www.whyville.net Feb 13, 2005 Weekly Issue

Guest Writer

What Does a Museum Registrar Do?

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Eugene is the registrar for the Getty Museum on Whyville. What the heck is a registrar? Let's find out!

Q: What is a registrar?

A: A museum registrar keeps track of the art and makes sure it is kept safe. This is important because many of the artworks are old and fragile, and also very valuable.

It's also my job to make sure the art travels safely. Museums sometimes send their art to other museums for special exhibitions, so that people from other cities and countries can see and enjoy it! And I can't just send it in the mail! I have to make special arrangements with shippers and airlines. We're like travel agents for art.

Q: How does art travel?

A: Imagine that you have to get a painting the size of a classroom chalkboard from Los Angeles to Berlin, Germany. You have to get it out of your museum (are the doors big enough?), onto a truck (where do you find a truck that big?), onto an airplane (it can't sit in a seat!), onto another truck, and into the museum in Berlin. You also have to deal with legal issues with contracts, insurance companies and customs. And you may have to do it all in German!

We also get custom-made crates to transport the artworks. Just like your clarinet and French horn have special carrying cases, artworks need special cases built to protect them.

Q: How do you become a registrar?

A: Most registrars went to college and majored in art history or studio art. I majored in art history and also went to graduate school for museum studies, which teaches you about the business of running a museum.

Art classes taught me how artists make art. I know what materials artworks are made of, so I know what kinds of things can damage them.

For example, if you've ever taken a photography class, you know that too much light can ruin a photograph. That's why we store photographs in boxes that don't let any light in. In an exhibition, we also make sure the light in the room is not very bright.

Q: Do you get to travel?

A: Yes!

Sometimes I get to be the personal escort for a work of art traveling to another city. Most of our art is so valuable that someone needs to keep an eye on it all the time, just to make sure it doesn't get damaged, lost, or even stolen!

I also go to conferences where I meet registrars from all over the world. There aren't very many of us who go into this profession, so we look forward to catching up at conferences.

Q: Since you work with priceless works of art, do you make a ton of money?

A: No, not really. Museums don't usually make a profit like private companies do. So there isn't a whole lot of money in it. I don't do this for the money. I love art and get to work with amazing objects. And the decisions I make today will affect generations to come because I am helping to preserve the art for the future.

Q: Is your job fun?

A: Yes! It's fun because I get to solve interesting problems and work with all sorts of art and all sorts of people. I like helping a curator make an idea for an exhibition into a reality.

But my favorite part of my job is when we install works of art in a gallery for an exhibition. That's when all the people working on the exhibition come together. Sometimes the artist is even there. It's fun to see the art going up on the walls

Q: Do other kinds of museums have registrars?

A: Absolutely! Natural history museums, history museums, and science museums all have registrars. Historic houses also have registrars, like the castles in England and the White House in Washington, D.C. And corporations like Microsoft and Coca-Cola also have registrars to care for their art collections. Even zoos have registrars! Instead of keeping track of art, they keep track of animals. Imagine trying to figure out how to get a giraffe from Los Angeles to Paris!

Q: What's the most important thing you've learned as a registrar?

A: I've become very good at geography. I have to know where places are so that I can ship the art by the safest and most efficient route. I've always loved maps and navigating, so I love this part of the job.

Q: What kind of person becomes a registrar?

A: An octopus! Seriously though, to be a registrar you have to like doing ten things at once and coordinating lots of details. If you like to plan parties or organize events, you would probably have fun doing my job. But if you are the type who likes to be the center of attention, you wouldn't enjoy it. It's definitely a behind-the-scenes job. I'm like a stage manager for a play, or a production assistant for a movie. I help make it all happen, but I'm not in the spotlight. It's not very glamorous. And you definitely have to love being around art!


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