Inclusive Object Toolkit - SANDBOX

Museum collections are rarely static. Most art museums regularly accession and de-accession objects in order to create the "best" collection they can. "Best" is a curatorial judgment and the process of acquiring artworks is governed by both law and ethical principles, both of which have changed over time. Particularly important has been the emergence of the concept of cultural rights in the 1980s, which manifests, among other places, in the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990. Also relevant in the United States are the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the development of art restitution policies to govern works looted during the Holocaust. 

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) maintains updated guidelines about accessioning on their site and enforces them through their accreditation and Museum Assessment Program (MAP). In 2008 the Association of Art Museum Directors issued their own, stricter rules governing the acquisition of archeological material, revising them in 2013.

Accessioning is the formal act of legally accepting an object or objects to the category of material that a museum holds in the public trust, or in other words those in the museum’s permanent collection. Because it commits staff time, space and other resources to the proper care of this material, it is important that acquiring material for the collections be done in a thoughtful, inclusive way that reflects the best interests of the museum and its audiences, and can be sustained by the available resources. 

Definition from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) website, 2018

As part of their accreditation process, the AAM asks museums to submit two documents about accessions:

  1. a collections plan
  2. data on proposed acquisitions and on accessions of past three years


Belk, Russell W. Collecting in a Consumer Society​. London: Routledge, 1995.

Clifford, James. Collecting Ourselves. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Knell, Simon J. ed. Museums and the Future of Collecting. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999.

Pearce, Susan M. Collecting Reconsidered. New York: Routledge, 1994.

owning v. sharing

collecting v. gathering

universal museum - Cuno makes the case

part of a whole

repatriation claims - Turkey