ARLIS/NA 48th Annual Conference, originally scheduled for St. Louis, Missouri

Convocation Program Presentation, 2020

2019 ARLIS/NA DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD Acceptance Speech by Milan Hughston; DSA ceremony held online, April 22, 2020



Thank you, Mark, for that wonderful introduction, and to Carole Ann & Jon for helping you put the nomination together. And I also send my warm thanks to Maria Oldal and Laura Schwartz for coordinating the nomination, and to all of those who wrote in support of it. I am deeply honored and touched to be receiving this award.

The fact that my comments are being delivered virtually rather than at the conference doesn’t diminish the joy I have in being this year’s recipient, and it has given me a chance to reflect back on my 40-plus years as an art information professional.  

ARLIS has been an important part of my life, both professionally and personally, since I entered the profession in the late 70s.  

As we all know, there are no strangers in ARLIS; once you join you just become a new member of the family. ARLIS played key roles in both of the institutions I was lucky enough to work in during the last 40 or so years.

First, as a librarian in Fort Worth at the Amon Carter Museum, both the state chapter and the national organization provided a kind of lifeline to those of us in smaller institutions which were spread out across a wide geographical region. And even though the Texas chapter has always been one of the more active ones, that sense of belonging made one realize that no, you’re not crazy when a director or curator does something you don’t agree with. The annual meetings, especially in the pre-internet days, were essential in learning and sharing what we all did in good and bad times.

When I accepted the job at MoMA over 20 years ago, many people said “Aren’t you nervous about moving to New York?” My reply was “not at all” since ARLIS had already given me the opportunity to meet and engage with librarians from MoMA, the Met, the Frick, Columbia—all who I knew would help ease the transition to the City both professionally and personally—they are dear friends for life. I will always be grateful to ARLIS for that.  

I have had the good fortune in both my jobs to be able to work with outstanding people to promote the collections and missions of the library within the institutions’ missions. Therefore it seemed natural to turn those efforts into raising money to promote ARLIS as the most logical organization that supports all we do at the local level. Frankly, it was not always that hard, since our legacy donors and the ones we approached on the local level for conference support always had deep respect for the librarians, archivists, and visual resource curators who are members of ARLIS. And besides that, it was fun!

If there is some joy missing in our lives right now, I urge you to take solace in the fact that what we do as art information professionals is a service, indeed a ‘distinguished service’, and there is nothing more satisfying than providing help to people who need information. That’s always been true, and always will be. I know you join me in being proud of what we do for the world, even if it’s a small corner of it, in good times and bad.  

My father liked to say: “Never back up if you can move forward”—a very appropriate adage for someone who sold automobile insurance. But I have found it useful to think about during my career, and applicable today: I can’t wait to see how we all move forward.

Many thanks to you all, keep sane and healthy, and I look forward to seeing you in Montreal.