CENTRAL PLAINS CHAPTER OF ARLIS/NA: A BRIEF HISTORY
In 1972, a group of librarians who specialized in the visual arts met at the American Libraries Association annual conference. They perceived a need to create a separate professional organization that would allow better communication and cooperation among art librarians. By the end of the year, the Art Libraries Society of North America was founded and taking shape. The first issue of the ARLIS/NA Newsletter reported St. Louis as one of the locations where “chapters are forming.”
Later issues of the newsletter and directories reveal that, after brief discussion about having an Eastern Missouri chapter and a Western Missouri chapter, the first meeting of the Kansas-Missouri chapter was held in Columbia, Missouri in 1973. Ann Abid of the St. Louis Art Museum was listed as Chair of the Charter Committee and Anne Tompkins of the Nelson-Atkins Museum was listed as Chairman pro tem in the 1973 ARLIS/NA Directory. Other early members included Marcia Collins (University of Missouri-Columbia), Bob Daw (Topeka Public Library), Martha Hilligoss (St. Louis Public Library), Martha Kehde (University of Kansas) and Virginia Secrest (Washington University).
The chapter reported annual meetings held until about 1976, but seems to have become inactive in the late 1970s and in fact reported no active officers in 1980.
In 1982, a meeting called by Susan Craig at the University of Kansas was held in Lawrence, reviving the chapter and expanding the region covered to include Nebraska. In 1983, Oklahoma and Arkansas were added, and the chapter was officially renamed ARLIS/Central Plains. Susan Craig of the University of Kansas became the first Chair of the new chapter.
Since then, semi-annual meetings have been held, with meetings taking place in every state represented in the chapter. A milestone occurred in March of 1991, when the chapter successfully hosted the Annual Conference of ARLIS/NA in Kansas City. Tom Young of the Philbrook Museum of Art was Program Chair and Karen Meizner of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art was Local Arrangements Chair for this conference.
Eleven years later, in March of 2002, the chapter hosted the ARLIS/NA Annual Conference in St. Louis. This conference was the First Joint Conference with the Visual Resources Association. Marianne Cavanaugh of the St. Louis Art Museum was Co-Chair of Local Arrangements and Debra Ultan (formerly of Washington University) was the Program Co-Chair. The chapter hosted a joint meeting with the VRA Midwest Chapter during preparations for this major undertaking.
In October of 2005, the chapter held a well-attended joint meeting with the Mountain Plains Chapter in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
One of the first projects tackled by the chapter was a Union List of Serial Exhibition Catalogs. This was finally brought to fruition in 1994, coordinated by Marianne Cavanaugh of the St. Louis Art Museum, and was one of the first documents to appear on the newly created ARLIS/NA website. A printed Who’s Who in Central Plains, listing librarians and other professionals in the chapter’s area who served as contacts, was issued several times in the pre-electronic era.
A highlight in chapter history occurred in 2008, when Susan Craig of the University of Kansas received the ARLIS/NA Distinguished Service Award for a career of notable service to the Society and the chapter, the highest honor the Society can bestow.
The chapter endeavors to keep up with technological advances that facilitate communication, both within the chapter and externally. Its first website was created and hosted by Susan Bobo at Oklahoma State University in 2005. In 2008, the website’s host was moved to St. Louis University. The chapter created a blog in 2009, and a list-serv for internal communication in 2010. The year 2019 brought change and the management company for ARLIS/NA migrated all chapter sites to WordPress, hosting the sites on their servers. The Central Plains chapter updated our site in preparation for hosting the 2020 ARLIS/NA national conference in St. Louis, Missouri. The national conference was scheduled for April of 2020. Conferences worldwide were cancelled that spring due to the coronavirus pandemic. A virtual conference was held in the summer of 2020. The chapter is still meeting, primarily online, and members are eager to meet in person when safer circumstances allow.