Donating Your Collections to the Museum
The process, benefits, and things to consider regarding donations.
UAMN Mission Statement
The University of Alaska Museum of the North, located on the Fairbanks campus, is the only museum in the state with a tripartite mission of research, teaching, and collecting. The museum’s botanical, geological, zoological, and cultural collections, primarily from Alaska and the Circumpolar North, form the basis for understanding the local as well as the global past, present, and future. Through collection-based research, teaching, and public programs, the Museum shares its knowledge and collections with local, national, and international audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
Interested in making a donation to the Ethnology & History department?
Thank you! The Ethnology & History department depends on the generosity of people like you to enhance our collections. While the museum does not accept "unsolicited donations" or "drop-offs," we are happy to work with you to schedule time to evaluate your potential donation. In general, the best thing to do is to send an email or letter to the Curator or Collections Manager, along with photographs and descriptions of the offered material.
Some FAQs About Donating Objects to the Museum
Q: How do I go about donating an item to the ethnology & history department?
A: All items offered for donation to the ethnology & history department must be approved by the UAMN Acquisitions Committee. This is a group of Museum staff and private citizens who meet on a regular basis to review proposed additions to the Cultural Collections (Ethnology & History, Fine Arts, and Archaeology). The Ethnology & History Collections Manager will present the proposed donation to the committee and the piece will be evaluated based on a number of criteria outlined in our Collections Management Policy. Of primary importance, all objects acquired by the Museum must fit within the scope of our Mission Statement (see above). In addition, the following conditions must be met:
- Objects are acquired in a proper manner that does not damage the natural or cultural resources of Alaska.
- The Museum can provide proper care, conservation, storage, and security under conditions ensuring their preservation and availability, in keeping with professional standards.
- Objects are of such quality, rarity, or of extreme intellectual value to support acquisition.
- The object does not represent an unacceptable hazard to personnel, or to other collections.
- Objects meet the criteria established in departmental Collections Plans (where applicable).
- Objects should be identified, unless received as a gift for determination by a staff member who can be relied upon to provide proper determination.
- Objects must be adequately labeled and include complete collection data.
- Objects shall be accepted only when the Curator has determined to the best of his/her ability that they have been collected and received, exported/imported, in full compliance with all laws and regulations of the country of origin, as well as those of individual states and the federal government of the United States.
- Objects for which the curator anticipates no foreseeable use for exhibition, research, education, or exchange, will not be accepted.
- Objects collected on state or federal lands administered through state or federal agencies are integrated into the Museum collections in conformity with Memoranda of Agreement or with applicable regulations of the state or federal agency.
- Owners of copyright will be asked to transfer such rights upon conveyance of title. Fine Arts objects and literary works (e.g. field notes) created on or after January 1, 1978 that are subject to the Copyright Act of 1976 (17 U.S.C. §§ 101-702) will be considered only after a thorough review of copyright restrictions.
- The Museum will not accept any donations believed to be improperly represented as to legality, authenticity, condition, or value until such time as the original claim has been substantiated by a competent, independent authority or until the attribution or value has been changed to reflect the true character of the items offered for donation.
Once it is determined that an object qualifies for acquisition under these conditions, and the Acquisitions Committee votes to accept it, you will be contacted to deliver the piece to the Museum. When the object is in our possession, you will be given a Temporary Custody Form, which is a receipt indicating the date and reason for delivering to us. The Ethnology & History staff will accession the object (“Accessioning” is the process of creating a permanent record of an object, assemblage, or lot received from one source at one time for which the Museum has custody, right, or title, and assigning a unique control number to said object, assembly, or lot.) and then you will be sent a Deed of Gift. You will sign and return this form, which verifies that you are the owner and that you are transferring ownership and all rights to the piece to the Museum. On this form, you can indicate how you would like to be credited so when the object goes on exhibit or out on a loan, we will be able to properly list you or your designee as the donor.
Q: How will the Museum use my object if it is accepted for acquisition?
A: UAMN is primarily a research museum, which means that the majority of all collections are not on exhibit (approximately 1% of the Museum’s 1.4 million objects are on exhibit). The objects in the permanent collections are made available for research, publication, and loan, in addition to exhibition.
Q: Can I get a tax deduction for donating my collection?
A: The IRS allows individuals to take a tax deduction for items donated to charitable organizations. IRS Publication 561 will tell you about what they require and how you can go about using this tax benefit. If you are interested in the tax benefits of donating your art and artifacts, you should discuss this with a qualified tax specialist or attorney.
