Inside the art gallery at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, there is a room that is filled with art. Paintings, drawings, sculptures and pieces ranging from a few inches tall to six or seven feet high are all collected in this designated spot. The room is nicknamed “The Vault” by all who know it, and why not? The treasures inside it are worthy of the finest in art museum storage.
Shannon Lindsey is the director of the UCF Art Gallery and a lecturer at the university. An artist herself, she well remembers the state of the Vault before the storage renovation took place.
“We had freestanding, permanent metal shelving, and we just didn’t have a lot of room/flexibility for changing the heights of shelves,” she recalled. “We didn’t have a lot of shelving either. Because of that, we would store the artwork wherever we could, based on size. It was densely packed, and we were in a position where we really couldn’t accession new artwork because we didn’t have additional space for storage.”
Challenges of the Canvas
The challenge facing any artist presents itself first in the guise of a blank canvas. In a figurative sense, that “canvas” represents opportunity. In a literal sense, it comes with parameters dependent on the medium. A painter or illustrator, for example, is literally bound by a canvas’s measurements. A writer is bound to the limitations of language. This sort of challenge often occurs for storage design, as well. Limitations, however, are merely opportunities for creative solutions in disguise.
Bonnie Nienhuis is a sales representative for Patterson Pope. When she first got involved with the project at UCF’s School of Visual Art & Design, she was greeted with a space that was filled with art. For Bonnie, that meant opportunity. She dove in.
“For me, it all starts with asking the right questions and really seeing what they have,” said Nienhuis. “I take a complete inventory. I count how many pictures they have, how many sculptures, how many items. Initially, I’m trying to get a feel for what they have in the collection. The comprehensive survey is critical. Then I ask them, ‘Is this your entire collection? Is any of this temporary? How often are you planning to access these pieces? Which ones specifically? How much would you like me to plan for growth?’ I include all of those realities in my numbers and my plan.”
The Vault at UCF measures approximately 29 feet by 21 feet. That takes into account several nooks and crannies The ceilings are 18 feet tall. That’s a little over 600 square feet housing art collected through years of accessioning from area artists, generous benefactors and even random individuals eager to share some of their collected assets.
A Stroke of Genius
Shannon Lindsey came to UCF in the fall of 2017. Upon her arrival, she found that her new co-workers were excited about the impending storage renovation, and that it had, in fact, been in the planning stages for some time.
“The university has been collecting since 1978,” she said. “Over the years, there have been many changes in the collection, and of course technology has progressed. Standards and best practices for maintaining a collection have changed as well. This opportunity really gave us the time to pull everything out, then re-catalog and archive everything.”
With the help of some 3-D drawings done by a Patterson Pope project planner, Bonnie Nienhuis was able to take a holistic look at the space. The detailed digital rendering of the Vault helped her to place RaptorRac wide-span shelving, mechanical-assist mobiles. and even flat files set on metal carts with casters allowing for easy mobility. The imaging done before the actual install helped to make certain that measurements were true and that every item fit seamlessly into the space.
“I like the unique nature of every project; they’re all so different,” said Nienhuis. “On this one, we made use of all the space we had. We even installed EZ rail on the walls with hooks to hold their fantastic collection of African masks. It’s set up so that it’s flexible. The arrangement of the masks can change if need be.”
The compact shelving helps store pieces large and small. Some items measure as wide as two fingers, but there are also sculptures and statues that reach six or seven feet high and weigh hundreds of pounds. Despite this wide-ranging load, the mechanical shelves can be opened and closed extremely easily.
Additionally, several Spacesaver mobile art racks help hold and display a wonderful assortment of paintings and illustrations. Planning and a touch of installation artistry helped to create a space that was orderly and that invited interaction.
“We are an educational institution. What I’m really happy about is that now, it’s actually a functional, educational place,” added Lindsey. “I can now bring students and faculty into the Vault and they can navigate the space. They are able to see everything; we have everything ordered. It’s ordered by year, whereas before we were only able to order everything based on essentially where it would fit. What an astounding transformation.”
Museum Storage Isn’t a Paint-by-Numbers Affair
Being somewhat of an “outsider” when she first arrived on campus actually helped Lindsey offer some valuable input during the design process. That input not only paid off, but got Lindsey thinking about how such fresh perspectives might help others in similar positions who might be considering storage renovations to their own spaces.
“I know from experience now that it can be a little hard to see the full picture when you’re so invested in a space,” she said. “So if there’s any way you can kind of take a step back, listen to other people’s perspectives and see the entirety of a project before you get into it, it will really help you.”
As for the right professional assistance?
“I think it’s really valuable to bring somebody in like Patterson Pope – a company that has a thorough understanding of the functionality of storage,” she added. “They can help you see things that you might not otherwise see. What’s more, they are willing to have a conversation with you to find out how you’re going use the space and find out what you want to do. They create solutions that you wouldn’t necessarily think of on your own because you’re so overwhelmed.”
Patterson Pope knows a little something about space, about stuff, and about the power of collaboration.
For more information on this project, check out our Success Story.