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Animas Museum awarded hefty grant

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

With a dirt floor and a wall that leaks water, the Animas Museum is looking to move storage items to a better place than this basement. Susan H. Jones, left, a volunteer curator at the museum, and Jan Postler, curator of collections, go through items.

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

The Animas Museum has won a $130,000 grant in a national competition to fund a two-year project to preserve collections and make them accessible for research.

“It’s a big deal for us,” said project director Jan Postler.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services funded only 26 percent of applications – 186 out of 707 – this year, she said.

The grant money will be split two ways, between preservation and documentation, Postler said.

The preservation component will pay for cleaning, numbering, cataloging and packaging more than 500 items for moving from an environmentally unsound basement storage room to modern quarters.

The remainder of the museum’s 35,000 items already have been rehoused in the new storage area.

Postler said she thinks photographs and a description of the current cluttered and substandard basement storage room that she attached to the museum’s grant application caught the eye of the institute’s evaluators.

The storage room is hot and dry in the winter because steam pipes from the boiler that run through the room overheat it, Postler said. In the summer. the room is cool and damp because the boiler is off and the room absorbs moisture through the floor and the back wall, which extends into an embankment.

Neither condition enhances the preservation of collections, Postler said.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services’ application reviewers are peers familiar with similar situations, Postler said. Among their responses:

“The differential between the existing temporary storage area that is being eliminated and the new state-of-the-art facility is compelling.”

“Need is well-established. The current storage area looks dire.”

“The positioning of this project as part of a massive overhaul that is already 14 years in the making, speaks to the holistic nature of the vision for the museum.”

The second part of the project involves photographing and documenting the provenance and family history of a large portion of the museum’s collections, Postler said.

In the end, the museum will have an electronic database of 18,000 items that will be available for researchers. The museum has a total of 35,000 items.

Online and walk-in requests to do research increased 47 percent in the last year, Postler said.

Exhibits of items in storage will be made from time to time, Postler said.

Jeanne Brako, museum curator at the Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College, will instruct museum staff members, volunteers and FLC interns hired for the project on the care of collections.

Staff and volunteers from the 15 members of the Four Corners Museum Network will join the training sessions, Postler said.

The grant is the latest recognition given to the Animas Museum. But more is coming.

In January, the museum will host its first-ever Smithsonian exhibit, said Animas Museum Director Carolyn Bowra.

“Journey Stories” tells how people came to America voluntarily and involuntarily, Bowra said. The exhibit will be at the museum from Jan. 17 to March 18.

A companion exhibit organized by the Animas Museum, “Wish You Were Here,” will tell how and why people – from the Ute tribes through the Spanish adventurers and Northern European immigrants to modern jet-setters – come to La Plata County.

The institute is the primary source of federal support for 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums in the country.

In a release, the institute said grants this year total almost $25.2 million. The 707 applicants had asked for almost $98 million. The grants are awarded through two sources – the Museums for America and National Leadership Grants for Museums programs.

Institutions receiving grants are matching them with $35 million in nonfederal funds, the release said.

The Animas Museum will spend its grant on conservation and storage supplies, photography equipment and stipends for temporary staff and interns.

The two-year project is set to begin this month.

daler@durangoherald.com

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