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State's museums reap federal grant windfall

September 23, 2004|Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writer

The thousand artifacts in the Pacific Asia Museum's collection of centuries-old Chinese clothing are ready for their close-ups -- and their Internet debut -- thanks to a federal grant to the Pasadena institution announced this week.

So are 30,000 photographs, maps, brochures and watercolors at L.A.'s Southwest Museum. Its parent organization, the Autry National Center in Griffith Park, will use $150,000 from the same grant program to put images of those items on its website -- part of a long-term project to create a digital catalog of all 350,000 pieces in the Southwest Museum collection.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal support agency, announced grants totaling $16.4 million to 186 recipients nationwide under its Museums for America program. Of those, 14 are in California, accounting for $1.2 million. And of the 14, half are using the money to boost their Web presence or put information about their holdings online so that curators, researchers and the public easily can browse the collections via computer.

Marcia Page, collections manager at the Pacific Asia Museum, says the goal is eventually to make all 14,000 pieces in its collection viewable online. The $65,000 that the museum is getting from the government -- to be matched by donors in accordance with rules of the grant program -- will solve the problem of how to take high-quality pictures of its textiles collection, which consists mainly of rare, vulnerable articles of clothing from the late 1700s and early 1800s. One fragment from a silk robe is more than 700 years old.

The museum has a special studio for photographing its holdings, launched in 2000 with a grant from the J. Paul Getty Trust. But the textiles wing is in a separate building, and taking fragile clothes down an outdoor flight of stairs and across an open courtyard to be photographed has proven too risky. The new grant will fund another specially equipped studio under the same roof as the textiles.

Page thinks that the Getty's Electronic Cataloging Initiative, which provided $5.1 million from 1997 to 2003 to help 22 L.A.-area institutions place their collections online, has had a ripple effect that's manifest in her museum's seeking and receiving a federal grant to extend that work. "Probably you see more online museum catalogs from Southern California than any place in the country, and it's because of [the Getty]."

The federal grants also will fund Internet education or cataloging projects at the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands ($61,000), the Mission Inn Foundation in Riverside ($79,000), the Ventura County Museum of History and Art ($44,000), the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont ($74,655) and the UC Davis Arboretum ($147,000).

In nondigital initiatives, Pasadena's Armory Center for the Arts will get $150,000, the maximum grant, to expand arts and education programs at its Armory Northwest site.

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