the byte-sized collections of art museums

Download The Byte-Sized Collections of Art Museums

Post on 15-Jan-2017




11 download

Embed Size (px)


  • Leonardo

    The Byte-Sized Collections of Art MuseumsAuthor(s): Maxwell L. AndersonSource: Leonardo, Vol. 29, No. 3 (1996), pp. 242-243Published by: The MIT PressStable URL: .Accessed: 14/06/2014 06:52

    Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

    .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact


    The MIT Press and Leonardo are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access toLeonardo.

    This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 06:52:10 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

  • The Byte-Sized Collections of Art Museums Maxwell L. Anderson

    In the few minutes at my disposal, I will touch on both current and impending opportunities and challenges facing art museums as primary "content provid- ers" in the electronic age. Let me be clear about a couple of matters at the outset: I am an unreconstructed con- noisseur in a world of intellectual rela- tivism, an adherent to the belief that an art museum is primarily a place to en- counter original works of art, and only secondarily a bazaar, eatery, and night- club. It should, in my antiquated view, exist to champion authenticity and

    originality in a world gone mad with simulacra of cultivation and the substi- tution of soundbites for insights. Fur- thermore, I don't consider information

    technology to be a panacea for what ails museums. If a collection is modest in size or quality, a networked com-

    puter won't help that. As larger museums struggle to con-

    nect disparate departments with com-

    peting philosophies, conservative attitudes about the information age, and other demands on the institution for its survival, the results have been slow and usually less innovative than at smaller institutions. By way of example, the Krannert Art Museum of the Uni-

    versity of Urbana-Champaign in Illinois was arguably the first in the nation to

    explore the potential of Mosaic, the

    compelling new multimedia program available over the Internet. The Krannert simply posted a so-called home page on the Internet with attrac- tive color photographs of its exterior and a few objects in the collection, and was followed by other larger institu- tions, but only slowly. Even today, the National Museum of American Art and the Dallas Museum of Art are the only large American art museums using the Internet broadly for image dissemina- tion, while a host of smaller museums have feistily begun probing the poten- tial of this new friendly interface.

    The intellectual property of art muse- ums need not be handled exclusively by highly paid cogitators. At the risk of sounding self-serving, I would like to acquaint you with some of the digital goings-on at the Carlos Museum. Some

    Maxwell L. Anderson, Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, 571 South Kilgo Street, Atlanta, GA 30322, U.S.A.

    days ago, a nineteen-year old was in our Exhibition Design Studio in Atlanta, merging images through Adobe

    Photoshop with a virtual reality pro- gram called Virtus Walkthrough, and

    configuring, with the review of our chief designer, a 3D walkthrough of our

    upcoming exhibitions. This same stu- dent helped us prepare a 3D tour of an exhibition planned for the Olympics, and by dropping digitized images at a cost of 90 cents per image into a Photo- CD and then transferring them into an inexpensive software program, we pro- duced a demo that was presented to the Atlanta City Council and won an in- kind grant towards the exhibition, worth well over a hundred thousand dollars. We now plan to offer upcoming exhibitions to corporations and foun- dations in this way via CD-ROM, and the NEH is interested in setting up a mechanism so that shows can be re- viewed in this way by peer panels in the future. The next step is for museums to offer visitable exhibitions to each other over the Internet, and that day is com- ing sooner than we can imagine.

    The bookshop is beginning to mar- ket our published titles on-line, and to receive orders by e-mail. We ultimately hope to eliminate expensive mailer-or- der flyers entirely, and provide an on- line service for direct sales by electronic means, or e-cash, without printing costs. More dramatically still, we are finding that producing a CD-ROM in- stead of a softcover exhibition cata- logue may be cost-effective, and are producing our first electronic cata- logue this spring at a cost of under $20,000. We are able to keep produc- tion cost down, I hasten to add, by us- ing a neighboring university's multimedia lab and the time and talent of its undergraduates and graduate stu- dents. Our sales projections are predi- cated on the following observations: if three to five percent of exhibition-visit- ing Americans, on average, buy cata- logues, the market is far too small to be profitable for a museum our size. But if we can tap into an even smaller per- centage of the some 18 million and growing CD-ROM owners eager for en- riching content, we'll be more effective than ever at publishing scholarship.

    The next logical step, of circumvent- ing shrink-wrapped technology like CD-

    ROMs, and publishing on-line, is al- ready on the horizon. In one week we will launch a new interactive service by means of Mosaic-again, a freeware product available to any of you-which will allow our members to pull down the newsletter on their home computer, kids in our kids' club to do interactive

    puzzles and get a bounce-back view of the correct completed puzzle, members to comment on the Museum via e-mail into a cyberspace comment book, staff to be available by means of a color im- age of the staff in each department at work in the conservation lab, design studio, curatorial offices, and so on, ac-

    companied by a descriptive paragraph of their duties, e-mail address, a bi- weekly auditorium with a member of the staff, and a dozen other exciting features including illustrated exhibition and program previews and sound clips for upcoming concerts at the Museum.

    Our next step will be to offer those members who are on the Internet an im- proved electronic service, for which we will charge at least as much as a current membership, but at a fraction of the current cost to us. They will have a monthly forum with me in an electronic auditorium as an incentive to be eco- friendly, and may elect to cease receiv- ing printed material from the museum. Our printing and postage costs will pro- gressively drop, while we anticipate growth in membership-including members from all over the globe. Our university's technology division con- firmed that over 15,000 users from 33 countries have logged onto our Mosaic program in the last three months-and we therefore plan to introduce "virtual memberships" to those outside of a 200- mile radius at a reduced rate. Microsoft and Visa have already struck a deal to in- augurate electronic cash soon. Once e- cash becomes the preferred method of payment, we may be in a position to at- tract a small percentage of those users to join the Museum if we can continue to innovate in this field.

    The Museum's greatest intellectual property challenges will surface next year with an initiative to provide, via Mo- saic, access to our image database, so that anyone can pull down a 256-color image from our permanent collection and browse the storerooms, as well as pull down video, voice-over, and anima-

    242 Intellectual Property Rights and the Arts

    This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 06:52:10 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

  • tion. We will be adding incrementally to what is offered over the Internet-we

    currently have 70 images uploaded-as we work out the thorny issue of site li-

    censing, instead of object-by-object per- missions. Instead of viewing publishing as the production of large and expen- sive catalogues which are instantly out- dated and decreasingly consulted, we

    plan to publish in a way that can be con-

    tinuously updated if the spirit moves us.

    Again, none of this requires a large mul- timedia budget. The costs are dropping fast, and the talent pool is widening as

    college students weaned on video games are training for a profession which is

    only in its embryonic stages. The primary obstacle to art museums

    on-line is not technological but legal. The MUSE Educational Media group here in New York is at work to resolve the primary challenges to the next two

    phases of information technology in art museums: the protection of intellectual

    property rights in CD-ROMs and on- line. CD-ROMs are likely to be the Betamaxes of the 1990s. So let's move on to my last task, which is to tell you about an exciting pilot project soon to be launched, called the Museum Edu- cational Site Licensing Project, which is also under the auspices of MUSE Edu- cational Media, and has been embraced

    by AAM and AAMD. On-line publishing is a new area; cur-

    rently we lack most of what we need: standards for image description, resolu- tion, and security, or for accessing digi