Behind the Scenes with The Harn Museum of Art

By Bradley Osburn

The Harn Museum of Art is a 122,800-square-foot facility in the University of Florida Cultural Plaza, and is one of the largest academic museums in the country. The Harn project was born in 1983, when Samuel P. Harn’s widow and heirs pledged more than $3 million for the construction of a fine arts museum on the edge of UF property, on land that was then primarily agricultural. The Harn receives about 100,000 visitors per year, and has no admission fee. Its collections have grown from about 3,000 pieces to over 9,000 paintings, sculptures and photographs. Harn director Rebecca Nagy invited the Report in to take a backstage tour of the museum and its storage space.

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LOCATION: 3259 Hull Road

WEBSITE: www.harn.ufl.edu

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 34 full time, 24 part time and 25 to 30 interns per semester

HOW LONG IN CURRENT LOCATION: The original building opened in 1990 at its current location, and was the first facility as part of the UF Cultural Plaza

WHAT THEY DO: The Harn Museum of Art is primarily a display museum for paintings, sculpture and photography, but the facility also hosts researchers who study specific periods, artists or pieces. In addition, the Harn has space for business and social functions, like lectures, films, parties, luncheons and seminars

POPULAR PIECES: El Anatsui’s “Old Man’s Cloth”; Kehinde Wiley’s “Dogon Couple”; Claude Monet’s “Champ d’Avoine” (Oat Field); and Jonathan Borofsky’s “Hammering Man” moving sculpture in front of the museum

FUN FACT: Only 10 percent of the collection is on display at any point, but the collections are frequently rotated out so nothing is ever buried in the upwards of 6,500 square feet of climate-, light- and pest-controlled storage space

WANT TO WORK THERE? Full-time staff doesn’t turn over much, but student positions in the café, front desk, gift shop, study center and on the security team come open frequently. The Harn also has a healthy community of volunteers who help run programs

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The Harn’s collection consists of African, Asian, modern, contemporary and photographic pieces. Besides space issues, only a small portion of the collection can be on display at any time because certain pieces have to be protected from degradation by light, temperature fluctuations, pests, pollutants in the air and oils from staff’s hands. A piece might go on display for a year, and then be stored for five years to allow it to rest. The museum has to be kept between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit and at a relative humidity between 45 and 55 percent. Special monitors dot the museum and storage area to warn staff if any of these conditions fluctuate.

About half of the Harn’s budget comes from the university, and the other half comes from endowments, grants, donations, earned incomes from the store and café, and membership fees, which range from $25 for students to $2,500 for benefactors. It costs about $3 million per year to run the museum, which covers overhead like salary and facility upkeep. UF provides services like groundskeeping and utilities, and the student government supports the Cultural Plaza with a percentage of student fees. Interestingly, art is not purchased with any taxpayer money.

An exhibit is a collaboration between the full team. Curators decide what pieces are to be on display and design the space. Registrars take in new art, place and remove it from storage, and facilitate transport form storage to display space. Woodworkers design mounts for the art that have to be sturdy enough to hold the art but small enough to disappear. Marketing and public relations professionals make sure that the public is informed about the new exhibits and field questions. Security makes sure that both the art and the public are safe. Student employees man the cafe, gift shop and front desk. Docents take guests on guided tours and answer questions about pieces. And all of that is overseen by Director Rebecca Nagy.

Art from outside the U.S. is put through a rigorous approval process by the federal government to ensure that pieces made from possible endangered materials aren’t being illegally brought into the country. Once here, the art is insured by the government and has to sit in storage for 24 hours before it is unboxed to allow it to acclimate to the Florida climate.

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