Collections Specialist, Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University
Situated on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington, The Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art holds 45,000 diverse objects, earning it the distinction of being one of America’s largest university art collections. Run with the objective of promoting learning, the Museum holds seven broad-reaching galleries, along with state-of-the-art educational spaces, including the Center for Conservation where visitors can observe conservators in action.
The Eskenazi Museum of Art has resided in its current building, designed by celebrated architect I.M. Pei, since 1981. However, after a generous donation from Sidney and Lois Eskenazi in 2015, the Museum underwent a substantial two-year renovation, resulting in new learning centers, visitor amenities, and an additional gallery.
To learn about the institution’s recent projects, Gallery Systems had the opportunity to speak with Emma Fulce, the Collections Specialist at the Eskenazi Museum of Art. She spoke at length about how working from home had affected her role and TMS projects, the Museum’s recent increased focus on their online presence, and how they handled the large collections move brought on by the renovation.
What is the biggest challenge your team faces on a daily basis?
Before COVID-19 hit, we were in the middle of a large project to rehouse much of our collection and to move that collection to a new off-site storage facility. This, of course, requires the interaction of the registrar’s department, conservation, and our wonderful preparator staff. It also meant an almost continuous use of TMS for location changes and condition reports.
In the months since COVID-19 began, the registrar’s team has been working mostly from home. This has afforded us the opportunity to spend a lot of time working on and cleaning up our records within TMS, as well as becoming more familiar—and helping our co-workers become more familiar—with the system. We implemented TMS very shortly before we began a multi-year renovation in 2017, and the Museum only just reopened to the public in November 2019.
Additionally, myself and the other Collections Specialist, Kelli Hostettler, are spending quite a bit of our time reviewing and editing records for our new Collections Online, which is available through the Museum’s website.
How do you see the use of technology evolving at your institution?
Within the registrar’s department, we have recently moved to using barcodes and scanners in conjunction with TMS, which was essential during our renovation. Throughout the Museum, a greater emphasis is being placed on the role of technology.
We are lucky enough to have Cassi Tucker as our Manager of Museum Technology. Cassi has spent a lot of time looking for ways to develop sustainable, accessible technology applications for use inside and outside the galleries. This includes our previously mentioned new Collections Online, the integration of a DAMS with TMS, the development of ways to use technology within the galleries, and more.
What is the one change that you’ve made at your institution that has had the biggest impact?
In the last few years, we have made major changes to the structure of our departments within the Museum, adding quite a few new employees. We are extremely lucky to have been able to do this and to have had the resources available to us to make it possible.
The additional staffing has made a world of difference, particularly within our education department, the curatorial team, the registrar’s office, our preparators staff, and our creative team. These staff members have arrived ready, excited, and happy to work. Their efforts have allowed us to reach new audiences through outreach to rural communities and to complete large projects, such as our renovation and Collections Online.
How do you think the role of museums will change in the future?
If you would have asked me this question a few months ago, I would have said that I thought outreach was going to have to be more focused on working through the internet. Today, we are already there.
We have had no choice during the COVID-19 pandemic but to move our focus as an institution to the internet. This means a focus on Collections Online, and we have also begun developing “Tiny Tours,” short five-minute or less video tours with a Museum staff member, that can be shared via social media. The curatorial team and others are also producing essays relating to our collections for the website, and our social media presence has greatly improved.
We are all looking forward to when we can be back in the Museum, working closely with the art again and beginning the process of getting our next physical exhibitions ready, but I think that we will continue, in large part, our online efforts. The Museum’s web presence allows visitors, who are unable to travel, an opportunity to experience our amazing collection and to interact with our wonderful staff.
Do you have a favorite book, event, or training resource that has helped or motivated you in your career?
One of the most helpful events I have attended in the last few years was Collective Imagination. The opportunity to take in-person workshops, to attend presentations and present myself, not to mention to be able to talk with so many other people in the field—who use the same technology—was invaluable to me.
Many of our current TMS standards and setups are based upon things learned at Collection Imagination. Among those, perhaps the most important is our use of Flex Fields, which allows all the necessary departmental roles—registrar, curator, editor, photographer—to approve a record before it is released online to the public.
What is one of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on and why?
By far the most interesting project of the last few years was the reinstallation of the Museum after the renovation. In only a few short months, we installed seven galleries, including a new Prints, Drawings, and Photographs gallery and a new Time-Based Media gallery.
At the next Collective Imagination, I plan to present on this process and the ways in which TMS was invaluable, including the use of its TMS Barcode Manager, status flags, reports, containers, and more.
If you had to choose a favorite item from your collection, what would it be and why?
This is a hard question for me as we have a truly amazing collection. My areas of research and expertise are the arts of Africa, Oceania, and Indigenous Art of the Americas. Within that group, our collection of Polynesian art holds a special place in my heart. If I had to pick a favorite at the moment, it would be our wonderful Austral Islands drum, dating between 1800 to 1850.
Outside of its amazing aesthetics and rarity, one of the things that I find so interesting about this item is how we are able to date it. The fine detail and carving on this drum indicate that it was made with metal tools. We know that this is something that only happened after Europeans brought iron to the Austral Islands. Before that contact, the carving was done with stone, shell, or bone tools. We also know that drums of this form were not used for a long time post-European contact. With these facts, we were able to date this drum with great confidence.