This NEH small museum assessment project promised to look at the current situation of all museum objects in the care of the Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana (herein NMEM or simply “the Museum”), both on display and in storage, and to provide recommendations in three areas:
1) Short-term recommendations for items in critical need of conservation and improvements to storage and display;
2) Long-term recommendations for improvements to storage and display areas, including environmental control and monitoring, security, smoke mitigation, ritual care, pest management and disaster planning;
3) Evaluation of policy and practices relating to collection management and security, and plans for long-term loan acquisition.
These recommendations were to be assessed in three site visits, and prioritized into a report that essentially comprises a long-range preventive conservation plan.
Finally, the application promised visits with board and staff, tribal members and representatives, and with members of the local museum and preservation community, to explain the project and promote sharing interests and resources in the preservation of local material culture.
During the site visits and in communications with NMEM staff, the consultant attempted to look at all aspects of museum practice and operations. This reflects the view of the consultant that the collections are the source and focus of any museum, and therefore drive everything a museum is and does. A museum’s operations revolve around its mission, and its mission is grounded firmly in the collection that created the need for both the museum and its mission.
The consultant’s comments regarding governance, community outreach, and education/interpretation are made from a collections preservation point of view, keeping in mind:
• Exhibits need to present well-researched information in a way that is clear and appealing to the public.
• Objects must be exhibited, stored and used in ways that protect their physical integrity and contribute to their long-term preservation.
• Objects must be kept and exhibited in a way that is respectful of the culture or person from which the object came, and of the spiritual qualities embodied in the object itself.
• Each museum must write and enact policy and methods that meet professional standards, but also that meet the needs of its operations within its community.
Site visits and results
The recommendations in this report stem directly from the site visits, conducted in the spring of 2019. Three site visits were initially planned but only two were necessary, along with communication by telephone and email, to gather needed information. During the site visits, the consultant met individually with each staff member involved with the collections, as well as the board president, the founder, and Salish/Kalispel (Pend O’reille) and Kootenai cultural representatives.
This report does not include descriptions of the final workshops and informational meetings with staff, tribal members and other museums that culminated the project, though it does contain their recommendations. The consultant intends that those meetings will open or widen doors to positive relationships between NMEM and other area stakeholders. Museums are community spaces, and positive community relationships are critical to the longevity of any museum. Small, geographically close museums with similar missions can share resources and information to the benefit of all collaborators and their stakeholders.