Museums Gather to Spread Electronic Access

Lile Elam ((no email))
Mon, 22 Sep 1997 13:45:36 -0700 (PDT)

Hi folks,

I thought this was interesting...


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[Navigation bar] Museums Gather to Spread Electronic
[Image] by Austin Bunn
4:51am 22.Sep.97.PDT While crowds
mill about the rooms of robotic art
and digital extravagance at ISEA
[Search] '97, they're just the ones who were
lucky enough to make it to Chicago.
[WIRED magazine] Museum curators know the difficult
truth: Art, in many ways, is
unfortunately and irrevocably local.
In the effort to expand the reach -
[Image] if not the ambiance - of America's
museums, the Art Museum Image
Consortium is bringing together
curators from 25 major museums to
fashion the first online uber-museum
- a collection of some 100,000
digital images (with contextual info
like artist's biography, interviews,
and exhibition histories) to be made
available to paying universities by
next fall. The conference, being
held today and Tuesday, is
fundamentally a recognition that
museums can't go into the digital
revolution alone.

"Museums realized that they are not
serving the education market well,
and can't do it individually," says
organizer Jennifer Trant at the
Archive and Museum Informatics,
which helps museums strategize on
how to use technology. At the
Chicago confab, curators from the
National Gallery, Art Institute of
Chicago, and the Metropolitan Museum
of Art, among others, will address
the range of questions facing an
ambitious organization still in its
infancy: governance, fund raising,
and technical standards.

Understandably, money - in the form
of licensing fees for the artwork -
is at the heart of the discussions.
While commercial ventures like Bill
Gates' Corbis extract stiff fees
from customers for reproduction,
AMICO will provide open access for
students and academics, with the
universities picking up the tab
(which has yet to be set). Trant
says many museums are already
uncomfortable with arrangements with
Corbis, in which the institution
loses control over the art
reproduction and sacrifices what she
calls the "artists' moral rights" -
the guarantee that they will be
represented in an appropriate way.
"If any money is to be made, keep it
inside the museum community," Trant

The real beneficiaries of the AMICO
network are scholars. Normally
academics face a labyrinthine - and
expensive - licensing process when
they want to appropriate art for
their publications or classes.
"Every time a scholar requests
[art], it costs the museum money to
say 'yes,'" says Trant. Publishers
of journals "have placed the burden
on the authors to pay." In turn,
many academics make it a sport not
to pay licensing fees, Trant adds,
because they can't afford it with
their salaries and the fact that
there are no budgets to cover it.

AMICO's project grows out of a
two-year museum education project,
which concluded in June. Seven
universities - including Columbia,
American, and the University of
Illinois - were given CD-ROMs of
9,000 works from seven museums, such
as National Gallery in Washington,
DC; Harvard University Art Museum;
and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts.
Six of the seven universities in the
program eventually developed Web
resources, but the scale of the
project was modest, including just
images and short fields of
descriptive text. "It was more
experimental collaboration," says
Trant. "There were no licensing fees
or context for the art."

Cleveland Art Museum director Robert
Bergman said the migration of the
museum's collection to the Web won't
threaten the existence of live (and
paying) audiences. "In 1950s, when
color reproduction in books became
available, people said, 'No one will
come to museums.' But color just
whetted people's appetite," says
Bergman. "The digitized image is
about reality, but it's not reality.
The aura of the object is

The museums aren't trying to
recreate themselves online; rather,
they're hoping to reduce into an
archival resource, says Bergman.
"We're not creating an exhibition,
we're creating access."

From the Wired News NY Bureau at
FEED magazine.

Considering the Virtual Museum

Museums Add Web Sites to Collections

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