The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at The University of New Mexico has been reaccredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), an honor held by only about 8 percent of anthropology museums and 16 percent of university museums.

The AAM is the leading professional organization of museums in the United States. Its mission is to champion museums and nurture excellence in all types of museums ranging from art museums to science centers, arboretums, and zoos. Since 1906 the AAM has developed best practices and advocated for museums.

The Maxwell was first accredited in 1973 and then again in 1984, 1997, and 2006. Accreditation is based on review of the five core documents (Mission Statement, Institutional Code of Ethics, Strategic Institutional Plan, Disaster Preparedness/Emergency Response Plan, and Collections Management Policy), as well as of a detailed self-study prepared by the Museum, and a site visit from a committee of two nationally recognized museum leaders.

"It's been a challenging year, but I'm really proud of how the museum staff pulled together to continue to serve our community throughout this time. Moving into the virtual world allowed us to expand our reach beyond the Albuquerque area and we plan to continue many of these initiatives after the pandemic is behind us."

Carla Sinopoli, Maxwell Museum of Anthropology director

Accreditation is an affirmation that museum meets standards and best practices of museum fields, and works to achieve its stated mission and goals, noted Maxwell director and professor of Anthropology Carla Sinopoli.

“Accreditation is important recognition that our peers recognize the contributions of the Maxwell Museum and our commitment to excellence,” she said. “In a practical sense, having this recognition is also valuable when we apply for external grants and other support to launch the many ongoing and new projects we are working on.”

Normally an evaluation committee visits the Museum for two or three days to meet staff, stakeholders, and tour all of the nooks and crannies of museum exhibitions, collections and work spaces, Sinopoli explained. The reviewers also examine the museum website, newsletters, and annual reports.

“This year, our two-day visit was virtual – the museum prepared videos and PowerPoint tours of our spaces. All of the meetings with Provost James Holloway, [College of Arts and Sciences] Dean Mark Peceny, Maxwell Museum staff, students, and volunteers were virtual,” she noted.

Sinopoli said the museum staff and administration worked on preparing for reaccreditation for more than two years, adding, “That included nine months of strategic planning with museum consultant Gail Anderson, which resulted in our new mission and vision statement and a new three-year Strategic Framework.”

The new Mission is:

“Working toward greater understandings of the fullness of human experience in the Southwest and the world.”

The new Vision is:

The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at UNM contributes to

  • Reconciling injustices
  • Restoring voices
  • Realizing community

They also worked on revising and updating the other core documents: Code of Ethics, Collections Management Policy, and Disaster Preparedness/Emergency Response Plan, which were then reviewed and approved by the UNM Museums Council and Dean Peceny.

Every detail is scrutinized, including what Sinopoli calls “the nuts and bolts of museum operations”: staffing, audience priorities and visitor numbers, collection composition and size, building infrastructure and square footage, budget details, parking, and administrative structure and role within UNM, and how the museum has responded to the concerns and recommendations of the last review. The self-study also asks the museum to reflect on major accomplishments and how the Museum makes a difference to its community.

The last year hasn’t been an easy one for the Maxwell to serve its audience but it quickly mustered its resources and has seen a great increase in virtual attendance.

"Within a week of being closed, the Maxwell staff began launching a range of virtual initiatives. It's been a challenging year, but I'm really proud of how the museum staff pulled together to continue to serve our community throughout this time,” Sinopoli told the UNM Newsroom. “Moving into the virtual world allowed us to expand our reach beyond the Albuquerque area and we plan to continue many of these initiatives after the pandemic is behind us." Since the pandemic began, Maxwell produced five online exhibitions.

“Going through reaccreditation preparation and review during a global pandemic is not what any of us planned and we were fortunate that many of our strategic planning meetings and core document development were completed before we went into limited operations. This process of self-evaluation and looking forward prepared us to move forward and we are exciting to continue our work,” she added.

The letter from the Chair of the AAM Accreditation Commission said in part: “The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology is an exemplary repository for extensive and important collections in Archaeology, Archives, Ethnology, and Osteology, as well as vibrant, relevant museum focused on participatory exhibitions and education programs with diverse constituencies.”

There is still more to do to improve, though.

“This is wonderful affirmation but we also recognize that it is not an end point. So reaccreditation is a great step but it is only a step in the continued growth and improvement of the Maxwell,” Sinopoli said. Both the strategic plan and the site visit report also highlight areas for continued improvement: in collection digitization and storage; in continuing to fulfill the Maxwell’s commitment to repatriation and building stronger community partnerships; in reimagining and updating its permanent exhibitions; and in fundraising and staffing needs.

Sinopoli is looking ahead to the Maxwell’s potential and future accreditations.

“Our next reaccreditation review is in 2030, when the Museum will be preparing to celebrate its 100th birthday. We look forward to continuing to work to safeguard and improve this amazing resource to UNM and our community that is entrusted to our care.”