Image courtesy of Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

You can leverage technology to make your cultural institution inclusive, equitable, and accessible.

How can museums and other art nonprofits remain relevant and resilient during uncertain times? How can we activate our collections to increase accessibility and reach? With new tools and technology, we can strengthen and preserve our collections, enrich our engagement, broaden our impact, and establish an enduring legacy.  

You don’t need an IMLS grant or a doctorate to achieve these goals. Affordable and easy-to-use online tools can activate your artworks–instill curiosity, create dialogue and encourage scholarship. You can also use technology to extend beyond your gallery walls–create new relationships and increase awareness of your institution, near and far. 

Your collection management system can create access for all–from small foundations that serve rural communities to museums with global reach. Digital tools empower your team and harness your collections to strengthen your mission. Whether you’re a registrar that inherited a database situation that is not sustainable, or you’re an Executive Director trying to engage partners or board members, technology allows us to work smarter. 

From this case study you’ll:

  • Understand different technology-based methods for connecting audiences with your collections. You'll be able to incorporate new digital technologies like QR codes, website embeds, interactive maps and online exhibitions into programming and fundraising.
  • Collaborate effortlessly with distributed teams.

  • Build stronger relationships within your local community and reach out beyond your geographical boundaries to connect with new audiences.

  • Learn how to best steward and preserve your collections so that it can be shared with future generations. 

  • Be ready to use your collection management system to streamline, simplify and modernize your workflows.

Learn from our forward-thinking clients like the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculptural Gardens. Hear how they’ve used their CMS to build resilient and sustainable practices that make their collections more accessible to their communities of artists, students, educators, visitors, and more. 

 

First, let's address the hesitations around technology and the misconceptions about databases. 

Artwork Archive has been in business for over a decade and over the years we’ve heard concerns around choosing or migrating to a new CMS. The reasons typically include:

  • Cost

  • Labor 

  • Resources

  • Only for the “Big” guys

  • Data security

But those are misconceptions. There are affordable, easy-to-use database solutions out there. You don’t need a massive team of registrars; we see teams of one utilizing our platform. 

And when it comes to data security, well our platform is cloud-based so security is top of mind and a priority for Artwork Archive. Curious to hear more about our data security practices? Contact us for details. We’re happy to geek out over our premiere servers, data encryption, daily backups, and data downloads. 

 

And the way that we think of art databases may be what holds us back. 

We’ve seen databases perceived as:

  • Static

  • Expensive (need grant funding or a large budget)

  • Only for large teams

That is simply not true. Online art collection management systems like Artwork Archive are dynamic, flexible, collaborative, powerful yet simple. This article will demonstrate the opportunities you'll have with your CMS.

 

Why should we bring our institutions online?

So, we could talk about COVID, but let’s not talk about COVID. The need to go online was true before 2020, but many institutions were dragging their feet. The pandemic was the kick in the pants we all needed to pivot and use technology to provide accessibility. 

Are you on the fence or need reasons to bolster your case for bringing your organization online? Consider these: 

  • Organize your collection in one place. Make your collection accessible for today and years to come. 

  • Expand your reach. Reach beyond your walls and no longer be limited by your physical space. 

  • Grow your digital audience. Get more visits to your website and fundraisers from near and far. 

  • Enrich engagement. Connect with your audiences in new ways. Make it easier for scholars, students, teachers, and community members to connect with your objects.

  • Make your fundraising more resilient. Don’t be reliant on in-person foot traffic.

  • Offer a hybrid solution. Online is not a replacement for in-person. Offer more choices.

  • Show off your institution. Have a public presence something that looks good. You’re a visual institution–showcase that.

  • Bolster relationships with donors. They are excited to see their artworks online and visible.

  • Scale back on resources. You’ll need less staff hours committed to tasks that can be completed with an online CMS. 

  • Make your processes more sustainable. Make collaboration easy by accessing your information, anywhere at any time.  

