Detroit Museum of Art exhibition catalog, 1886.
Granting Agency: National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
Grant Program: Humanities Collections and Reference Resources
Institution: Detroit Institute of Arts
Congressional District: 13th Michigan Congressional District
Grant Period: June 20, 2016-July 31, 2017
Award Amount: $40,000
Institutional Match Amount: $40,000
– 1 PTE 28 hr/wk position for 12 months
– 3 graduate students earning 3 credits each for 5 months of experience
Assess and establish intellectual control over a collection of 11,000 linear feet of the museum’s administrative records, dating back to its founding, including 30 years of unprocessed artists’ correspondence, acquisition records, director’s files and curators’ exhibition papers.
What was the need for the grant?
Documents within the DIA’s Research Library and Archives detail pivotal moments in the City of Detroit’s history. Most recently, they described the DIA’s role in the resolution of the City of Detroit’s 2013 bankruptcy. It was the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history both by debt, estimated at $18 billion, and by population, over 700,000 residents. At the time, the DIA was owned by the City of Detroit. It was also the city’s most valuable asset. Following the bankruptcy filing, creditors asked for the sale of DIA art. News agencies predicted the museum would close.
During bankruptcy proceedings, the DIA’s archival records helped save the museum. During the trial, over 180,000 DIA records were digitized for court proceedings. The documents showed that most of the museum’s most important works came from non-City of Detroit support. They were used extensively during the approval of a financial agreement that would come to be known as the “Grand Bargain.”
Unfortunately, like most of the DIA’s archival records, very few of the bankruptcy documents had previously been appraised, accessioned or processed. All such activities stopped thirty years ago, following severe museum-wide budget cuts and the dissolution of the DIA’s archival team. Therefore thirty years of records, including artist correspondence, directors and curators’ papers, and acquisition documents, have not received archival treatment. Many of the museum’s earlier documents, dating back to the late 19th century, have not been processed either.
Following Detroit’s bankruptcy and its resolution, the museum has better financial stability than at any other time in its modern history. With financial stability and a bankruptcy behind it, the DIA has resumed its commitment to its archival activities.
What has been the primary impact of this project?
The holdings survey was the key to understanding the unknowns of the materials currently held in RL&A. The museum is fully committed to making its archives more available and better organized for researchers. The Project Director and DIA Archivist are now able to better strategize future use of the DIA archives upon discovering its full contents. An immediate outcome of the holdings survey is improved access to collection, in particular, those that have been “hidden.” The collections-based reports can subsequently be translated into finding aids and catalog records for better access to the local, national, and international community.
The Project Team synthesized the results of the holdings survey with the input of the Advisory Team. The combined intelligence has been used to strengthen physical and intellectual control over the collection. The holdings survey provided the evidence needed to move forward with making sound decisions for improvements in description and access, prioritizing preservation needs, informing workflows, identifying issues we were not aware of, and plan for future projects (such as a future digitizing project).
Impact 3: To date, 164 collections (approximately 8,000 cases and 4,700 cubic feet) have been identified within the Library Stacks (the library’s book storage area) Archives Stacks, the DIA’s offsite Warehouse, and various other departments within the museum including AV offices and the Photography Department. Materials in each of these locations were inventoried and compiled into a single database for ready reference with rankings to reflect housing quality, physical quality, physical access, intellectual access, and intellectual value. These rankings are to inform and prioritize for future digitization efforts.
Submission by: Danae Dracht, Project Archivist, Detroit Institute of Arts