Museum Loan Network Program

The Museum Loan Network (MLN) facilitates the long-term loan of art and objects of cultural heritage among US institutions as a way to enhance the installations of museums, thus enabling them to better serve their communities. The MLN grant programs help museums respond to the increasing public demand for installations that are relevant to a range of age groups and cultural heritages, and to provide better artistic, cultural, and historical contexts for works on display. The MLN programs have led to the sharing of objects among different types of museums, fostering collaborations between institutions of varying size and discipline throughout the United States. Funded and initiated by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts, the MLN is administered by MIT's Office of the Arts.

Program Development

The program continues to emphasize collaboration and the building of networked resources. The MLN's initiative to include a range of objects of cultural heritage previously outside its domain has been completed successfully. Objects representing more than 1,000 cultures from around the world have been shared. In 2000, the MLN piloted a collaborative program with the American Composers Forum (ACF). Entitled Museums, Composers, and Communities, this pilot program provided museums with an opportunity to work with composers and create new music for their communities. With MCC, the MLN created new models for interdisciplinary collaboration and enhanced the quality of the MLN projects involved in these partnerships. The work has been instrumental in allowing the MLN and its grantees to grow in challenging directions. Museums, Composers, and Communities has begun to flourish in Lawrence, Kansas, with composer Gabriela Lena Frank and the Spencer Museum of Art involving an installation of Latin American art; in Mobile, Alabama with composer Bill Banfield and the Mobile Museum of Art on the "The American Way"; and in Billings, Montana with Jim Cockey and the Western Heritage Center on "Life by Comparison—The Stories of Frederick and Parmly Billings." In fall 2002, the MLN initiated a year-long, preliminary pilot program, Searching for Treasure, in a Cambridge public school. The goal is to connect primary and secondary schools with the treasures of the nation's cultural heritage, and proposes to use the MLN's existing web directory as a tool to connect museums and schools in a process of educational discovery.

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Web Site

The MLN online directory, a practical means of identifying objects of cultural heritage available for long-term loan to eligible museums throughout the US, now contains 10,415 objects, of which 7,000 are imaged. The MLN continues to keep track of the number of hits on the directory and on specific object entries, as well as the number of times each museum with a password has accessed the directory. Since January 2000, these 333 museums have logged on to the directory 1,437 times, and approximately 13,000 hits have occurred on over 4,100 individual records. The MLN continues to develop virtual exhibitions on its homepage. Featuring ten projects made possible by MLN implementation grants and designed in conjunction with MIT's Academic Media Production Services, these virtual tours not only provide visual models for museums to understand how to creatively utilize MLN, but also stimulate public interest in the arts and provide greater access to museums' hidden permanent collections. Two online exhibitions have been established on the web site from the directory, including Colonial Choices, a collaborative project between the MLN and the Haggerty School in Cambridge.

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Press and Promotion

The MLN redesigned its general brochure which illustrates images of cultural artifacts, educational programs, and MLN supported publications. The brochure presents the MLN purpose and program descriptions, and includes a map showing lines of connection between the communities in the 50 states and territories served by grant awards. The MLN continues to work with communications consultant Resnicow/Schroeder who was hired in the 1998 to lead an aggressive press initiative; the MLN has been very pleased with the long-term results of the effort. National and international press coverage has continued, including a feature article in the spring 2003 issue of the Japanese cultural policy magazine, Chiiki Sozo. In its continued effort to increase public awareness about the MLN and its sponsored projects, Resnicow/Schroeder has also been working closely with MLN grantees in trying to develop stories about their projects; currently they are working on the Huntington Museum's MLN Egyptian project. MIT's Technology Review covered MLN in a short piece in its March 2003 issue. In addition, MLN projects were highlighted in numerous museum newsletters across the country. Museum Loan Network News 2001–2002 was printed at a run of 6,000 copies and distributed to museums, foundations, and other organizations across the country in October 2002. The MLN director and/or program associates attended and/or lectured about the program and related issues at the following meetings: the American Association of Museums Meeting in Portland, Oregon; the Grantmakers in the Arts annual conference in Charlotte, North Carolina; the New England Museums Association annual meeting in Manchester, NH; and the American Association of State and Local History in Portland, Oregon. In the fall of 2002, the MLN director gave a presentation at a national conference on museums and public broadcasting cosponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Institute for Museum and Library Services which has led to extended discussions with WGBH concerning future collaborative endeavors.

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The MLN awards three types of grants to eligible nonprofit institutions in the US: travel grants, survey grants, and implementation grants. At the February 2003 and June 2003 Advisory Committee meetings held at MIT, 36 grants totaling $688,577 were recommended for approval by MIT for funding to museums throughout the country. These awards will facilitate the sharing of a diverse array of objects among museums of differing size and discipline. MLN grants have been awarded to museums with budgets of $25,000 in counties with a population of 2,600 to institutions with budgets of $52 million in counties with a population of 5.4 million.

Survey grants will allow for a variety of objects to be added to the MLN Directory, including: photographs documenting the civil rights movement from the African American Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Tlacotepec archaeological materials and lower Central American objects from The Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois; Egyptian and Islamic objects from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California; West Mexican archaeological objects from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, California; set and costume designs from the San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum, California; historical toys from the Strong Museum, Rochester, New York; Qing dynasty Chinese objects from the University of Oregon Museum of Art, Eugene, Oregon; Chinese porcelain from Winterthur, An American Country Estate, Wilmington, Delaware; objects from Papua New Guinea from the Logan Museum of Anthropology in Beloit, Wisconsin; glass lantern slides from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, Wellesley, Massachusetts; Egyptian objects from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts; ephemera and artifacts related to the 1939–40 and the 1964–65 World's Fairs from the Queens Museum of Art, Queens, New York; folk dolls and puppets from the Children's Museum Boston, Massachusetts; Etruscan objects from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and artifacts and ephemera from the Negro League baseball collection at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, Little Falls, New Jersey.

Travel grants were awarded to the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, Jacksonville, Florida; the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, Minnesota; the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine; Save Ellis Island!, Inc., Gladstone, New Jersey; St. Hope Corporation/The Guild Gallery, Sacramento, California; Anasazi State Park Museum, Boulder, Utah; and the Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.

Implementation grants were awarded to projects at the African American Historical Museum and Cultural Center of Iowa, Cedar Rapids; the Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland; Lakeview Museum of Arts & Sciences, Peoria, Illinois; the Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington; the Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey; Semitic Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Dennos Museum Center, Traverse City, Michigan; Grace Hudson Museum and Sun House, Ukiah, California; Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama; Save Ellis Island!, Inc., Gladstone, New Jersey; and Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts.

Future Plans

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation renewed funding of $2.75 million for the MLN for three years beginning in October 2002 and the Pew Charitable Trusts continued to support the program with a $500,000 grant for one year. An outcomes assessment study to be submitted in Fall 2003 was commissioned to document and describe the impact of the MLN programs on the field. David Bury & Associates has worked with MLN this year to develop funding initiatives for the future involving both governmental resources and private foundations. MLN will continue to focus on the future sustainability of its programs.

Lori Gross

More information about the Museum Library Network can be found on the web at


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