By Teresa Blackman
This February, the Smithsonian American Art Museum announced it would lead the American Art Collaborative, a project joining the collections of 14 American museums through Linked Open Data (LOD) online to increase access to art for both scholars and general art lovers.
“Art museums share a commitment to helping audiences of all ages experience, learn about, appreciate and enjoy art — thus our missions also include promoting access to our collections and research,” said Betsy Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, in the Smithsonian’s press release about the collaborative.
Living within miles of multiple art museums and constantly bombarded with images, we easily forget access to art was not, and oftentimes still is not, always a click or a drive away.
“Back in the day, in the 19th century, people had trouble studying the works of art because they had to travel wherever they were to see them, then publications came about and you had these grainy-black-and-white images,” said Rachel Allen, deputy director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and co-manager of the collaborative. “That became a form of studying works of art and…color photography came into being and eventually the Web made it so much more possible for people to know art and know artists and get acquainted with works of art, so this is just an extension of all those opportunities.”
Beyond merely extending opportunities, with the benefits of LOD, compared to structured data, the collaborative “will exponentially enhance the accessing, linking and sharing of information about American art in a way that transcends what is currently possible,” according to the Smithsonian’s press release.
According to Allen, Dallas has quite a “corner of the market,” with two museums participating: the Dallas Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Dallas’ desire to par-ticipate “says for this area…what a lot of museum people already knew, that we have a really progressive and active museum community, this is just one public sign of that,” stated Allen. “Dallas is a really good partner for the partnership, it brings a lot of assets to the forum.”
Museums independently chose to join this project.
“I saw a presentation on [the Collaborative] at a conference and immediately I knew it was something that we should get involved in,” said Jana Hill, the Digital Engagement Manager at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Hill added that joining the Collaborative affords the museums some especially good networking through connection with other good collections, putting museums in touch with the greater cultural heritage community.
The Dallas museums are aware of their participation in this larger goal. “[The collaborative] really shows that we’re part of a bigger push in museums across the country to increase our public access to our content and to our collections,” said Hill. “Both museums are very interested in that much deeper, broader public access.”
The Collaborative hopes to bring broader access even beyond the web, for increasing a museum’s online presence often increases physical museum attendance. “That’s been a question that’s come up seasonally in the museum field as long as I’ve been involved and a problem that’s been disproven repeatedly,” said Hill. “The more you put online, the higher your attendance goes.”
The American Art Collaborative hopes for more than increasing the quantity of online pictures. The project does not just bring documents together, but creates “a web of concepts” said Eleanor Fink, an expert in the field of digital cultural heritage who conceived of and co-manages the Collaborative. “It supports precise connections across people, places and things no matter where the data resides in the LOD cloud. The Initiative has the capacity to be of immeasurable value to the study of art history and to revolutionize scholarship in the field of American art.”
-Linda Smith contributed to the reporting of this article.