Aspen Art Museum now an accredited institution | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Art Museum now an accredited institution

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Next year the Aspen Art Museum celebrates its 25th birthday. So the recent news that the museum was officially accredited by the American Association of Museums can be seen as an early birthday present.

The museum, which received word of its accreditation early last month, is one of approximately 750 museums so honored out of the nearly 16,000 museums in the country. The Art Museum joins 13 other institutions in Colorado to be accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM), only three of which are art museums. (The AAM also recognizes historical, science and children’s museums.)

To Dean Sobel, the Aspen Art Museum’s executive director and chief curator since 2000, the accreditation acts as a stamp of approval from the highest authority.

“It is the primary professional organization for museums of all types, and it’s the only organization that grants accreditation,” said Sobel. “It tells our audiences, our patrons, that we are operating to the highest professional standards. It’s a stamp of approval that’s universally recognized.”

Sobel believes that such recognition will translate to more ambitious exhibits at the museum. “The kinds of shows we can arrange and borrow opens up even more,” he said. “People don’t have to worry about how we are operating.”

Interestingly, the quality of a museum’s exhibits plays a small role in the accreditation process. “It’s more about how you function as an institution,” said Sobel. “It’s much more quantitative than qualitative. The fact that we’re doing great exhibitions is not a significant thing they look at.”

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What was looked at, during a three-year process that began soon after Sobel took over as director of the museum, is almost everything besides what is displayed on the museum walls. The facility must be in good shape, with such features as access for the handicapped. Hours must be regularly kept. Most important is the museum’s mission statement, and whether it is being fulfilled. Having written policies on almost everything is the major part of being accredited by the AAM.

“One of the underlying things is, do you have a mission statement, and how well are you reflecting it,” said Sobel. “Everything you do has to be in a written form, a written policy.”

Sobel said the Aspen Art Museum had not pursued accreditation earlier, under his predecessor Suzanne Farver, because there were other more pressing priorities for the organization. But when Sobel arrived, accreditation rose to near the top of his to-do list. Since then, he has spent a good amount of time taking stock of the museum.

“It’s very much a process,” he said. “You initially have to prove your accountability, that you have criteria. Then you go on a lengthy self-study, where you answer questions and gather materials, so they have a basis on which to evaluate you. It’s reams and reams of information.”

After the self-study was submitted, two representatives from the Washington, D.C.-based AAM visited the Art Museum. “They come and look at you and find out if what you told them was indeed true,” said Sobel.

The report from the site visit was then delivered to the AAM. A month later, the Aspen Art Museum was notified of its accreditation, and given what Sobel calls “a glowing narrative report.”

Upcoming exhibits

The Aspen Art Museum has set its exhibition schedule through the fall of 2004.

Two new shows begin with an opening reception on Oct. 9. The upper gallery will have “Ferenc Berko: Seen, And Seen Again,” featuring some 30 works by the late Hungarian-born, Aspen-based photographer. Berko’s granddaughter, Mirte Mallory, will give a gallery talk on Oct. 9.

Also opening is the Roaring Fork Open, a biennial nonjuried exhibit featuring recent works in virtually any medium by residents of the Roaring Fork Valley. For questions about the Roaring Fork Open, call 925-8050.

Other upcoming exhibitions include German architectural artist Gregor Schneider; a cinema-inspired installation by Angela Bulloch; “Ed Ruscha: Mountain Paintings”; Valley Kids 2004: Portrait of a Valley; and “Circa 1979,” a survey of late-’70s art, to celebrate the museum’s 25th anniversary.

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com

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