UCR Arts has received the prestigious American Alliance of Museums, or AAM accreditation, the highest national recognition bestowed upon the nation’s museums.
AAM, the United States’ only organization representing the entire scope of the museum community and recognized as the fields’ gold standard for museum excellence, announced Friday, March 4, that UCR Arts is now one of 77 museums accredited in California. UCR Arts is UC Riverside’s off-campus institution that oversees the California Museum of Photography and the Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts. UCR Arts is part of UCR’s College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, or CHASS.
Of the nation’s estimated 33,000 museums, UCR Arts is now one of about 1,080 currently accredited in the U.S. and is among the 16% of museums governed by a university. The AAM accreditation program helps to ensure the integrity and accessibility of museum collections, reinforce the educational and public service roles of museums, and promote good governance practices and ethical behavior, AMM indicated in its announcement.
“I’m excited and honored. This is a validation of the caliber of our work, and it speaks to the commitment we have to the community — to making UCR Arts accessible to the public,” said Sheila Bergman, UCR Arts executive director since 2017. “I am grateful to every single staff member because this was a process that involved everyone on the team.”
Accreditation is a rigorous process that examines all aspects of a museum’s operations. To earn accreditation a museum first must conduct a year of self-study, and then undergo a site visit by a team of peer reviewers. The Alliance’s Accreditation Commission, an independent and autonomous body of museum professionals, considers the self-study and visiting committee report to determine whether a museum should receive accreditation.
“Accredited museums are a community of institutions that have chosen to hold themselves publicly accountable to excellence,” said Laura L. Lott, Alliance president and CEO.
For UCR Arts, the AAM accreditation was a two-year process and at least three years of preparation. Before this process even began, the UCR Arts team — with the support of many UCR student workers — devoted countless hours to cataloging and taking inventory of all the museum’s assets. The California Museum of Photography, which alone has approximately 500,000 objects and includes photographic prints, negatives, archives, books, and technology, has been around for nearly 50 years. This means many records were kept on paper and those too had to be added to the now digital inventory and cataloguing programs UCR Arts manages, said Leigh Gleason, director of collections and the lead in the AAM accreditation application.
“Over the years, UCR Arts has exhibited many thought-provoking installations,” Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox said. “Through the AAM accreditation process, UCR Arts has also exhibited a commitment to scholarly excellence and education for Riverside and the Inland Empire.”
UCR Arts’ impact has resonated in the Inland Empire and beyond. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, UCR Arts registered over 30,000 visitors annually and has an average of 12 exhibitions and 250 film screenings a year. UCR Arts also recently hired an associate director of education and public programs to further support educational programming and develop programs that target K-12 and families.
“This accreditation signals that the AAM recognizes what the UCR community has known for some time: UCR ARTS brings world-class exhibitions, cinema, and cultural conversation to Inland Southern California," said Daryle Williams, CHASS dean.
When the pandemic derailed in-person visits to the museum, UCR Arts staff members’ efforts to keep the museum virtually accessible earned them the “Best Arts and Entertainment Experience” in the Press-Enterprise’s Best of the Inland Empire 2020 readership poll. Virtual programming from the California Museum of Photography and Culver Center of the Arts included 360-degree tours along with visual artist interviews, performances, family art activities, and a virtual cinema.
“Artistic expression is one of humanity’s defining traits, and venues that allow people to rejoice in the arts help bind communities together. I am proud that the American Alliance of Museums has recognized the quality of the role UCR Arts plays in our community,” Provost Elizabeth Watkins said. “Their accreditation will help keep UCR Arts collections accessible and continuing to serve the people of Riverside.”
UCR Arts is an integral part of Riverside and the Inland Empire as a whole. In addition to the diverse exhibitions and programming, it hosts community workshops, offers free entrance to the public, and since 2017, has been presenting all of its exhibits in both English and Spanish. One of its past exhibits, Pachappa Camp, was in English, Korean, and in Spanish via a QR code.
Peer review comments in the AAM accreditation site visit report note that UCR Arts has made important strides during the past five years as it worked toward obtaining this notable recognition.
“It is obvious that the current director has assembled a talented team that has worked diligently to put the museum on a positive path and aligned all parties to work together for the museum’s future,” wrote the two peer reviewers in their report. “UCR Arts has a bright future. UCR Arts’ commitment to the museum field, professionalism and competency is admirable.”