Art Primers

Image source: Blanton Museum of Art
A novel, context-first approach to online collections.

Description

Art Primers are designed as the Blanton Museum of Art’s answer to the typical online collection. Instead of simply presenting objects from the Museum’s newly-reinstalled permanent collection in a searchable interface, we instead put the primary focus on context. Art Primers used narratives used as a primary entry point for the collection, with objects used as a means of supporting those narratives. The emphasis was on telling stories that cut across collections, meaning that Medieval art might appear next to contemporary Latin American artwork in the same narrative. The Art Primers were designed to be modular, meaning that sections and objects could appear in multiple narratives.

Process

The Art Primers were written by a cross-departmental team consisting of curators from each collecting area, educators, and the Blanton’s content strategist/social media manager. The group would collectively decide on topics, and what sub-topics (“chapters”) should be written to support the main topic. A single curator would generally take the “lead” on writing one of the chapters, soliciting input from others as needed.

The Blanton’s collections database did not have an API, so we set up an Omeka site (taking advantage of its built-in API) and imported collections data into that. This import was refreshed on a weekly basis. We then built a custom Wordpress plugin that allowed authors on the site to pull in collections data using a simple shortcode. The curator writing the primer would then simply need to insert a shortcode like this: [object number=1996.23] anywhere in the text to insert the preformatted label copy and image. This methodology had the added benefit of making it easier to display collections data elsewhere on the site and keep it in sync with our collections database.