The Registration Department

Our series on the various museum departments continues this week with the Registration department. Many people are unfamiliar with this aspect of the museum, so we hope our conversation with the Chief Registrar will be helpful!

Name: Tracy Bidwell

Job title: Chief Registrar

Educational background: Bachelor’s in Fine Art, Master’s in Museum Studies (in progress)

What exactly is registration and why is it important to the museum?  Registration is essential to the function of any museum.  Registrars track the movement of owned and borrowed artwork and manage the majority of the documentation as it relates to said owned and borrowed artwork. The size of a registration department varies from museum to museum.  Some museums have curatorial staff who also fulfill the role of a registrar.  Other museums have multiple registrars who oversee temporary exhibitions, permanent collections, long term loans, and so on.  We are very fortunate to have a fantastic team of three here at the FJJMA.

Here are some (not all) of the things that we registrars do.  Registrars manage fine art insurance for the museum’s collections to ensure that the museum’s permanent collection and all loans are covered in the event of a shipping or handling mishap, earthquake, fire, etc.   We manage all incoming and outgoing loans, including loan paperwork, facility reports, crate fabrication, shipping arrangements, and courier arrangements (couriers typically accompany works of art that are high in value to and from borrowing institutions, here and abroad).  We complete condition reports for all loans, either loaned or borrowed, as they come and go.  In addition to insurance and loans, registrars oversee the environmental monitoring for the museum.  For us at the FJJMA, environmental monitoring includes taking weekly temperature and humidity readings as well as Integrated Pest Management, both in the galleries and in collection storage.  Registrars also track the movement of works in-house, assist with gallery rotations, maintain collection storage and galleries, and typically save the world at least once a week along with other duties as assigned.

How do you keep up with the information about each artwork?  We use FileMaker Pro to maintain records for both the permanent collection and loans.

What other departments of the museum do you work closely with?  We work closely with the museum’s curatorial staff as well as the museum’s preparators.

Describe what your typical day looks like.  It really depends on the day.  If we are receiving an exhibition, then it’s all hands on deck to see that works are unloaded and safely ushered into collection storage.  If the Preparation department is installing artwork, we will offer support by helping move works, installing labels, updating locations, etc.  Some days we are anchored behind our desks dealing with miscellaneous paperwork and other days we are off-site conducting  inventories.  I don’t think there is a typical day in the world of registration, especially if our director and curators are ambitious.  🙂

What is your favorite part of your job?  Working with objects.  Working with artistic material is what initially drew me to the field.  It’s always been about the objects for me.

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