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For over 10 years Harold Hacker has serviced the third most visited museum in the United States. The Art Institute of Chicago is a world-class cultural institute housing over 300k works of art with a footprint of over One Million sq. ft. in 8 buildings. With its origins as a free art university, it currently sees over 1.5 million visitors a year (as of 2013). Able Services, with the help of Harold Hacker, currently provides Engineering services and ongoing maintenance to the facility ensuring that the lights are on and the climate is just right to provide near perfect conditions for invaluable pieces of art. I recently spoke with Harold to learn more about how his relationship has endured over the years.
When did you first begin the assignment at the Art Institute of Chicago?
In 2005 I was assigned to oversee the operations and maintenance of this facility which employs 15 operating engineers.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing the operations and maintenance of a museum?
Safety, training and scheduling maintenance to our equipment during critical hours of operations. The ongoing commitment we have with becoming more energy efficient while continuing to maintain the strictest of conditions of temperature and humidity to the invaluable collections.
If you were to offer advice to a museum that was considering outsourcing their operations and maintenance, what would it be?
The engineers are the key to having a successful operation. Everyone onsite from the Chief on down need to buy into the ideals of a museum’s settings. To ensure that all staff knows and fully understands the museums policies and procedures and follows them accordingly.
How do you ensure a healthy viable relationship between the Art institute and Able Services?
Trust is paramount. You need to be able to trust your entire staff. Lines of communications from management down to engineering need to be open 24 / 7 with the understanding of the critical nature of this job/account.
What was the most difficult exhibition to install that required a specific climate?
Loaned art exhibits are difficult to install because of the changing layouts and frequency of the shows. In order to receive the art from a donor Museum, you must agree to stringent loan agreements that are monitored 24/7. Works on paper are the most challenging.
What museum organizations, if any, do you recommend belonging to?
IAMFA (International Association of Museum Facility Administrators), We have joined this international organization over 8 years ago and this has been a great way to share best practices and network with your peer museums across the globe.
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