Q: Can the Museum appraise my collection?
A: The Museum distinguishes between “appraisals” and “authentications.” According to our Collections Management Policy, ‘“Appraisals” are those assessments made regarding the financial value of an object, whether for insurance or fair market value. “Authentications” are those statements made that validate the genuine-ness of a given object, based on the expertise of that individual making the statement.’ While Museum staff are expressly forbidden from providing appraisals on private collections, they do maintain a list of qualified appraisers as a public service. Contact the Curator or Collections Manager for this list. If you are interested in having the authenticity of your collection assessed, contact the departmental staff to find out how to go about this process.
Q: What if my friends or family want to see my donation at the Museum?
A: All materials accepted into the permanent collections at the Museum are available for viewing by appointment. Because it requires time to retrieve information about individual collection objects and to physically remove the pieces from where they are housed, collections staff ask that appointments be made in advance for any private viewing. The more lead-time, the better! But if time is short, accommodations can be made.
Q: How will I be acknowledged by the Museum? What if I want to make an anonymous donation?
A: On your Deed of Gift, you have the option of changing how you are acknowledged by the Museum for your gift. Typically, whenever the object is used for exhibition, the donor is listed as indicated on the Deed of Gift. You may wish to donate an object in the memory or in honor of someone else; you may list this person instead of yourself. You may also change this credit line to Anonymous. Your official Deed of Gift will list your name as donor for legal reasons, however, the credit line is entirely up to you!
Q: Can the Museum ever dispose of my donation?
A: According to the Museum’s Collections Management Policy,
“Accessioned objects are held in perpetuity as long as:
- They support the Museum mission statement
- They retain physical integrity, their identity, and their authenticity.
- They can be properly stored, preserved, and used.”
Deaccessioning, “the process used to remove permanently an object from the Museum’s collection or to document the reasons for an involuntary removal (one required by law or due to circumstances not controlled by the Museum)”, is an integral part of collections management. It is not undertaken lightly and any object considered for removal from the permanent collection is subject to several layers of review and approval. If you are concerned about this future possibility, you should discuss your questions with Museum staff. Disposal options often include transfer to the Museum’s educational hands-on collection, transfer to another museum, or transfer to another University department. In cases when there is no information about an object’s history that could make it valuable to researchers, but it is aesthetically appealing, it may be sold at public auction and the proceeds put towards the acquisition of other objects for the collection, or for the direct care of the existing collection. The original donor’s name is often transferred in the documentation to the newly-acquired object as well.
Q: What if I’m not ready to donate my collection now? What are my options?
A: If you have a collection of objects that you would like to see end up at the Museum eventually, one option is to bequeath your collection to the Ethnology & History department at the Museum. Working with you, your attorney, and Museum staff in collections and Development, we can help you write language into your will to indicate your wishes. Other options include fractional gifts or promised gifts. Contact the Museum if you wish to discuss your options for future donations.
Q: What if the Acquisitions Committee rejects my donation offer?
A: Do not take it personally! The Museum has a very limited amount of space to house collections in perpetuity. As a result, the Acquisitions Committee is very selective about what it agrees to accept for donations. If your piece is not approved, UAMN staff will attempt to help you find another, more appropriate Museum who may need have a specific need for that object type, or have more storage or exhibition space for your type of object. There are over 55 museums around Alaska, each with a specific mission statement and area of specialty. Museum staff will do what we can to help find the right place for your treasures.
Q: What kind of objects is the Ethnology & History department interested acquiring right now?
A: The Ethnology & History department has a document in place called a Collections Plan to help us determine the strengths and weaknesses in our collection. In this document, we have identified a number of priorities for acquisitions.
Ethnology Object Priorities:
- complex Yup’ik Eskimo masks from the lower Kuskokwim River area
- Yup’ik and Inupiaq fur parkas that expand the geographic diversity of communities and differences between men’s and women’s parkas
- early Athabascan clothing
- assorted objects from diverse Athabascan groups across entire Interior region
- Aleut and Alutiiq material
- Northwest Coast material from late 19th/early 20th century
- contemporary Alaska Native material culture
- new works of fine craftsmanship that either:
- utilize new materials to convey traditional iconography with a modern voice, or
- continue “traditional” arts and crafts so as to maintain a continuum of aesthetic vision within their culture
History Object Priorities:
- objects relating to Russian-America
- gold mining
- household goods, both imported and locally-obtained
- history of the University of Alaska
- history of the University of Alaska Museum