  • Advocate for your collection, your institution and your community. Promote your local artists and curators. Create more visibility for your museum and the artists in your community. 

Intrigued? Let’s dive into the benefits of bringing your institution online.

 

Make information more accessible 

With you art collection digitized, you can rest easy knowing that your collection information and materials are accessible and not hidden away in a dark closet with file cabinets. This way you'll:

Never lose track: Centralize all of your artwork details, images, & documents in one place. You can easily find the information you need versus searching through desktop folders, hard drives or manila folders. You won’t have to wait to return to the office to answer questions or share information. 

You'll also keep your collection in order for future teammates. The archive will continue to live on beyond your time at the institution. Make sure nothing is lost with occasions like turnover.

It’s important to note here that our cultural heritage is not just the objects and their images–it’s their stories, their context, and the related ephemera. We preserve conventional documentation like donor records, conservation reports, publications, artist statements. But there is also a “new wave” provenance that is a part of our digital age – video clips, audio recordings, social media posts. Online art databases give you infinite storage to record all of these important files with their associated artwork, contact, exhibition, or location records. 

 

A screenshot from the Artwork Archive Public Profile of Lilley Museum of Art at University of Nevada, Reno – their public viewing portal where students, faculty, alumni and art enthusiasts can view and learn about their art collection. 

 

Supplement in-person visits: Help scholars and students conduct research with a web presence. Online is not a replacement for in-person but sometimes people cannot make it into your building or, you may not have the resources to respond to requests to view the objects in person. 

The Lilley Museum at University of Nevada, Reno creates Private Rooms to share artworks with students conducting research. This also protects the objects as they don't have to pull them out of every storage every time there is an inquiry.

Don’t let your objects be hidden away and forgotten. Share them with beautiful images and all of the related information with your database’s web presence.   

Provide engagement opportunities for your interns and volunteers: Databases do not have to be static. We've seen academic institutions encourage scholarship of the works in their collection. Interns and volunteers then upload their research into the database.

The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art at University of Nevada, Las Vegas had an intern write image descriptions for all of their artworks, which were then published to their website and on their Artwork Archive Public Profile. This was great for both parties – Barrick made their collection more accessible to those with needs and the intern immediately saw their efforts published. 

Field online inquiries: People don’t have to be onsite to engage with your collection. You’ll be surprised by who discovers your collection with its web presence.

Have a CRM connected to your database: It’s crucial to streamline your data in one platform, especially for those with small budgets. Artwork Archive developed a fully integrated CRM tool to help you build new relationships, strengthen existing ones, and generally work smarter.  With a CRM within your CMS, you can: 

  • Have all of your contact information consolidated in one place.

  • Always have access to your digital address book.

  • Identify donor trends.

  • Make informed recommendations to increase future donations.

  • Align and empower your staff by ensuring they have critical information at any time.

  • Rally together around organizations goals and execute against your mission.

 

Easily collaborate onsite or remotely

The work we do in our field is highly collaborative. As steward of your art collection, you are responsible for communicating with many diverse audiences – both internal and external.

Don’t rely on being onsite: Access information from anywhere on any device. If you’re traveling you can still share documents and details by logging into your database online.

Engage with your communities: You have new and longstanding relationships to manage. Consider how easy it will be to communicate with your internal and external audiences. 

If you’re a university museum your internal groups may be colleagues, students, faculty, College Advancement, Facilities.

If you’re a public art program, your external audience is made up of residents and tourists that engage with your collection.

If you’re a museum, your external audience may include donors, the press and loaning institutions.

With all of these groups there is a lot of information to share and you don’t want to recreate the wheel every time. Communicating directly from your art database makes collaboration smooth and easy to coordinate.  

Private Rooms are the tool of choice to communicate and coordinate with both internal and external audiences. Public art program managers use Private Rooms to share artworks and artists with an art selection commitee. Colleges send Private Rooms to professors with a digest of the available works in their collection that relate to their syllabus. Museums share artworks, images, and key details with loaning institutions. 

