A blog of art happenings in and around Honolulu, Hawai'i

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Vault Diving goes Digital at the Honolulu Academy of Arts

Exciting things are afoot at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Their Hokusai exhibit just opened, they have a new UH art student artist in residence, and they’ve got some spick-and-span newly renovated restroom facilities. But perhaps most exciting of all are the the developments happening beyond museum walls. In a study of doing more with less, the Academy has been tirelessly experimenting with innovative ways to reach out to the public through new media.

The newest tool in the Academy’s clickable arsenal is eMuseum, an online database of the museum’s permanent collection, accessible through the museum’s website. Like most museums, the Academy’s galleries only hold a small percentage of the total number of objects contained in the collection; the rest remain hidden in the vaults for years and sometimes decades at a time. Through eMuseum, the public now has access to these objects.

To complement the Hokusai exhibit, eMuseum currently showcases some 4,000 Japanese woodblock prints from the permanent collection. Most object entries contain information including the title, date, artist and printer as available, medium, donor to the museum, short description, and a photograph of the object. Plans are in the works to add more objects from the permanent collection to the eMuseum database over time.

Art museums across the country have been gradually making this shift towards giving the public access to their permanent collections through online databases. However, for smaller museums with limited staff, or larger museums with predominantly digitally undocumented collections, creating an online database available for public access can be a cost-prohibitive proposition. The Academy brings these resources to the public for the first time thanks to the support of the Robert F. Lange Foundation.

Although online databases of museum permanent collections such as the Academy’s eMuseum are most obviously useful for scholars and collectors looking to research specific artists and other art topics, some museums have taken online databases a step further. The Brooklyn Museum crowd-sources their database by allowing for interactive object tagging by the public. So, for example, what if you’re looking for an object in the Brooklyn Museum’s collection that might be described as “Pee Wee”? They’ve got it. SFMOMA seamlessly integrates their database with educational resources including background-providing write-us, visuals, audio and video extras.

I look forward to seeing what sorts of exciting new uses the Honolulu Academy of Arts thinks up for eMuseum. Judging from the museum’s innovative use of new media, from their blog and Flickr account to Twitter feed and Facebook page to participation in the cross-country digital photography scavenger hunt Wikipedia Loves Art, one thing remains clear: the e-future for the Academy is anything but stagnant.

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