Preventive Conservation & Evansville African American Museum

by | Jul 6, 2023 | Blog

The Evansville African American Museum is located in Evansville, Indiana, and is situated in the historical Baptisttown district. The museum is classified as small, with three full-time and three part-time staff members. The museum was conceptualized in 2007 and is housed in a former 1938 Works Progress Administration Black housing apartment building. Recently the museum was the recipient of the Conserv Preventive Conservation Award, a $1000 grant to support preventive conservation projects.

This is the story of Evansville African American Museum and their road to receiving the grant for preventive conservation from the team here at Conserv:

Our museum tells the stories of local black histories from 1820 to the present, and we aim to build an inclusive and expansive local black identity. Our mission is to continually develop a resource and cultural center to collect, preserve, and educate the public on the history and traditions of African American families, organizations, and communities. As we have worked towards collecting and educating, the preservation aspect of our mission has been challenging. 

Front entrance view of the The Evansville African American Museum in Evansville, Indiana. Image courtesy of the Evansville African American Museum

The Evansville African American Museum in Evansville, Indiana. Image courtesy of the Evansville African American Museum

Preservation can mean various things, such as documenting oral histories, recording artifacts in PastPerfect, or backing up files to external hard drives. However, the word is specific and imperative when using preservation in a professional conservation context.

Since the museum’s 2007 founding, the institution has only had one previous curator and no other curatorial or collections staff.

While the organization has been fostered and maintained by dedicated volunteers and descendant community members, no comprehensive inventory or preventative care conservation has been administered to the collection, which is where my role comes in.

Since February 14, 2022, I have called the Evansville African American Museum home. I am blessed to work for a museum where the staff and board have only supported my enthusiasm and desire to professionalize the permanent collection. With help from interns and volunteers, our on-site and off-site storage facility finally received the facelift needed to make artifacts accessible and ready for inventory. Since reorganizing the facilities last summer, we have catalogued over 1000 artifacts. While these are significant milestones, have you noticed there is no mention of preventative care?

Before and after images of the on-site storage facility and curator's office showing great improvement in organization and decluttering.

On-Site Storage Facility & Curator’s Office: Before and After. Image courtesy of the Evansville African American Museum

As we worked on artifact rehousing and inventorying, receiving the necessary funds to buy archival materials and investing in preventative care equipment was problematic. While all small museums suffer from the never-ending-budgetary disparity, the lack of a steady operations endowment coupled with the ramification of COVID-19 left the museum in a complex financial state.

Again, we are not unique in this situation, but it meant sacrificing things, particularly in the curatorial budget, to prioritize the organization’s immediate needs. Nonetheless, when an email graced my inbox from colleague and friend Dona Yu, Staff Conservator at Building Conservation Associates, Inc, my priorities again shifted! 

Dona connected me to the Conserv Preventive Conservation Award. After reading the award application’s description and details, I quickly dropped everything to apply.

The idea of possibly having clamshell photo album boxes, being able to afford nitrile gloves, and the museum owning a vacuum to properly and safely clean artifacts was more than I could bear!

Once the application was finished, the waiting game was on. Generally, I am anxious for a few days after I submit a grant. However, this grant stuck with me to the point that I was eager every week! Then, on April 5th, an email from Allison Lewis came- the Evansville African American Museum was a grant recipient! Once the news left my office, the museum had a small celebration. 

Tory Schendel-Vyvoda and ?? standing in front of the Evansville African American Museum.

EAAM awarded the Conserv Preventative Conservation Award! Image courtesy of the Evansville African American Museum.

Since receiving the grant, I have successfully rehoused over 300 photographs into the clamshell photo album boxes and have been able to use the vacuum to administer dust removal to 50 artifacts in the permanent collection.

Tory Schendel-Vyvoda, Curator, wearing blue nitrile gloves and browsing through the newly rehoused photographs. Image courtesy of the Evansville African American Museum

Tory Schendel-Vyvoda, Curator, browsing through the newly rehoused photographs. Image courtesy of the Evansville African American Museum.

Also, now that our pictures are safely in archival sleeves and photo album boxes, we can use our photographs to enhance educational experiences for museum visitors. We have been able to share the visual story of the Evansville Black community by safely bringing the pictures to the viewers! To pictorially engage with our community by bringing them to the physical artifacts in our collection creates a more moving and positive museum experience for the staff and visitors alike. In addition, these experiences validate the necessity for our museum.

Hebron Summer Camp students crowded around Evansville African American Museum photograph collection in its new clamshell enclosure.

This grant allowed us to better care for our photography collection while making it more accessible to museum visitors. Image courtesy of the Evansville African American Museum.

While it is empowering to have preventative care knowledge, it is disheartening when even the most fundamental practices in preventive care conservation are curbed due to budgetary complications. The museum and its artifacts are unique in that outside organizations have minimally documented the history of Evansville’s Black community.

It is up to the Evansville African American Museum to lead and sustain our mission of preserving the local Black narrative and to ensure our artifacts are available to the next generations of Baptisttown residents and museum visitors.

Because of Conserv, we can holistically preserve our collection more meaningfully. We understand the importance of having the ability to care for our collection, and we are continually grateful to Conserv for allowing us this opportunity.

If you have any questions about environmental monitoring, integrated pest management, or just want to talk about preventative conservation in museums, please reach out to us! Don’t forget to check out the other posts in our blog or join our community of collections care professionals where you can discuss hot topics, connect with your peers or even take a course to get familiar with the Conserv platform.

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