Digital Tools for Authentic Audience Engagement with Your Academic Museum

Elysian Koglmeier | September 27, 2022

Image of a student gallery desk attendant working in the University of Nevada, Reno Lilley Museum of Art's Artwork Archive account. 

Academic museums, galleries, and archives share how they use technology to create meaningful connections with their audiences, on and off campus. 

One of the things that makes your academic institution unique is that you get to engage with so many diverse audiences – students, faculty, donors, community members, and scholars. But, that also means that you’re juggling a lot of inbound and outreach. As an arts administrator, you have a lot on your plate. So we wanted to share some best practices for connecting with your various audiences in not only authentic but efficient ways … because there are only so many hours in a day.


Let’s start with the basics. Make information accessible.

To excel at our mission, and just to stay on top of our day-to-day tasks, it's imperative to have our permanent collection digitized and centralized. But, centralized doesn’t mean “on one computer” – it means having all of your data and documents in one database – not strewn across various cabinets or desktops – so that you and your colleagues can easily access and share that information. 

Some benefits of using a cloud-based database include:

  • You’ll never lose track: Centralize all of your artwork details, images, & documents in one place so that you can easily find and distribute the information you need.

  • Preserve your documents and files: Your collection is more than just the objects and their images. 

  • You’ll always know where your art is. When your collection is distributed across campus and away on loans, you can use tools like Artwork Archive’s Locations to keep tabs on artwork drop-offs, shipments, and more.


Collaborate remotely with your colleagues

By bringing your collection online, you’ll be able to work seamlessly with your coworkers no matter where you all are located. Communication becomes easier, and project management becomes simplified.

  • Don’t rely on being onsite or on one computer: Access information from anywhere and on any device. Don’t be tethered to your desktop or the computer of your registrar. 
  • Be resilient amongst campus-wide changes: Marisa Pascucci from the Van Every/Smith Galleries at Davidson College shares that their campus server switched from Dropbox to Drive and the links on the server no longer worked. If they hadn't switched from PastPerfect to Artwork Archive, they wouldn't have access to their files and images that were saved separately in their Artwork Archive account. 

  • Don’t let the weight fall on one person: Make the most of your small teams; distribute collection knowledge. 

  • Always be prepared: Have details ready for the press, insurance brokers, donors, external loans, etc. 

  • Stay on top of maintenance and conservation: When you upload condition reports and treatment plans to your object records and use Artwork Archive’s Maintenance feature, you’ll be able to efficiently communicate with your conservators and restorers. Everyone on the team will be on the same page in regard to your collection’s preservation.


Introduce new staff to your art collection 

Your museum will be stronger and more resilient if you have advocates both within and outside of your museum. One way to nurture advocacy is to educate and inform. Marisa shares how she quickly brought the college's new President up-to-speed on the gallery's collection; she created an inventory report of works from their collection. It took no time to run the report and share beautiful images of works for the President’s house.


Start an art-in-lending program for your college

Many colleges and universities like MIT and Davidson College have established an Art in Lending program for faculty, staff and/or students. It’s a great way to bring the collection out of your gallery and storage walls and into campus. But it is not a simple process and takes considerable time and effort to start.

Marisa asserts that using a database like Artwork Archive is instrumental in organizing and promoting the program. She uses Artwork Archive to stay on top of administration, promotion of the program and fielding inquiries.

To stay on top of the program, Marisa pre-curates Collections within her Artwork Archive account. So, when there is an inquiry, she can quickly pull those pieces into a Private Room. She’ll send the link to the faculty member or student and they can select an artwork without stepping foot in the gallery. Private Room’s messaging also enables conversations between the two parties. 

Encourage your faculty to use your collection

Is your art museum looking to expand beyond the studio art and art history departments? Do you want more faculty to use your collections? You’re not alone.

Create Collections breaking down your permanent collection by theme so that faculty get an overview of what you have.  For instance, the University Art Museum at New Mexico State University (NMSU) has a collection for their Mexican Retablos. They have another collection for their Modern and Contemporary works. They also have a collection of recent acquisitions.

Utilize Private Rooms to discuss teaching objects and prepare for visits. Artwork Archive clients like Lilley Museum of Art at University Nevada, Reno are also creating Private Rooms to share teaching objects in advance of class visits. The University Art Museum at NMSU now hosts multiple classes within their space because they are able to efficiently prepare for the students’ needs.

A screenshot of the University Art Museum's Private Room outlining their Retablo Collection.

Private Rooms are also helpful for providing access to objects in the collection if in-person visits are not possible. Sometimes, classes are too big to fit around your cabinet when you pull out the drawer. Sometimes, you don’t have staff time or capacity to accommodate every visit request. For instance, Courtney Uldrich, Collections Manager at the University Art Museum at NMSU shares: “Classes request to see a particular piece within our collection, but we don’t have the capacity to pull it together for them. We don’t have to turn them away. We can share the virtual record of the piece so that they can continue their research." 

Help faculty create online exhibitions with their students: The Artwork Archive team has witnessed a number of undergraduate and graduate programs use their Online Exhibitions tool to quickly and easily curate virtual shows. Digital is much easier to stand up than a physical show so there are more opportunities for scholarly research and practicums.  


Empower your students with access to your collection

Here are a few ways we’ve seen academic museums engage with their students. 

  • Give gallery desk attendants tasks in your database. The Lilley Museum of Art allows their student staff to update object records within their Artwork Archive account.

  • Ask students to research objects in your collection and upload their findings. As an educational institution, imagine how fruitful it would be to give your students opportunities to contribute to your collections’ narrative. Your archive does not have to be static. Director of the Van Every/Smith Galleries, Lea Newman, taught a class that asked students to address the gaps in the college’s collections. Students identified opportunities for more diverse representation and inclusive artworks, and with a small fund purchased new artworks for the collection. 

