Monday, May 14, 2007

Art Whisperer

When I'm asked what I do at the Addison I reply, "I'm the Associate Registrar." The next question I'm then asked is, "Is that a Curator?" I reply, "No." Finally, they ask, "Well, what is a Registrar?"

A museum Registrar, according to Dorothy H. Dudley and Irma Bezold Wilkinson's Museum Registration Methods, a book of great importance to us Registrars, is the person responsible for "the registration and the physical handling of objects as they move in and out of" the museum. The Registrar also "maintains a file of accessions, donors, lenders, and other sources of acquisition" (see our object files, above). The Addison has a head Registrar, an Associate Registrar, and an Assistant Registrar.

As Associate Registrar, I'm charged with accessioning objects into the collection (assigning those funky numbers you see on wall labels), collection inventory, database management, rights and reproductions requests, managing the archives, coordinating our object loans to other institutions, and coordinating the loans of objects to ours for exhibitions. I also handle packing and shipping arrangements (see left, a typical art delivery at the Addison) and travel with objects when needed.

The question of "what is a Registrar?" was brought up recently on the Registrars' Listserv (yes, indeed, there is a listserv for most everything). Here were some of the better answers:

-Art Whisperer
-Collections and Exhibitions Magician
-The person who makes sure nothing gets broken or lost.
-Registrars have the job of knowing where everything is…. and yelling.
-The boss of the objects.
-Collection Wrangler (see painting storage, right)
-What you get when you cross a historian with a bookkeeper.

And, my favorite: Registrars make curators' dreams come true.

Curators are the idea people: they create the exhibitions, do the research, decide what to bring into the collection, and arrange where the art is hung on the walls. Registrars help to make those ideas into a physical reality. So now you can understand why when someone asks if I'm a Curator I reply, "No, I'm a Registrar and I'm proud of it!"

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