Your Collection Move in 5 Steps

March 01, 2017

We’ve discussed what to look for when you’re searching for art storage and what differentiates fine art transportation from a traditional moving company, but how do those things come together? Whether this is the first time you’ve used an off-site storage facility or you’re looking to change providers, UOVO’s EVP of Museum Collections and Exhibitions, Chris Wise, breaks down the process of moving your collection safely – for the short or long term:

Step 1: Decide what needs to be stored.

While this first step may seem incredibly simple, it is often the biggest obstacle to a seamless collections move. To start, you have to put some brackets or boundaries on the inventory to be moved. After you’ve decided which objects are going to be stored, you should examine the collection’s requirements as to environmental security and access requirements. Historical manuscripts, for example, are going to have very different needs from a fossil collection, and those should be taken into account in determining what kind of space you need.

Step 2: Decide how you want to use your storage space.

Once you’ve figured out what you’re going to put into storage, and what the needs of those objects are, you need to figure out if you’ll be doing anything in your space besides storing the collection. Are you going to be doing any conservation work, taking photos, writing up condition reports, or processing loans? All of these potential needs will inform what the storage space will look like, and the additional amenities the facility may need to have.

You should also consider how long you will need to store the various objects in your collection. There are short-term transitional needs, exhibition-specific needs, and long-term needs. Institutions have the additional step of asking what their mission is and determining needs around that. If you’re a collecting institution, you should consider that the collection will grow by some amount each year. If you’re not a collecting institution or you’re in the process of deaccessioning works, then you should build that into your plan.

Once you know what you’re going to store, what kinds of conditions the objects need, and what you’re going to do in the space, you can start to be specific about what the room is going to look like. This doesn’t have to be an elaborate plan, but it’s a good idea to ask questions and figure out things like, “Is my space wide enough to pull out a painting without needing to re-arrange other objects?’“If I’m going to have to do a condition report, where am I going to unpack the work?”

Step 3: Determine your budget and potential costs.

Costs for collections storage and transportation should be looked at as discreet and separate from each other. The primary cost is your space rental: whether the collection is going to be in a private room or in “shared” or co-mingled storage is a fixed cost in your annual budget. Space rental is separate from the transactional costs of moving and fit out which are one-time costs which should also be included in the project budget. Signing a longer-term agreement can be a good way to secure a lower rate, especially if you’re using your space for a permanent collection.

Other costs to consider during the analysis phase of a collections move are the ongoing operational and administrative costs. Various storage providers have different policies: you should inquire about access, receive and release fees, as well as utilities, real estate taxes, and other service fees. When you visit and pull things from your off-site storage, how are those costs going to add up? Figure out how often you might need to access your space or transport objects and what the facility’s restrictions are, and whether you’ll be charged for staff time.. It’s very important to have good communication with any off-site storage facility you may use.

In densely populated urban areas, like New York City, there’s a balance of proximity and cost. We often advise people to split the difference. If you represent an institution in Manhattan, storing your collection across the street would be most convenient, but very expensive. If you store your collection out of the way in another state, it may become very expensive to transport objects between the institution and storage. Finding a good middle ground is key to maintaining your budget and your ease of access.

Step 4: Create an action plan for the move.

This is often the most challenging aspect of a collections move, no matter how large or small. Broadly speaking, a move can be broken down into a couple of parts, including an inventory of the objects that are going to be moved (see Step 1) with a potential assessment for conservation or photography for documentation. Once a clear inventory has been established and assessment needs have been outlined or met, a packing strategy must be developed for each object. Create a detailed calendar for your move down to the date that specific objects will be transported. By starting at the high level and breaking it down into increasingly granular parts, it will be easier to distribute responsibility and keep track of all the details.

Step 5: Unpack your collection.

Now that you’re in your new storage space, the final step is unpacking and installing the collection and updating your inventory. As complicated as a move project is, it can also be an opportunity to get a better hold on a collection. Documentation and digital records of your collection, including conservation notes and photography, can be an extremely helpful resource – but a time consuming one to put together.  A big move is the perfect opportunity to revisit these details and have your inventory newly updated. Ideally when you’re done with the move, you’re in a better place than where you started.

The bottom line is that it’s important to feel in control of your collection. If your inventory isn’t updated or your space isn’t organized, important objects in your collection can fall victim to being “out of sight, out of mind.”

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