Every once in a while, you sit back, look around a room and think, “These walls need a fresh coat of paint.” There’s nothing really wrong with the wall. It just needs a touchup.
That’s going on in the Park Authority. The Fairfax County Park Authority Board recently reviewed the policies that govern how we take care of our museum and archaeological collections and how we take care of the live plants and animals that are on exhibit at some of our historic sites and nature centers. The Park Board also reviewed and adopted an update to the agency’s Institutional and Professional Code of Ethics for Museum Operations.
This isn’t just government office paper shuffling. There are good reasons for these actions. As Cultural Resource Protection Branch Manager Dr. Elizabeth Crowell explained, accreditation with the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) requires that the Park Authority have a formal collections policy approved by its board. Accreditation from the AAM is assurance to county residents of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s commitment to, and demonstration of, the professional standards for education, public service and collections care. Crowell noted, “It’s the proof that we’re doing the job the way it’s supposed to be done.”
“The new policy is far more in-depth that the previous policy,” Crowell said, adding that it is appropriate to what AAM requires. Sully Historic Site and Colvin Run Mill were first accredited in 1979, then reaccredited in 1990. In 2002, Green Spring Gardens joined Sully and Colvin Run as accredited AAM sites. “The reason for the updates is that we are seeking reaccreditation for all those sites, plus Frying Pan, and all collections – historic, archaeological, and live plants and animals,” said Heritage Resource Specialist Megan Leining. Combined, Leining said, they are now considered a museum system.
Another reason for the updated policies is that the Park Board first passed a collections code of ethics in 2000. Reviewing and reaffirming the code today reconfirms its value. Since there has been substantial turnover in members of the Board over the past 16 years, this update confirms that the current board approves and supports the ethics code. The AAM Code of Ethics for Museums is online.
The revisions to the policy that governs the handling of exhibit animals “brings the live collections format in line with the industry standard version that is used for the Historic Objects & Archaeology collections,” said Ellanor C. Lawrence Park Manager John Shafer, who worked on the updating. “These revisions are being done to comply with the requirements for the four park sites that are seeking re-accreditation or initial accreditation through AAM,” he said. Those park sites include Frying Pan Farm Park, which has farm animal collections, and Green Spring Gardens, which has living, nationally-significant plant collections. Shafer said the Park Authority’s policy that governs live collections was expanded in this update from covering just animals to now including plants.
“Previously, the collections policy for plants was documented as a plant collections guideline, instead of as policy for FCPA,” said Green Spring Gardens Manager Mary Olien.
So the Park Authority is updating its policies to assure that our employees are using the best practices known for taking care of the historic and archaeological collections, plants and exhibit animals in county parks. It’s how the Park Authority assures county residents that we’re doing our job the right way.
The formal name of the park policies that were reviewed are Policy 206 Museum and Archaeological Collections with Appendix 15 and Policy 207 – Live Collections Management with Appendix 16. They can be seen in the Fairfax County Park Authority Policy Manual.
Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.