The WCMA Digital Project activates the collection and broadens audiences for the museum. Three interconnected initiatives animate the project: developing and maintaining data and images for use in teaching and learning; making tools and exhibitions that model use of the data and images; and providing hands-on support for teaching and learning using digital resources, tools and approaches. Each activity supports and provides feedback for the others. Funded by the Mellon Foundation with a three-year grant, this constellation of initiatives promotes WCMA’s collection as an open, accessible resource for teaching, learning, and creative expression.
WCMA Digital Project
At the start of this project, we released all of our collection data on GitHub. Students, faculty, researchers, artists, and others can now download metadata and thumbnail images for the entire collection. These open-access resources provide a real-world data set use in statistics, computer science, and data visualization. The data set is also an object of study in its own right, a primary source for projects in digital art history and digital humanities.
Objects, Events, and Exhibitions on Google Sheets
Collection Explorer is a dynamic new tool for browsing the collection. Instead of a text-based search, Collection Explorer affords a view of the entire collection from the start. A familiar pan-and-zoom interaction model—commonly used in online maps—allows the user to move seamlessly from a bird-eye view of 12,400 objects to a high-resolution view of a single work of art. Clicking on an individual object zooms in on it and reveals a panel with basic information and a link to the object page. Collection Explorer is tailor-made for faculty and students who want to use the collection, but don’t yet know what’s in it, or where to start.
The WCMA Digital Project is visualized in exhibitions. Accession Number displayed works of art according to their collection records, representing a slice of collection data that highlighted the historical contingency, quirks, and human texture in collection records. Pink Art visualized the collection by color instead of number. Students and faculty from the Computer Science department developed algorithms that ranked WCMA’s collection images by “pinkness” (a color defined by crowdsourcing). Curators took a new approach using these new algorithmic perspectives to inform the selection of objects. All At Once used collection data and images to develop an immersive interactive installation, and a conceptual video.
Using WCMA’s enhanced open-access collection data, the Digital Project team prototyped interactive data visualizations that show how the collection has changed and been used over time.
Explore our interactive visualization prototypes
WCMA Digital not only provides data, images and visualization tools, it also offers hands-on help for faculty and students using digital tools and methods. This approach, sometimes called digital humanities, opens new pathways for teaching, learning and research. Digital humanities at WCMA is distinctive: it’ not only applies digital tools and methods to humanities questions, it brings humanities approaches and data to digital disciplines. Digital humanities projects are often exploratory and help examine individual works more closely or explore how works connect to larger themes about human history and culture. Digital humanities at WCMA expands the range of critical thinking to include critical looking and critical making, and so expands the palette of liberal arts.
Integrate digital tools and approaches into your teaching and learning
WCMA Digital is a model for digital humanities on a liberal arts campus: developing resources, tools and projects, and connecting them directly to teaching and learning. WCMA’s vision for a museum-based digital humanities center has become part of Williams’ strategic planning process.