Should the City renew the agreement?

On Monday, September 4, 2023, the City of Alameda’s five-year agreement with the Alameda Museum to provide archival storage expired.

According to the agreement, the Alameda Museum, as an Independent Contractor, would provide the following:

  1. Be open to the public for free at least 15 hours a week.
  2. Be open for free group tours, especially for education based groups.
  3. Store historical records of the city and provide archival preservation.
  4. Dedicate 25% of warehouse to archival storage.
  5. Dedicate an additional 25% of warehouse to the City’s historical exhibits, including documents and photo archives from the Library, City records, Police and Fire Departments, Alameda Recreation and Park Department, and other City records.
  6. Assist with providing archive digital photos and text for City historical interpretive signage as requested.
The agreement made it clear the Alameda Museum is a Service Provider; and not a Civil Servant.

The agreement also provided a standard of care:

Provider agrees to perform all services hereunder in a manner commensurate with the prevailing standards of like professionals or service providers… all services shall be performed by qualified and experienced personnel[.]

Service Provider Agreement Between the City of Alameda and the Alameda Museum executed 09/05/2018

In the Recitals, the Agreement states that the Alameda Museum “possesses the skill, experience, ability, background, volunteer and staff time, and knowledge to provide the services described in this agreement on the terms and conditions described herein.”

But, even when this was signed, in 2018, the Alameda Museum didn’t possess any of the skill, experience, ability or background to perform these services.

George Gunn wasn’t qualified to preserve historical documents; and he didn’t.

George Gunn was an architect; not a serious records preservationist, or an archivist. Sure, he was able to inventory houses outside of the museum. But he never inventoried or organized the inside of museum in any useful or practical way–and this is a truth uncovered by what was supposed to be a routine records request that started almost four years ago.

Before 2019, the Alameda Museum had never bothered to organize the catalogue by Keyword, or Date.

Museum staff had simply redirected visitors to the Alameda Free Library, hoping the Library would do the Museum’s heavy lifting for them; instead of providing access to the relevant materials the Library actually transferred to the Museum.

This is why it always feels like a run-around.

Because the Alameda Museum always tries to redirect you to Alameda Free Library, even if the Library referred you to the Museum.

But this story lead straight to the Alameda Museum from the beginning; and I was not going to be redirected. I had the receipts.

I was following up on a number of items referenced in historical newspapers as donated to the Alameda Library; so I knew those items were in the possession of the Alameda Museum because of the transfer.

Of course the Museum didn’t know what I was talking about at first, and forced me to show them my sources to validate my inquiry.

Despite inheriting such a well organized, and cross-referenced volume of data and objects from the library, the Alameda Museum still managed to index it in a way that made it impossible to search the historical City Records, and City Exhibits. This was the second major hurdle.

When George Gunn finally left, the shadow of his leadership still remained.

The Museum Warehouse was not indexed. And, despite the efforts of the Museum’s volunteers, many of Alameda Museum’s holdings that were indexed, were indexed incorrectly.

This isn’t just proof Alameda Museum wasn’t in compliance with their contract; these circumstances underscore the need for the Archives to be maintained and preserved by a qualified Archival Preservation specialist.

Identification, dating, authentication and assignment of keywords of Alameda Museum’s artifacts needs to be performed by qualified persons. Data Entry and Cross-Referencing of existing card catalogs needs to be performed accurately, and with care.

And this is not to mention the financial and existential challenges George Gunn left Alameda Museum Board Members to deal with in his wake.

None of this is an excuse for the fact the Board Members didn’t do anything to encourage Gunn to provide the services or fire him. Point of fact: Gunn was constantly co-signed; his seat was never contested.

George Gunn, for his part, was belligerent in his noncompliance and perceived omnipotence [read: hubris].

George Gunn thought he would always be able to “survive” his critics… But he resigned in 2021, two years before the Museum’s contract expired.

While people like Dennis Evanosky [sorry, Dennis] and Woody Minor lauded Gunn’s “accomplishments”: Gunn’s only listed accomplishments reflected his own personal interests–outside of the museum–and unintentionally highlighted that Gunn’s notable achievements did not confer a public benefit.

Coincidentally, Dennis Evanosky was a signator to the Agreement with the City of Alameda, as the President of the Alameda Museum Board of Directors.

Museum Lacks Skilled Staff or Volunteers to Provide Preservation Services

Even if the Alameda Museum has been able to stay open for the 15 hours required of it for some of 5 years of this agreement, the Museum certainly does not have the volunteer or staff time to provide the archival services necessary to manage and preserve Alameda City Records.

