Michael Chapman, vice president for public affairs and University relations, has issued the following statement on the future of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology:
For more than 50 years, Brown University has been responsible for the care and stewardship of the remarkable collections of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology in Bristol, R.I. Comprising more than 100,000 ethnographic and archaeological artifacts from the Americas, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Oceania, the collections have been a resource of great value to generations of students, scholars, and the public.
Having recently been made aware of significant fire code and environmental issues that pose a potential danger to this unique and significant collection of artifacts and objects, Brown University has decided to close the museum buildings to the public as of August 30, 2008. This closure will enable University and museum staff to focus their efforts on collections preservation and planning for the relocation of the museum to modern facilities closer to the University campus in Providence. This decision, made after discussions with the fire marshall of the Town of Bristol and with the advice of external consultants, is intended to position the museum to better serve the University and Rhode Island communities in the decades ahead. In the interim, the Haffenreffer Museum will continue to be open to the public in its Manning Hall gallery on the Brown University campus.
In 2007, the fire marshall of the Town of Bristol notified the University that the buildings housing the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology were not in compliance with town fire codes in exits, doorways, storage rooms, and fire-alarm systems, and gave the University a deadline of July 1, 2008, to develop a plan to remedy these problems. Consultants retained by the University to assess these issues and recommend actions that would bring the museum buildings into code compliance found additional potential problems in the buildings’ fire safety, alarm, and fire suppression systems, as well as in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The age and condition of the buildings housing exhibition and collection storage facilities has also made the collections susceptible to inadequate climate control, insect infestations, and mold, all of which impede the long-term preservation and protection of the collections.
Given the prohibitive estimated cost of remediation to the buildings in Bristol, and the limitations on the usefulness of the collections for teaching and research imposed by their distance from campus, the University has decided to develop plans to relocate the museum and its collections to a site that is more readily accessible for faculty, students, and the general public, with modern systems and facilities for exhibition, research, security, climate control, curatorial activities, and preservation. The University has been exploring a number of options during the last several months, and that planning work will intensify in the months ahead.
In the near term, the museum staff will develop and implement a plan to mitigate damage to the collection, and will inspect, conserve, document, and prepare the collections for a move, if necessary, to a temporary facility that will safeguard them until they are moved to a permanent new location.