Artifact Loan Procedures and Requirements

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (NASM) is dedicated to responsibly lending artifacts for exhibition to increase access to the Museum’s premier collections. Through our lending program, NASM strives to engage and educate audiences in the history, culture, and science of aviation and spaceflight and the study of the universe.

Loans of artifacts from the NASM Collections are made to non-profit or educational institutions for exhibition in order to make them publicly accessible in the broadest manner. NASM artifacts are not lent to individuals, for commercial purposes, or for private pecuniary gain. NASM artifacts must be displayed in areas clearly separate from commercial or for-profit areas of activity.

NASM has established the following process in order to effectively assess and manage requests for artifacts, while incorporating elements which provide useful information to Borrowers and help ensure the proper stewardship of our collections.

I. THE LOAN PROCESS

Loan Request Process

The loan process is initiated with the formal submission of a Loan Request Form, and a current American Alliance of Museums (AAM) General Facilities Report (GFR) for all related venues and storage locations, including those of venues for traveling exhibitions. Together, this data provides NASM staff critical information to assess the Borrower’s request. Among the elements reviewed are:

  • Projected date of shipments and exhibition
  • Complete list of requested NASM artifacts including NASM catalog numbers
  • Rationale and intellectual justification for requesting NASM artifacts
  • Budget and funding elements
  • Venues for traveling exhibitions, if applicable
  • Facility data for all venues and storage locations

Borrowers are encouraged to submit as much information as possible in this initial request phase, as more complete data will greatly facilitate the review of the loan and increase its chances of final approval. Requests should include clear statements of the exhibits theme and intended audience, demonstrate a strong justification for why NASM artifacts are needed, show evidence of funding for associated loan costs (such as packing, shipping, conservation treatment, etc.). Similarly, requests that identify a small number of specific artifacts will have a stronger chance of approval than those that request a large number of artifacts or that have only a vague idea of the number or type of artifacts being sought.  

Borrowers should be aware of, and budget for, the considerable costs incurred in borrowing artifacts for exhibition. These costs may include any or all of the following: costs of conservation, mounting/framing/specialized casework, insurance, enhanced security, fine arts packing and shipping, and courier costs. Activities that should be taken into account when budgeting for loans are discussed below in Section II.

In order to allow for sufficient time to properly assess loan requests and allow for associated planning and artifact treatment, the Borrower should submit all required information for a loan request at least twelve (12) months prior to the desired shipping date. Requests for loans that will travel internationally should be submitted at least eighteen (18) months prior to the desired shipping date. These lead times are especially important in requests that seek a large number of artifacts, or the loan of fragile, complex and/or high profile artifacts from the NASM collection.

The loan request must be submitted via email to NASM-LoanRequest@si.edu. Once a complete application is received, it will be reviewed by relevant NASM staff for merit, nature of proposed venue(s), and audience. The condition and durability of requested artifacts will be carefully assessed. Artifacts deemed too fragile to travel, or which are unavailable for loan for other reasons, may be eliminated from the list of requested artifacts. Recommendations about mounting or lighting requirements, shipment, etc. will be formulated after artifact inspections have been completed. This committee also weighs recommendations on the size and complexity of a proposed loan in relation to competing requests, physical condition of artifacts and risks associated with making a loan. Finally, capacity of NASM staff to process the loan will also enter into consideration.

Based on this assessment, the NASM Loan Committee may decide to approve the loan to the next stage of the process, suggest modifications to the list of artifacts requested or to the conditions of exhibition, or decline the request. Decisions of this committee are made based on the merits of the loan request and an assessment of other NASM obligations that may constrain its ability to accommodate the request. Borrowers whose requests are declined will receive an explanation and, where appropriate, ways in which their requests might be strengthened.

Loan Approval

The Loan Approval Letter includes the following information:

  • Final list of approved artifacts by catalog number with insurance values
  • Conservation treatment requirements (see information below)
  • Requirements for mounting, environment, packing, courier, transportation, insurance, photo request information (see information below)
  • List of estimated costs

Once the Borrower signs the approval letter, formal preparation of the artifacts begins. Estimates of expenses will be provided, and Borrowers must confirm that they are prepared to accept payment obligation before artifact preparation will begin.

II. ASSOCIATED COSTS OF LOANS

It is the responsibility of the borrower to pay all costs associated with the loan of an artifact, and to appropriately budget, as these costs can often be considerable. The loan request should be framed with these costs in mind. It is advisable that Borrowers have identified funding to cover these costs when they initiate the loan request.

Conservation

All conservation work, including treatment, treatment reports, documentary photography, and condition reports may require the Borrower to contract with a third-party approved by NASM. Contract conservators commonly charge for all time spent on a loan, including producing cost estimates and consulting with curators, designers, mount makers, and packers. If a contract conservator is required, they will coordinate with NASM staff, who must approve of all treatments proposed by the contract conservator. The Borrower is informed of all estimated costs and must agree to pay for the work before it begins.

Mount-making, Framing and Casework

The Borrower is responsible for the cost of fabricating any necessary special mounts, any required matting and framing, and any specialized display cases. All mount, framing, and case designs must be approved in advance by NASM and incorporated into the Borrower’s exhibition design. Once approved, designs related to NASM artifacts cannot be altered without written NASM approval. The Borrower agrees to follow NASM’s Conservation Exhibit Design and Construction Guidelines as well as any special installation instructions provided by NASM. The lent artifacts will be handled only by experienced personnel approved by NASM.

Crate-fabrication and Packing

The Borrower will be responsible for the cost of fabricating museum-quality crates or shipping containers and packing artifacts by contractors approved by NASM.

Transportation and Storage

All transportation (carrier, customs brokerage, freight forwarding, additional security, storage, travel between venues, etc.) associated with transit from and to NASM, and between venues, must be approved by NASM, with all costs borne by the Borrower. The use of an approved customs brokerage firm is required to coordinate the shipping of all international loans and may be required for certain domestic loans.

Courier and Courier Costs

If a courier is required, the Borrower will be responsible for all courier costs and any and all unforeseen expenditures required to assure the safe transport and installation of the lent artifacts as well as the transport of the courier. NASM retains the right to require that a loan be accompanied by a NASM staff courier (or outside contracted individual) and that unpacking, mounting, installation, de-installation, and repacking be supervised by the courier at the Borrower’s expense. Types of lent artifacts that generally require the aid of a courier include, but are not limited, to those possessing unique conservation concerns (such as spacesuits), highly fragile artifacts, artifacts that require specialized knowledge for installation or handling, and artifacts with high monetary or scholarly values. In addition to a courier, certain high value artifacts may require the use of specialized security escorts during transit.

Insurance

Loaned Artifacts must be insured during the period of this loan under an all-risk, wall-to-wall policy subject to the following standard exclusions: wear and tear, gradual deterioration, insects, vermin, or inherent vice; repairing, restoration, or retouching process; hostile or warlike action, insurrection, rebellion; nuclear reaction, nuclear radiation, or radioactive contamination.

NASM can arrange for coverage with the premium billed to Borrower, or the Borrower may carry their own insurance.  If the Borrower chooses to use their own coverage, documented evidence of Borrower’s insurance (copy of the policy and certificate of insurance, listing the Smithsonian Institution as additional insured) must be provided to, and approved by, NASM before shipment.