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Diversifying the Narrative through Digital Connections

Exploring new ways of connecting art information is a complex subject with global significance.  Facilitating new research pathways between arts and cultural institutions worldwide, the sector has the opportunity to develop relationships and connections that will serve to create a deeper, richer and more diverse art historical narrative.

At the MuseumNext Creative Museums Summit the Art Information Commons team at the Philadelphia Museum of Art highlighted three digital initiatives designed to make art information more accessible and meaningful. Each initiative grew out of a desire to overcome the disparate nature of data systems in the arts and culture sector. And, more specifically, the lack of contextual information which can sometimes mean that the richness and nuances of collections are lost.

Art Information Commons

Funded by the Mellon Foundation, The Art Information Commons is a prototype virtual research environment led by a core project team at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  As program manager, Juliet Vinegra explains, the Art Information Commons project is focused on building a more connected, holistic, and sustainable research and archive system using linked data.

The project team worked with museum staff to understand, document and analyse art information and research workflows to create the initial model. Through the identification of new connections between records, the project aims to create a rich new research landscape and also anticipate future limitations, such as changes in terminology or biased/harmful language.

Although currently only available internally, external perspectives are being readily incorporated into the system to facilitate the longer-term goal of sharing with the wider GLAM community.

Duchamp Research Portal

Margaret Huang is the Martha Hamilton Morris archivist at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and also the project manager for the Duchamp Research Portal.  The Duchamp Research Portal can be found at and is an online platform that unifies the digitised archival holdings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Centre Pompidou, and Association Marcel Duchamp.

The portal consists of nearly 50,000 images of digitised archival documents and artwork, including correspondence, drawings, technical plans, photographs, exhibition ephemera, newspaper clippings, scholarly articles, and more.  Margaret personally wrote descriptions for over 24,000 archival objects using spreadsheets as the main tool for capturing descriptions due to the ability to filter data and apply formulas.

The DRP allows users to search across both the museum and archival collections and jump between the two using a relationships tab to broaden the value of the search itself. Duchamp’s artwork is the anchor of the site, but by building relationships between items and presenting it alongside related archival documents, the goal is that users can reveal and stumble upon new stories and insights into the life of Marcel Duchamp and his circle.

Augmented Reality Mapping

Dr. Synatra Smith has led on the research and creation of Augmented Reality Mapping tools at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  To illustrate the value of Augmented Reality Mapping, Dr Smith used photogrammetry to create three-dimensional models of public art by black artists in Philadelphia – organised into an augmented reality map using software tools including Agisoft Metashape, Blender, ArcGIS Online and Unity.  Eight outdoor sculptures, 16 murals, 24 African sculptures and instruments from the museum and Blockson Collections were including in the map.

Dr Smith is currently working on article to share the methodology used but primarily she used photogrammetry for large and small sculptures as a method of cultural preservation. The mapping aspect to record the physical location of each piece of artwork was implemented using the mapping visualisation tool ArcGIS Storymaps.

The project has gone through various iterations and workflows to create an Augmented Reality Mapping tool. By researching ARM tools to develop a methodology that can be more widely used to further digital humanities skills, it will help in the longer-term goal of making greater digital connections to diversify the narrative around art history.


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About the author – Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.

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