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Clark Art Institute, Norman Rockwell Museum receive reaccreditation from premier national museum organization

 The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
Clark Art Institute
The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

This summer, two Berkshire County museums have received once-a-decade reaccreditation by the American Alliance of Museums.

Accreditation from the AAM is no small feat in the world of museums.

“The Alliance of Museums is the only organization representing the entire museum field. The Alliance of Museums, that could be art, history, science, even zoos, which seems to be seems to be surprising, because we think of zoo as only visible, animal things, but they are ruled by very, very specific and very strict rules also," said Olivier Meslay, the Director of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. “The AAM has been since 1906, the moment they were founded, is sort of advocacy group. And for example, during the pandemic, they have been extremely good at providing us information, helping us to go through the pandemic, bringing us together. It's an alliance of peers, and it doesn't matter if you are a small museum or big museum, you are a peer, and it has been very, very helpful.”

Of the 33,000 museums the AAM represents, under 1,100 are accredited. 67 museums in Massachusetts have that distinction, including Berkshire institutions like the Clark and the nearby Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, and Merwin House and Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.

The organizations have been WAMC underwriters.

“We certainly appreciate this as a sort of a marker for who the museum is, and we're taken quite seriously with our peers. We continue to do quite a bit with our traveling exhibitions both nationally and internationally, so it's very meaningful and important to us too," said Margit Hotchkiss, the Chief Communications Officer for Norman Rockwell Museum. “One of the things we heard back was how that the museum has done a tremendous amount of work in the arenas of our digital museum, accessibility, and using the power of illustration to create a really positive impact on contemporary societal challenges. One of my favorite quotes from them was also 'locally engaged and globally significant.'”

Meslay says earning and maintaining the AAM’s accreditation is no joke.

“The process is very long, and I would not say painful, but I would say it's- It takes a lot of work," he told WAMC. "We have to provide at the end probably between, when we put all of it together, between 600, sometimes 800 pages of documents. In this case, we needed to give our strategic planning, a lot of policies that are internal to the Clark, that are internal to the board, the things like the conflict of interest policy, what are we doing in terms of security to protect the work of art, not only in terms of protecting the building, but also protecting the works of art through a very strict level of temperature or humidity, for example. It seems to be details, but they are very attentive to that.”

Representatives from the accreditors will spend days at the museum doing a white glove test on its methods and practices.

“They can open every door. If there is a vault, they can open the vault, " said Meslay. "And they go everywhere. They go to financial- It's a, it's a very thorough process. It's a sort of big, big audit that is happening every, usually every 10 years.”

The stamp of approval from the AAM allows institutions like the Clark to work with other accredited museums.

“If we do an exhibition, we need loans from other big institutions, we need loans from the Met, we need loans from the Louvre, we need loans from and these museums are checking if a museum is accredited," explained Meslay. "If the museum is accredited, they know that we are respecting that each museum which is accredited is respecting the certain above rules.”

After successfully clearing the accreditation hurdle for the next decade, Meslay says he’s happy with the housekeeping the Clark did to make it through the strenuous process.

“For the next moment, I think that now we are resting in a way,” he said.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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