This is because the Alameda Museum lacks any staff or volunteer hours to do the work that piled up during George Gunn’s tenor.

The Alameda Museum openly admits this:

  • They lack trained staff, they’re volunteer run.
  • They don’t have enough staff or volunteer hours to provide access to the Archives.
  • Board members are largely only scheduled for 2 hours a week.
The Alameda City Records are invaluable, priceless materials the City pays to be conserved in a warehouse suited for archival preservation.

Charging for Admission & Tours At Meyer House could Violate Agreement

Meyers House required $5 cash only admission fee.

The Service Provider Agreement specifically states the Museum must be open to the public (for no admission fee) for at least 15 hours per week.

Is the Meyer House exempt from the Agreement for some reason?

If so, the Meyer House and Garden hours of operations should not count towards to the total amount of time the Alameda Museum is open to the public.

Which would bring the Alameda Museum’s total time “Open To The Public” to only 7.5 hours–exactly half of the 15 hours the museum is required to be open for.

Museum Does Not Have Important Documents Regarding Transfer of Artifacts From Alameda Library

To be honest, my research request has less to do with the Alameda Museum, than with the Official City Repository they are paid to manage.

For context, my research request with the Alameda Museum started on November 24, 2019. And I was looking for archival materials like Newspapers of Records, Archival Photographs and Documents from the Library, City Records from the Council and other Departments and City Offices, as well as objects, artifacts, and other things donated to the Alameda Free Library’s Museum — all materials that were transferred to the Alameda Museum for safe keep, per the Service Provider Agreement between the Alameda Museum and the City of Alameda.

The first hurdle was the Museum’s lack of useful, practical, or accessible index/catalog.

Today, Valerie Turpen claims the Museum’s holdings have been catalogued and can now be searched by keyword — which was impossible before. But this doesn’t mean that my records request has been satisfied, or that I am any closer to reviewing the historical documents I request nearly four years ago.

Part of the reason is because some records are missing.

For instance, it appears that all records of the donation of Ohlone Artifacts to the Alameda Library are missing. There is no record of when the artifacts were donated, or by who. Every artifact in the “Native American Collection” seems to bear the same boiler-plate language:

Part of a collection of objects found in the largest Shellmound, also known as Sather’s Mound in Alameda, or smaller mounds. The excavations at Sather’s Mound were carried out in 1908 by Captain Clark, an amateur anthropologist. The items were donated to the Alameda Free Library, and passed on to the museum when the museum moved to a separate location.

Alameda Museum, “Native American Artifacts” as of May 31, 2022

The images above are a small selection of the Ohlone Artifacts stolen from the Alameda Shellmound and put on display as “Miwok” artifacts until I called the Museum out for their inaccuracies in 2019.

As you can tell from the object description quoted above: the exact provenance is impossible to tell because of Alameda Museum’s failure to accurately identify these stolen burial goods, and preserve integral paperwork related to their “donation”.

The plain and obvious disregard for indigenous objects and history stands in sharp contrast to the careful cataloguing and indexing of the white, Victorian-era artifacts proudly displayed and advertised by the Alameda Museum.

And it begs the question: How can the Museum have spent so much time cataloguing all of the objects owned by white Alamedans, from artwork to silverware to shoes, to the smallest, most inconsequential objects… but completely neglect the provenance, identification, and indexing of the most historically important objects in the entire Alameda Museum: proof of what life was like for the First Alamedans.

These artifacts were celebrated and popular during the early 1900’s. Several lectures were given on the Alameda Shellmounds, which featured artifacts now in the possession of the Alameda Museum.

Is this indicative of how other collections in the Alameda Museum are being mismanaged, improperly attributed, and haphazardly stored?

What other “city exhibits” are being neglected and what other records have been lost by the Alameda Museum?

When’s the last time the Museum even took inventory of their holdings? Seems like the answer is never, if their holdings weren’t even catalogued in 2019.

How could the Alameda Museum have let these conditions persist for so many decades?

Has the City ever inspected it’s own Archives for Compliance with the Service Provider Agreement?

All signs point to, “No”.

Maybe it’s time for the City of Alameda to take a better look at how the Alameda Museum has mismanaged the City Archives;

And either take serious steps to provide required access to those Archives at the Alameda Museum;

Or put out a Request for Proposals from qualified records storage and preservation companies.