Museum Loan Network

The Museum Loan Network was established in 1993 with generous funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts to make objects of cultural heritage more accessible to the public by encouraging collecting institutions to share these works over extended periods of time. Over the next decade, the MLN built a directory of 20,000 artifacts available for long-term loan from 400 participating institutions.

Between 1995 and 2006 the MLN grant programs promoted cooperation and exchange among the nation's museums, leading to increased public access to collections across the country. The Museum Loan Network awarded almost $6 million, resulting in approximately 400 grants to 250 museums in 51 states and territories across the country, and facilitated the long-term loan of more than 4,500 objects from museum storage vaults to museum galleries across the nation.

  • Travel grants were available to museums interested in borrowing objects. These grants support travel of personnel to prospective lending institutions to research possible loans and initiate loan negotiations.
  • Survey grants awarded have resulted in researching and cataloging nearly 250,000 works, with subsequent identification of 20,000 for inclusion in the MLN Directory.
  • Implementation grants were available to museums to support direct costs associated with long-term loans of objects.

In addition to providing information on loanable objects, the MLN directory was a means of connecting museum professionals all around the country, encouraging collaborations between collecting institutions and investigating new ways to interpret cultural artifacts. The MLN's extensive network helped connect museums with the next generation of museum professionals and promoted mentoring and other intergenerational connections.

With support from Knight Foundation, the MLN  published Sharing Connections: A Decade of the Museum Loan Network,  a book celebrating and reflecting on a decade of the work of the MLN. The publication, filled with stories from the field and dedicated to Stephen Weil, is available upon request to

As museums built their own public databases and became more open to collaboration and new ways of connecting artifacts to the communities, and as funders moved on to new projects, the MLN database came to serve more of an archival function. The MLN is unable to support loans or any other projects. The archives of the Museum Loan Network are available for research and students at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities. For more information, and for access to the data base, contact Steven Lubar.

The Museum Loan Network also undertook special projects, including:

Museum as Catalyst for Interdisciplinary Collaboration (2009), the proceedings of the series of convenings that were hosted by the Museum Loan Network in 2000-2001. These meetings, which gathered innovative leaders from different disciplines, explored a number of interrelated issues, challenges, and opportunities affecting collaboration and today's museums. It is our hope that the conversations reflected in this publication will further the discourse on the role of collaboration and inspire institutions and individuals to continue to explore new ways of working in their own communities. A pdf is available here; printed copies can be requested at

Collecting Stories: Connecting Objectsan initiative designed to engage communities by connecting oral histories with cultural objects resulted in a website, now available in the Internet Archive, here. A pdf of the report is available here

Early American Art. With the generous support from The Henry Luce Foundation, the MLN expanded the MLN Directory by increasing and strengthening its presentation of early American painting and sculpture through 1840. “Energizing the Study of Early American Art” presented online information and images of a core group of loanable objects, as well as a selection of comparative early American works not necessarily available for long-term loan, in order to increase accessibility to works from the period. The expanded Directory, designed for use by academics, researchers, independent scholars, curators, students and educators, facilitated the study of early American art, promoted collections sharing, strengthened existing museum networks and fostered new long-term relationships between colleagues in the field.  

Virtual Exhibitions. The MLN supported virtual exhibitions that highlight and preserve physical exhibitions that took advantage of MLN loans. Many of these were done using software no longer supported; these are listed here for archival purposes.

To view two experimental online exhibitions drawn from the MLN Directory, click on the links below:

Public Humanities Events