Hassan Najjar, the museum’s executive director, said the partnership means the local museum may soon play host to nationally traveling artifacts and exhibits owned by the Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian is a large research organization based in Washington, D.C., that operates 19 museums and a zoo in the Washington and New York City areas. It also has affiliate partnerships with 177 museums in the United States, Puerto Rico and Panama, according to the organization’s latest figures.
“We are delighted to welcome the Museum Center at Five Points into our Smithsonian partnership program,” said Harold Closter, director of Smithsonian Affiliations. “We look forward to engaging the Museum Center, sharing resources and educational collaborations which highlight the important work of both of our organizations and developing new avenues of understanding history and culture.”
Museums that are affiliates with the Smithsonian have the opportunity to receive items and exhibits on loan from Smithsonian’s collections. Representatives from the Smithsonian can also provide the museum with things like teacher’s workshops, visiting speakers and performing arts programs that go along with the loaned exhibits.
Najjar said when choosing which items to bring to Cleveland, his goal will be to bring in artifacts and exhibits that go along with the museum’s permanent collection of artifacts and exhibits, which are primarily related to local and regional history.
“We want to make sure they complement our collection,” Najjar said. “It is a mission-focused organization; we don’t want to stray from that mission.”
He said that meant the museum might not pursue any exhibits based on international topics, but he expects the museum will take full advantage of the partnership once it becomes eligible to start receiving Smithsonian artifacts and exhibits.
Curator of Collections Lisa Chastain said the museum plans its exhibits far in advance, so the first items on loan may be extra ones to go along with exhibits the museum is already planning to have. Still, she said the museum was “honored” to have been chosen to partner with the Smithsonian.
A local museum must have 501(c)(3) nonprofit status to apply for an affiliation, according to the Smithsonian’s website. The local museum is also required to pay an annual fee of $2,500. The affiliations do not have any specific time periods attached to them; one lasts “as long as both parties find it mutually beneficial.”
Najjar said the process to become a Smithsonian affiliate began in March of last year. Since then, the staff have had to wade through “an inordinate amount of red tape” and make changes to where traveling exhibits would be housed.
As part of the application process, the local museum was required to create documents outlining everything from ethics policies to disaster plans, some of which Najjar said the museum did not already have.
One challenge as of late has been making sure the exhibit hall has the right amount of humidity to store objects that are sensitive to moisture. Najjar said Smithsonian representatives have told him that the hall must have a humidity of less than 50 percent, which he said can be a challenge in the humid South.
He said dealing with the issue is the last thing keeping the museum from hosting the Smithsonian’s items, and he expects it to be remedied soon.
With the signing of the new affiliate agreement, the Museum Center joins a long list of museums that only includes six located in Tennessee. The Smithsonian’s other Tennessee affiliates are the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, the Frank H. McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture in Knoxville, the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, the Memphis Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum in Memphis and the Museum of Appalachia in Norris.
“It’s an exclusive thing,” Najjar said. “Our goal with this is to bring objects and exhibits that would not normally come to Cleveland. It’s pretty special for us.”
He added the museum will be making an extra push for new members as it starts benefitting from the partnership because it will provide new membership benefits. According to the Smithsonian’s website, members of affiliate museums receive free subscriptions to a choice of two magazines and discounts to restaurants and gift shops at the Smithsonian’s museums, among other things.
Najjar said the museum plans to keep its membership costs the same for now, and Cleveland Daily Banner readers can receive 20 percent discounts for any memberships they start online by using the promotional code “BANNER20.”
For more information, visit www.museumcenter.org or call 423-339-5745.