Even if a provider is not in a danger zone, art should never be stored in the basement, and not directly on the ground. Ask prospective providers about where and how they store art within the warehouse.

 

10. Does the company provide art services other than storage?

Depending on the needs of your collection, you might need art transportation, installation, or access to viewing rooms. Finding a trustworthy art storage company that also provides these services will minimize the headache of finding a third party service provider and will ensure that your collection is in good hands: in a storage unit, on a truck, or on the wall.