Meet Geri Sanders, Director of Collections

By Marissa Baum

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The Director of Collections position at the American Jazz Museum was vacant from September, 2017 until the beginning of August, when Geri Sanders joined the Museum staff. Geri holds a Master of Arts in History and a wealth of hands-on archival experience. Her awards and publications are numerous. We were excited about the opportunity to get to know her better. 

How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? 

Archival duties include inventory, maintenance and preservation of materials in the Collections to preserve and make available to the public. We also will accept donations that fit our mission and loan out materials to other museums. The work that I do entails working to process new collections, cataloging, preservation, and in some cases digitizing materials.  

How did you get started in archives and museums? 

I have always been interested in public history, but some years back, I received a paid summer internship through the Kansas City Area Archivists to work at what used to be the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at UMKC and that sparked my interest even more. 

How long does it take to plan an exhibition? What are the steps? 

It generally takes up to a month to plan an exhibit and in some cases even longer if we are requesting loans from other repositories: the steps include researching the topic; creating a list of objects to display whether from your own collections or borrowed from others; mocking up the exhibit in the space (the space will determine exhibit size or which pieces will fit into the space); determining what items can be replicated and making copies; creating labels; matting and framing 2-Dimensional pieces, if necessary; installing the exhibit.

What do you find important about preserving jazz history?

Jazz is an American art form specifically created by African Americans.  My background is in African American history and culture, and black music is an important element in that history. 

What is the biggest strength of the Museum’s collections?

The biggest strength is the John H. Baker Jazz Film Collection. This unique archive consists of more than 1.5 million feet or roughly 700 viewing hours, of full-length features, television kinescopes and 2,000 unduplicated soundies (short films featuring jazz bands and musicians lasting about three minutes each.) Many of the jazz greats are highlighted in this collection. 

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What do you feel people can learn from the Museum that they did not already know about jazz?

I feel that most people can learn something even if they are jazz enthusiasts. Just knowing where jazz started and what type was created in Kansas City is just scratching the surface. The Museum explores the history of jazz and the collection holds numerous items that speak to the culture of African Americans and consequently all different types of music.  

What drew you to the American Jazz Museum?

I knew that the position in collections had been vacant for some time and wanted to be a part of the work that is going on in the 18th & Vine historic district. Preservation of African American history and culture can be a vehicle for the archives to become more accessible to the public. 

Why should people make return visits to the American Jazz Museum?

Exploring the history is a significant part to understanding jazz. The Horace Peterson III Visitors Center provides a look into what was going on in the community. To get the whole picture, one trip would not be enough. 

Is there anything else you’d like to say that I didn’t ask you about already?

I am excited to be here and hope that the department can make the collection available to the public through research inquires, exhibits, and programming. I have a team with two others knowledgeable in museum studies and local history. Together we will work to keep in line with the mission of the American Jazz Museum.

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