Letting Go: Deaccessioning the University of Toronto’s Scientific Artifacts Collection

2020, University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection
2020, artifacts, Deaccessioning, history, science, scientific instruments, technology, University of Toronto, University of Toronto Scientific Instrument Collection
About This Project

Date: Friday, April 3 2020 – Onward
Partner: University of Toronto’s Scientific Instrument Collection
Location: Physical exhibition is located on the 3rd floor gallery, Victoria College, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON And the online component is located at https://lettinggoexhibition.wordpress.com
Project Members: Alexandra Forand and Andrea Meier
Museum artifacts do not last forever. They have their own life cycles that include a beginning and an end. Despite museum professionals best efforts, entropy takes its toll and these artifacts decay. Deaccessioning, the process of disposing of museum artifacts that have reached the end of their lifespan, is just as much a part of museum practice as collecting.
In an effort to shed more light on this subject, we, Alexandra Forand and Andrea Meier, have partnered with the University of Toronto Scientific Artifacts Collections, to curate Letting Go: Deaccessioning at the University of Toronto’s Scientific Artifact Collection, an exhibition about the practise of deaccessioning and reframe deaccessioning as a normal and healthy part of museum operations. In this experiment of radical transparency, the team hopes to educate audiences about these artifacts and inform audiences about the reasons behind deaccessioning.
This project has been challenging on many levels, since the artifacts that are being featured in this exhibition are the artifacts the collection no longer wants. These artifacts are not the invaluable rarities that reveal the history of science, but instead they are broken and the duplicates. Most of the artifacts included in the exhibit, do not have any sort of provenance. In a few cases, we came across artifacts that the collection was uncertain why they had this artifact, whether the collection owned them, and what the artifact even was. Letting Go required us to think of artifacts as having life cycles and biographies, but also to work with artifacts where the history was unknown. Making an exciting exhibit from these items has required rethinking the artifacts not as interesting and important specimens, but as examples of why deaccessioning is an important process carried out by collections.
The team had planned Letting Go as a physical exhibition with an opening event, however with the cancelations and closures due to Covid-19, this plan was postponed. In the future, the team still hopes to mount a physical exhibit, but in the meantime we decided to bring Letting Go into the digital realm!
Collections are not dead nor are they eternal. Collections are living, changing things that consist of artifacts with finite lifespans. A good collection should serve the museum, not simply exist for the sake of a collection. We hope that you enjoy Letting Go: Deaccessioning at the University of Toronto’s Scientific Artifact Collection.