  • Have students create artworks inspired by your collection. BFA students at the University of Nevada Reno found artworks on the Lilley Museum of Art’s Public Profile and created their own piece inspired by a particular work in the collection.

  • Use QR Codes to share more information and context. Thanks to the pandemic, QR codes are coming back in style. Add QR codes to labels or your catalogs for additional context. Drive students to your exhibits and website. The Lilley Museum of Art uses QR codes to link to videos within their digital catalog. 

  • Use Artwork Archive’s News to keep students engaged. The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art at UNLV posts articles written by student interns about their experience working within the museum as well as their scholarly findings about particular pieces in the collection. Executive Director of the Barrick Museum of Art, Alisha Kerlin, also shares the positive impact of bringing student work online. Student interns produce image descriptions for all of the works displayed online, and Alisha describes the pride of the students from quickly seeing their efforts displayed publicly.  

"Artwork Archive is the best introduction to Collections Management that I could have asked for. I feel like being trusted by my team at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art to work on our Artwork Archive profile has prepared me for my future career in collections management and conservation in more ways than one. I have grown much more confident in my ability to work in collections and the many features in such a user-friendly program gives me a great base knowledge for other databases (but why use others when Artwork Archive is so easy to use and so open to feedback to make a great program greater?). I wholeheartedly believe that being proficient in Artwork Archive makes me even more of a competitive candidate when applying to schools and jobs." Lauren Dominguez, UNLV student and collections assistant at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art

Screenshot of Van Every/Smith Galleries' Asian Studies Collection showcased on their Public Profile.


Make your collection approachable to scholars

Activate scholarship of your collection by bringing it online. Alisha explains that graduate students located outside of Nevada during the pandemic could still access their collection and continue their research. 

By bringing your collection online you can also initiate dialogue before scheduling on-site visits and object viewing.  

And you don’t have to be limited by what is available on your website. You can activate your Artwork Archive Public Profile and select what artworks and information you want public. For instance, you may not want to share acquisition prices, but you’d like to show creation dates, artist profiles and the artworks’ locations across campus. 

You can also embed the Public Profile onto your website. Museums of all sizes can have challenges with keeping their website up-to-date. With a website embed, you don’t need technical resources; you won’t be reliant on your IT team or webmaster. And, you don’t have to double-enter information. Your collection records are synced to your website. New acquisitions and temporary exhibit artworks can quickly be made accessible to your community. 

Check out these Public Profiles and website embeds:

University Art Museum at New Mexico State University's Website Embed

Davidson College Van Every/Smith Galleries' Public Profile

University Nevada, Reno Lilley Museum of Art's Public Profile

University of Nevada, Las Vegas Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art Website Embed

ˆScreenshot of an Artist Profile page highlighting the work of Mikayla Whitmore within the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art's collection.


Communicate easily with your loaning partners

Managing loans can be a real hassle, but you can simplify your project management if you have an easy-to-use online collection management system. Have everything (images, documents, dates, shipments, and other details) centralized in one accessible place. 

We’ve seen museum clients utilize Artwork Archive’s report generator to quickly send checklists and inventory reports to organize loans. Courtney at the University Art Museum created a Portfolio Page which included high res images and important details for a local museum that wanted to loan a piece from their collection. 

And if you track your loans in a database, then you are preserving the information for future employees. You won’t lose institutional knowledge. 


Collaborate with visiting artists

Are you organizing an open call for artists? Are you hosting an exhibit for a visiting artist? You can simplify the administrative process of setting up the shows by using Artwork Archive’s Artist Upload tool. Artists can submit artworks and information directly into your database. 

The artist can only submit artwork with your permission. You’ll send them a password-protected page that enables them to share images and artwork information like title, subject, creation date, price, etc. The submission form is extremely user-friendly and easy to complete. Once they submit works, they’ll be immediately accessible in your account. 

Not working with the artist anymore? You can disable access at any time.

A screenshot of a donor record within Artwork Archive.


Build and strengthen relationships with donors

If you use an online database, you can quickly upload your donors’ gifts and their attributions. And since your account will be synced to your website, donors will be thrilled to see their donations online. They’ll quickly see their impact. 

On the other hand, have you been in the awkward position of turning down a donor’s gift? We’ve seen donors offer works that are duplicative to pieces in a museum’s collection or works that aren’t in line with the collection’s acquisition strategy. Our clients have solved these challenging moments by quickly pulling a report of works currently in the collection to guide conversations.

Give college advancement something tangible

Typically the challenging conversations around donor gifts involve College Advancement. When they are doing their work, they may not know of your museum’s collection. 

Be a confident caretaker and steward of your collection. Avoid unwanted gifts or uncomfortable conversations with your donors by showing them and College Advancement what you already have in your collection. 


Promote new engagement opportunities

By having your collection online, you’ll be able to bring your collection to those outside of your campus.

Give K-12 school groups online assets to study like virtual exhibits. Coordinate virtual field trips with teachers with Private Rooms. 

Show the spread of your collection and encourage encounters with an interactive map. With GPS coordinates, you can provide directions to your public artworks and art in buildings for prospective students, alumni, and other visitors. Get creative and make a scavenger hunt!

Increase visibility and promote discoverability

Within a week of bringing our collection online with the Public Profile we saw a sudden increase of traffic to our website. No other variables changed.” The University Art Museum at New Mexico State University  

One reason why institutions love artwork Archive is that their backend database is directly synced to a Public Profile hosted on Artwork Archive Discovery which helps boost SEO and visibility via its search engines. It also connects your database to your website so you can control your online presence and keep it up-to-date. 


Want to learn more about leveraging technology? Watch Artwork Archive's Art of Collection Management webinar on audience engagement with digital tools.

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