How museums get new objects

New artefacts for old?

Something I’m regularly asked when people find I work in a museum is “how do museums get new objects”?. The answer probably is that it varies. Where there’s a collecting policy the process is transparent but otherwise an enigma inside a mystery.

On visiting the National Army Museum in Stockholm in early September 2017 I saw their exhibition dedicated to explaining this mystery.

How museums get new objects – the exhibition

The Army Museum’s exhibition was in their temporary exhibition space on the ground floor. I liked the focus on objects for visitors to reflect on and practical examples. Also the emphasis on who made decisions.

Exhibition sign saying who made decisions

A key part of the exhibition was an infographic showing the path an object follows to join the collection. Unfortunately this was in a shadow so whilst legible in the museum didn’t photograph well. This was supported by another display explaining who makes the decisions.

Flow chart of accessioning object

This display was very honest about the influence of individuals and groups on collecting policy. It stated that in the museum’s early days former soldiers were making the decisions but now it’s mainly highly educated middle class people.

Display showing who makes decisions

An object that didn’t get in

An example of new objects was based around items used by an officer in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Most items were conserved ready to go into the collection. One item was not and this was the shipping crate the officer had lived in. Why was it rejected? Because it wasn’t the actual container the officer used but one the shipping company sent. So a good example of an object being rejected because of a lack of direct association with the museum’s purpose and lacking heritage authenticity.

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About Rick Lawrence

Making models and playing tabletop games since the late 1960s, and still enjoying it! Now working in heritage and dabbing around with photography, with quality cafe time when I can.

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