Image credit: Samantha Borges on Unsplash.

If you’re "going digital" and creating online archives for your art collection, you may have a lot of questions.

Here at Artwork Archive, we’ve worked with collectors and institutions around the world for over a decade – helping them organize, manage and share their artworks with digital solutions and cloud-based tools.

We’ve compiled the most commonly asked questions when considering a digital format for art collections. The questions range from data security in the cloud to long-term data stewardship to the basics of selecting a CMS vendor. 

Hopefully, you'll find the answers you're looking for!

 

Does digitization need to be a mammoth project?

Anything of importance requires a bit of time and thought. But the short answer is no. Digitization does not have to be an overwhelming task. 

First off, if you’re coming from existing spreadsheets or another system, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You can easily use data imports to migrate your data and images into a new system. At Artwork Archive our process is a snap, and secure. You send us your artwork, contact and location data in a spreadsheet (which can be exported from an existing platform). We’ll populate your database for you. We also have a bulk upload tool where you can upload up to 20 pieces at a time–saving lots of time. 

If you’re starting from scratch–nothing is organized in a spreadsheet and nothing is online already– then yes, you’ll have more work on the front end. But the inherent benefit is that you’ll get the basics of your collection in place.

“Getting your foundation right is what is going to catapult you to the next level. We put our digitization project off for so long but now, after going online, we look so professional.” Eveline Pierre, Founder and Executive Director at the Haitian Heritage Museum.

Rather than look at your endeavor like a Herculean task, you can break it up into pieces. You don’t have to do everything at once.

The Colorado Photographic Art Center has boxes and boxes of photographs. They assign interns to a box and slowly and steadily they photograph and upload the images to their digital database so that they can establish a historic photo archive.

The Haitian Heritage Museum broke their project into categories: starting with over 300 books, then they moved to old photographs, then they jumped into paintings. 

You’ll want to prioritize the project by what matters for your institution. Perhaps asset tagging is critical because you have other things dialed. Or, you may need to digitize your entire collection. Either way, it will be a relief to accomplish your goal.

 

What are some of the stumbling blocks encountered with digitization projects?

There can be hurdles when it comes to bringing your collection online, but the most frustrating challenges are often less about the platform and more about internal battles due to bureaucracy or “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

If there is more than one person cataloging we advise setting up an internal meeting to set ground rules and best practices. You’ll want to have a single project lead that can conduct the symphony. 

For example, we’ve witnessed four different people with different opinions about terminology set upon digitizing their collection. The group created an account for their online database and each went off to use the free trial separately. Since there was no common terminology or goals, they had created different fiefdoms within the account.

We recommend getting together as a group and coming up with a common framework and language. 

One thing you want is continuity so that the collection to live on. You’ll need a framework to set you up for success long term.

 

If using an external provider, how do you know if you’re working with a good vendor?

Do your research. When you are going to embark on something this large, it pays to do some extra homework. Ask similar institutions what they are using. Ask your colleagues if they have any suggestions.

When you’re talking to an external provider, check references. If a company isn’t comfortable providing references, then they are probably not a great fit. 

Here's a great example: at Artwork Archive, we work with many hospitals. When we have a new hospital coming in, it gives them peace of mind that we work with other hospitals. We connect them to our other clients like Children’s Hospital Colorado, Cleveland Clinic, NYC Health, and Stanford Children’s Health.

Artwork Archive is the database solution trusted by artists, galleries, collectors, and collecting institutions in over 170 countries. Try it free for 30 days.

 

What is best practice in terms of keeping your digital data secure?

Here are some general rules of thumb: 

Make sure you are choosing the right partner in your CMS. What role does security and privacy play in their company? For Artwork Archive, we use enterprise-level security and servers to bring you the highest level of encryption, security, and stability to protect your data. Artwork Archive encrypts not only traffic to and from the site, but we go a step further and we encrypt at rest to make sure it is being secured when idle.

Make sure that the company prioritizes keeping your data safe and secure. Ensure your CMS is employing modern technology and practices. 

Are they taking additional levels of security? A safe and secure online art collection management system should offer additional security protocols like activity logs and two-factor authentication (2FA). If that's an option, take it.  Offering additional layers of security like this can dramatically reduce the possibility for passwords to be lost or for others to access.

What is 2FA?

2FA is an extra layer of security used to make sure that people trying to gain access to an online account are who they say they are. First, a user will enter their username and a password. Then, instead of immediately gaining access, they will be required to provide another piece of information like a code sent to a phone number.

 

Is the cloud secure? Where does the data live?

To the earlier question, you’ll want to make sure that the database company you are working with is taking the proper measures to ensure your data is safe and secure. 

There are major advantages to cloud solutions. First, you don’t have to worry about redundancy like you used to with your own computers or servers. You’re not bound to a single computer or an internal server. If you’re working on a desktop version, you’ll be limited when it comes to collaboration and workflow. You won't be able to leave your desk. You’ll also have one single point of failure. 

Whereas the cloud is fully redundant. In addition to having multiple servers, you also have backups. The data is replicated over multiple devices. You’ll have peace of mind knowing that your information will not be lost or deleted. 

Artwork Archive was founded because the mother of one of the founders lost all of her collection-related material when her computer died. That risk does not exist in the cloud. 

 

What is important to keep in mind for long-term data stewardship? 

Come up with an agreed framework as a team. The companies and institutions that do a bit more upfront work can maintain that legacy for longer. There’s continuity, access, and communication. 

There can be an easy handoff if documentation is in place. People leave companies and institutions–there’s turnover, there are retirements. If you have an internal framework, it makes it easy to transition your digitized collection to a new employee.  

 

What is possible when you digitize your collection? 

So much is possible when you digitize your collection. You can easily share your collection with students, scholars, and community members.

The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is the only art museum in Las Vegas. They are the cultural ambassador for their community, but also the representative of local artists. They are representing their local artists and curators. They are engaging with graduate students and scholars outside of their state–sharing historical information about their artworks and encouraging scholarship in all corners of the world. 

"Moving our museum's database online allows for easier access for museum staff, university students, researchers, and the community. When Covid-19 shut down in-person visits to the museum, we were still able to connect our community to the works in our collection and easily aid researchers with their inquiries.

Having a cloud-based platform has been incredibly helpful for allowing public access, as well as letting our staff work more easily from home during the pandemic. Being able to upload multiple different file formats to an entry has also allowed us to create more robust files on our collection."  The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art at University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Many museums and arts institutions are also bringing their fundraisers online with their art digitized. Duke’s Arts & Health program tripled their fundraiser sales with an online exhibit. They reached beyond the physical limitations of their walls and sold to new patrons.

 

Have more questions about digitizing your collection? Contact the Artwork Archive art collection management team. We're here to help.