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Museum at FIT Wins Top National Recognition

By Mathew Katz | October 5, 2012 12:40pm

CHELSEA — New York has no shortage of great museums, from the Met and MoMA to the Guggenheim and Museum of Natural History.

But a comparatively tiny, fashion-centric museum has finally moved into the upper echelon.

After nearly five decades, the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology has received the highest national recognition for a museum, recently earning accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums.

The new status puts fashion at the forefront of the country's top art institutions, along with big names like the Smithsonian in D.C. and The Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

The honor is also awarded to only the top 4.5 percent of the country's roughly 17,500 museums, and less than 1 percent of museums affiliated with a college or university.

"This recognition validates the dedication of our staff to the highest standards in all aspects of the museum's operations, from governance and planning to exhibitions and public programming," said Valerie Steele, the museum's director, in a statement.

On a more practical level, the accreditation will likely help the institution win more grants and funding, according to a museum spokeswoman. It won't, however, allow for any new tax breaks.

The years-long application and accreditation process informally began in 2005 and involved the AAM combing over the Museum at FIT's disaster plans, policies and procedures, care for its collections and financial materias.

"It's really a very in-depth way of looking at museum operations," said Tamsen Schwartzman, the museum's media manager.

"For the general public, [exhibitions] may be what they see, but there's a whole system behind that which the AAM looks at."

The institution's programming also won it points in the eyes of the AAM, Schwartzman said. The museum typically features five exhibitions a year, plus seven student and faculty exhibtions and a film and lecture series.

The Museum at FIT is one of the few in the country the focuses exclusively on fashion. It's had a number of big-name exhibitions over the past year alone, including one featuring selections from heiress Daphne Guinness' wardrobe that highlighted never-before-seen designs by the late Alexander McQueen.

The museum also hosted a two-part look at the great designers of the past century, including designs by big names like Oscar de la Renta and Miuccia Prada.

Aside from the museum's top exhibits, the AAM also pointed to the work it does with FIT students, as well as public programs for the broader community and local schools.

“While the Museum at FIT has proven to be exemplary in all that it does — a prerequisite for receiving accreditation — it has placed forging community ties among its top priorities,” said AAM President Ford Bell.

"The museum has established strong bonds with local students, its residential neighbors, and with the college as a whole, always a critical issue for college and university museums."

On display now at the museum is the second part of its exhibition highlighting pieces from its collection, along with "Ivy Style," which celebrates the classic Ivy League looks.