The last shelf went up yesterday and the work crew have packed up…. Although I have a background in architecture and two home renos behind me, managing the renovation and relocation of Ryerson Fashion Research Collection was a huge undertaking. Having made it through the other end of that process, I can see now that I was innocent of the many obstacles that would fall into my path (which was probably a good thing).
When I first walked through the space allocated for the collection last July, my heart sunk at how dark, dirty and ugly it seemed. Undeterred by ugly, my friend and award-winning architect Guela Solow offered to help me on spec, and her team at ARK Inc. created visionary plans for the space. Although these plans were met with applause from the Advisory Council, the administration had other priorities. Even so, I did not give up hope that the space could be transformed into a functional home for the collection –one that would also be more accessible to students, faculty, and visiting researchers. With a bare bones budget that allowed little more than carpentry work and paint, I forged ahead.
One of the most important lessons I learned in managing this project is that tenacity is essential to get things done. You simply cannot give up. People rarely say no; they just ignore your request. That did not deter me and I would just ask again. Sometimes I had to ask multiple times, but I was always polite and I always smiled. I also made an effort to be clear and explain my needs – for air flow and temperature regulation etc. – to help the team understand the unique requirements related to storage of historic artifacts and why I was asking for things to be done a certain way. Setting a specific deadline for completion offered a target to get things done, and my batches of home-made biscotti may have helped encourage the team along.
I rolled up my sleeves to make this project happen, coming in on weekends to dust shelves, wash counters, sweep the floors, and move racks of clothes. I knew that the sooner that the garments were moved out of the library, the sooner I would be able to organize the collection and do another round of editing. It was only a few weeks ago that I moved the last artifacts out of the library, and the entire collection is now housed in Kerr Hall West.
The space has been divided into:
1. Research rooms/office: Counter space for visitors to the facility to examine extant garments and conduct research. (Note: the archival boxes have yet to be put away; one of the many tasks on my long to-do list).
2. File room for storage of periodicals and other ephemera
3. Holding area: Low lighting area for racks of clothing waiting for registration, photography or conservation
4. Mannequin room
5. Hat and accessories room
6. Designer archive – designer clothing hung alphabetically plus shelving for designer hats
7. General collection storage – racks of clothing hung by period or course
8. Fur storage – separate storage for furs, leathers and feathers
9. Photography studio
The space is not pretty, but it is bright, clean and functional and there is room for the collection to grow. Although there is still much organization and cataloguing to do, I can see the end. This project has not been easy, nor has it been without heartache, but I know that what I’ve done has literally transformed the School of Fashion. Had I not had the “crazy idea” to offer my skills and services to undertake this project in February 2012, this collection would likely still be accumulating dust behind LIB767 of the Ryerson University Library. Sometimes you just have to jump in….