- Associated Press - Sunday, April 23, 2017

YANKTON, S.D. (AP) - Lost in the excitement of renovating the Mead Cultural Education Center to become the new home of the Dakota Territorial Museum is the fact that there are more than 35,000 artifacts that must be moved.

According to Crystal Nelson, director and curator of the museum, the planning phase is just about completed and now the transition is beginning, with plans to close the Westside Park location to the public on Oct. 1.

“Right now we still feel very confident that we will be moving in on time and we will have what we need ready to go,” she said, noting she was looking forward to having space to display more items. “It is not that (the current) building is horrible; we have outgrown it. In 20 years, they are going to look back at this location and wonder how in the world did we make it work.”

Packing and moving may sound simple but Nelson said with three phases planned, plus the process of readying each individual artifact for the move, the next year is going to be a busy one.

“It is a long process making this move,” she told the Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan (https://bit.ly/2px8IuF ). “A lot of people are like ‘Can’t you just throw it in a box, put in the back of a pickup and move it across town?’”

The simple answer: No.

“The amount of organization and processing that goes with it - we have volunteers right now that spend anywhere from 10-15 minutes per object to get it ready to be moved,” Nelson said. “When you are talking 35,000 objects, you are talking a lot of time that needs to be put into this move.”

While some collections are not rare or unique - such as the items in the museum’s research library - they can be boxed up, labeled and moved. But those items aren’t included in the 35,000 objects to be moved.

“The majority of the collection all needs condition reporting so we know if there is a problem in the new facility,” she said. “It does happen a lot that when museums and archives move from one consistent environment to a new environment. They don’t really know if there is a problem in the new location unless the objects start to show that there is a problem. We are going to try to do everything we can to make sure they are going from a consistent 60-70 degrees at our current facility, staying at 60-70 degrees as it is being moved to the new facility, then staying at 50-60 degrees in the new location.”

She added extreme temperature fluctuations cause damage, such as warping.

“That is a big transition and damage can be done to the object,” Nelson said. “In that short amount of time, it could really ruin a piece. There is just a lot going on. We are not just talking paper; we are talking photographs that are more than 100 years old. It is a lot of details, and a lot goes into the process.”

She said the first phase of the move has already begun as the first permanent display has been removed from the museum in preparation of the move.

“The first phase is going to include mostly the collections that we will use on a regular basis, as well as the collections that will be part of the initial opening exhibits,” Nelson said. “We hope to open the first exhibits, which are ‘Journeying Forward’ and ‘Connection Cultures with the Corps,’ the children’s hands on transportation room, the gift shop, the banquet event hall and operations, all as of June 10, 2018, at the Mead Building.”

The hope is that moving those first exhibits will free up some space so the staff and volunteers can finish processing and getting everything ready for the transfer.

“This summer, we are going to be pretty much business as usual,” she said. “Our biggest thing is how much things are expanding. When you start to take things that have been in storage, there will be 20 things in a box. When they are getting ready to be moved, each individual item has to have packaging around it. Now, instead of having one box, you might have five boxes where you used to have one.”

The biggest changes people will see at the current location is the sight of more shelving and rolling storage.

However, Nelson stressed there is still time to see the current museum this summer. And, for some exhibits - based on the fact that they will not be able to display everything right away - this may be the last chance for several years to see certain items.

“This summer will also be the last time to see those collections that are housed in our old-time buildings, because they will be closed for two years,” she said. “As we move the collections that are currently housed in the main building over to the new location, the collection currently housed in the out buildings will be moved into this facility, gone through, cleaned up and packed up. We are hoping that late next year, the out buildings will be moved to the new site. Then we would open them up for exhibit again in 2019.

“In June, we will have our last event at this location,” Nelson added. “I encourage people to come out and celebrate the time that we have had here but also to celebrate the opportunity that is ahead of us. It will be an opportunity for them to see what is going on, what volunteer opportunities there are, and it will be the chance to see the museum as it is now.”

The opportunity this transition is offering may also open up new discoveries at the Dakota Territorial Museum.

“The last mass inventory of everything we had was completed when they moved into this building in the 1970s,” Nelson said. “They did keep track for a while, but there was a break of time where things didn’t get an associated number when they were donated. So, we don’t really know what came in at that time. We physically can see it, but we may not know where it came from or who donated it.”

The move has also presented an opportunity to go through the collection, and staff has already found things they didn’t know were in the archives.

“It has also raised a lot of questions, too,” Nelson said. “You will see a reference to something that was donated to us and think, ‘Man, I have never seen that.’ Maybe it will be unearthed yet. I think I have at least looked in every box by now. But to really dig in and research every item, we still have a lot to be done. Fifty percent of the collection needs to be gone through.”

One thing, however, has not changed: The museum needs volunteers, now more than ever.

“We need people to process collections and get them ready to move,” Nelson said. “We had applied for federal funding to help with the move. We have no idea where that is sitting right now. Our advisers in the museum world are telling us to proceed as if we are not going to lose that funding, but we could. If we do, we are already talking with our conservator about what is plan B?”

She said if the museum doesn’t have the money to hire a move coordinator, it may seek a volunteer from the community.

“I can’t, and my staff as it exists can’t, be the move coordinator because there is too much that happens on a daily basis,” Nelson said. “That is not counting the visitors that are coming in. Even when October comes around, there is going to be so much that we need to do to keep our operations active and to pay the bills that having a move coordinator to keep things going in the new facility and here is going to be very important.”

Anybody that has been part of a large move could learn what needs to done, Nelson said.

“The only thing that is specialty about it is what is in the box,” she added. “After we have done our job, the only thing they will need to worry about is their job. There is a little bit of education that will need to go into it, but really, it is just somebody that understands how a move needs to happen. We have a pretty good move plan put together, federal funding or no federal funding. We can make it work some way.”

While Nelson hopes that the transition can be made as quickly and effectively as possible, it will depend on the volunteers that show up.

“There is a list of things that people can do to help,” she said. “It won’t be a matter of asking people to handle 35,000 items; they will be in boxes and on pallets. But, if there are people who feel confident in their ability to help on a management- or hands-on level with the move, I can almost guarantee I can find something for them to do, as long as they are physically able to do it.”

Nelson said if there are organizations or individuals that are interested in helping, the more people they know are available the better.

“If we knew now who intends to help or who can help, we can help plan things that much more,” she said. “There are so many different talents that can be used.”


Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, https://www.yankton.net/

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