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Alaska State Museum and the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame Receive National Collections Award

Both organizations consistently demonstrate excellence in outreach and planning.

Two museums received the 2012 Ross Merrill Award for Outstanding Commitment to the Preservation and Care of Collections, presented annually by Heritage Preservation and the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.  From opposite sides of the country, the Alaska State Museum (ASM) in Juneau, Alaska, and the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame in Goshen, New York, are models of exemplary stewardship of the historic collections in their care.

The Alaska State Museum has a sustained commitment to collections care that is “simply stellar” according to the awards committee.  Through care of its own collections, and extensive work supporting smaller institutions from all over the vast state of Alaska, the museum’s dedication and perseverance are exemplary.

In 1976 the Alaska State Museum created its first staff position for a professional conservator.  Over the years, even through difficult financial times, the museum has maintained a conservator on staff.  Today, two of the museum’s eleven full time staff members are conservators.  Careful strategic planning for environmental conditions, storage protocols, and treatment planning have benefited the treasures entrusted to ASM’s care.  The museum has stayed at the forefront of modern conservation practices, to the benefit of its collections and those of smaller institutions in Alaska.


A mannequin workshop at the Alaska State Museum

Removing asbestos at the Alaska State Museum

This dedication to outreach and assistance to smaller institutions in the state dates back to the museum’s mission, written in 1900:  “ASM assists and advises in the development of museums throughout Alaska.”  For more than three decades, ASM has undertaken the leadership role for preservation and care of collections, assisting more than 80 Alaskan museums and cultural centers. 

Description: Museum Exterior Today.jpg
The Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame

The Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame, founded in 1951, is dedicated to the documentation and preservation of the art and cultural history of the American-born trotting sport.  With a budget of under $1 million per year and eight full time employees, the institution maintains a 40,000 square foot facility and is open 362 days per year while maintaining three free traveling exhibition programs. 

The committee noted particularly: the extensive and successful conservation projects undergone, the detailed planning in preparing for emergencies – especially recovering from Hurricane Irene – and the impressive outreach staff has performed both for the greater local cultural community and on behalf of its collections.  One committee member said “they have such a creative approach for raising money for the building and collections.”  Cited in Heritage Preservation’s 2007 publication Capitalize on Collections Care, the museum funded conservation of nearly 300 harness drivers’ fragile silks by fundraising from the family, friends, and admirers of famous drivers. 



A driving cap before and after treatment.

Engaging local media, disaster preparedness planning, traveling exhibitions that share the collection both nationally and internationally, and creative fundraising for conservation projects – all accomplished while maintaining a 1913 historic stable and the collection housed there and it its overall exhibition facility – caused the awards committee to say:  “this institution is so ‘on the ball’ and such a good model – other institutions can and should follow their lead.” 

These two institutions, different in many ways, are both prime examples of what a dedicated staff, engaged community, and careful strategic planning can accomplish on behalf of our nation’s collections.

The Ross Merrill Award for Outstanding Commitment to the Preservation and Care of Collections is presented annually to recognize an organization that has been exemplary in the importance and priority it has given to conservation concerns and in the sustained commitment it has shown to the preservation and care of cultural property.  Recent recipients have included the Maymont Foundation, the Architect of the Capitol, the Friends of ‘Iolani Palace, the Shelburne Museum, Historic Cherry Hill, the Arizona State Museum, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, and the Cleveland Public Library. 

The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works (AIC), the national membership organization supporting conservation professionals, advances the practice and promotes the importance of the preservation of cultural materials as a means toward a deeper understanding of our shared humanity.  AIC plays a growing international leadership role as it expands its services to the field by providing educational opportunities, establishing and upholding professional standards, promoting research and publications, and fostering the exchange of knowledge among conservators, allied professionals, and the public.

Heritage Preservation is a national non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of the United States. By identifying risks, developing innovative programs, and providing broad public access to expert advice, Heritage Preservation assists museums, libraries, archives, historic preservation and other organizations, as well as individuals, in caring for our endangered heritage.

Nominations are invited for the 2013 Ross Merrill Award for Outstanding Commitment to the Preservation and Care of Collections. Self-nominations are welcome.  The deadline is December 15, 2012. For additional information, click here

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