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Museum loan program to be based at MIT

MIT has been chosen as the administrative host site for the Museum Loan Network, a new program designed to encourage and enable museums throughout the country to tap the potential of one of their most valuable but underused resources--works of art that are currently in storage.

The network, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, is based on an awareness that a large percentage of the permanent collections held by museums in the country are in storage and inaccessible on a regular basis to a broad audience. At the same time, other museums hold modest or incomplete collections that could be significantly enhanced by borrowing these stored objects for extended periods.

"Augmenting permanent collections in this manner is an option for many museums as they weigh the financial issues," said Knight Foundation Chairman Lee Hills, citing the costs of traveling exhibitions, the price of new purchases and the reality of limited storage. "We look forward to engaging museums, especially those of different sizes and missions, in a dialogue about ways to cooperate," he continued.

MIT was chosen as the host site for the project in part because of its long-standing commitment to the creative arts and its successful arts programs. In addition, the Institute offers expertise in computing technology that will be of particular value in helping the network develop a database of objects and collections available for loan-a strategic component of the program. Also influential was MIT's history of collaboration with or management of independent programs; a recent example of such a collaboration is the Edgerton Interactive Multimedia Project, which led to a state-of-the-art collection management system for museums.

"I am very pleased and honored that MIT has been chosen to participate in this innovative national project," said President Charles M. Vest. "The arts have always enjoyed enthusiastic support at MIT and are a vital aspect of life at the Institute. We welcome this opportunity to use a wide range of talents, including the information sciences, to forge a new method of exchange and collaboration among museums across the country which could widen the public's access to rarely-seen works of art," he continued. "The Knight and Pew foundations are valued long-time supporters of MIT, and we look forward to this new collaboration with them."

The network will be administered through the MIT Office of the Arts. Lori Gross, a veteran museum professional, has been hired as director of the program and will have an office in Rm N52-439 beginning in November.

The Knight Foundation started planning the program two years ago when it commissioned Strategic Grantmaker Services of Cambridge to conduct a feasibility study to determine the level of interest in the museum world. The results of the study indicated strong interest by potential borrowing and lending institutions. The next step was taken in October 1994, when the foundation invited 25 museum representatives to a meeting to define the project further and to begin discussing how it might be implemented. Because of the Pew Trust's successful experience with developing a regional intermuseum loan program, it was invited to participate.

To ensure that the Museum Loan Network remains responsive to the field, an advisory committee drawn from members of the museum community and headed by Stephen Weil, deputy director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, has been established.

Over the next year, the network expects to complete the program's design, create the database, identify potential participant organizations, award approximately 15-20 planning and implementation grants to museums invited to submit proposals, and evaluate results. Grants will range in size from $5,000 to $30,000 for expenses directly related to the exchange of objects, such as research and identification of artworks, insurance, shipping and conservation. The first grants are expected to be announced in early 1996.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 18, 1995.

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