Not only can your collaborators view the artworks, details, and artist profiles via this online curated viewing room, they can also send along feedback by liking or commenting on the artworks.

Create a Private Room to easily share artworks and their images, details and artist profiles with your various audiences and collaborators. Solicit feedback and consolidate information when you work directly from your art database.

 

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

Cut back on administrative tasks: A popular Artwork Archive–the Direct Upload feature–saves you a lot of time and administrative headache. Organizations can grant artists permission to upload works straight into their Artwork Archive account via a URL and password. It’s extremely helpful when coordinating shows or a call for artworks. Artists share their artwork, art details and contact information with you directly. You don’t have to worry about endless email exchanges with attached images or typos and inconsistencies in the information. 
 

Increase visibility and promote discoverability

Museums used technology to create and distribute programming before COVID. But before 2020 the online experience was second to the physical one—like an afterthought. Resources were concentrated on physical exhibits and in-person programming and events. 

The pandemic presented institutions with no choice. They had to turn to the internet to provide access to exhibits, events, fundraisers and education. And within this pivot, they found a silver lining. 

Despite the challenges of low attendance, institutions grew their digital audience. According to the Alliance of American Museums, the Rijksmuseum had its lowest attendance since 1964, but the museum experienced a 23 percent increase in the number of its social-media followers and witnessed millions of unique visits to its website including its virtual collection—Rijksstudio.

We've seen a similar boost to digital discovery and engagement with our own clients at Artwork Archive. They've utilized our suite of online tools to showcase their artworks and artifacts. For instance, their backend database is directly synced to a Public Profile hosted on Artwork Archive's Discovery platform. Arts organizations get an SEO boost and increased visibility via search engines thank to their public portal. 

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

Many of Artwork Archive clients utilize our website embeds as well. This means their database is connected directly to their ewbsite. They have control over their online presence and aren't dependent on IT or their webmaster to keep their website up-to-date.

Have a new acquisition or exhibition? If it’s in your Artwork Archive account and set to public, it will automatically be hosted on your Public Profile and on your website via the embed. 

A screenshot from New Mexico State University's online Public Profile which they use to share their various collections, artist profiles, and exhibitions. This Public Profile is hosted on Artwork Archive's Discovery platfrom – boosting SEO and driving awareness to your institution. 
 

What is Artwork Archive’s Public Profile?

The Public Profile is your web portal. It’s a beautiful and professional way to showcase your art collection and programming without leveraging additional resources. It’s tied directly to your art database and can be easily embedded onto your website. 

With the Public Profile you can:

  • Host your entire collection: You choose what artworks and information are public. Make financial details like price and appraisals private, but showcase important didactic information like creation date, medium, video links and descriptions.

  • Promote your artists with Artist profiles: Showcase your artists. Include their bios, headshots and websites.

  • Guide viewers through thematic collections: You can segment your artworks into different collections. We’ve seen collections based on a time period or style (Impressionist, Ancient Art), or depicting a particular subject matter (abstract, portraits), or to differentiate between the Permanent Collection and works on loan. We've even seen collections that make a nod to benefactors' donations or ones that spotlight programming like Walking Tours. 

  • Showcase online exhibitions: Either create stand alone virtual shows or make an online exhibit to complement and expand the reach of your onsite show. 

  • Provide an interactive map: If you have artworks in more than one location, you’ll love this map tool. Synced to your location records, your interactive map highlights the spread of your collection and drives traffic to your art.

  • Offer a News section: This “mini blog” is an excellent way to post exhibition openings, educate audiences on new acquisitions, and give interns and volunteers a platform to research, write and publish. 

“Artwork Archive does not only help us with collection organization and accessibility but also visibility. It has been incredible to see how many new patrons got to discover The Lilley through Artwork Archive. When one looks for a specific artist on a search engine, if that artist is part of our permanent collection, our Artwork Archive page shows up on their search. We are so happy with all of the facets of the program, including our enhanced online presence.” Vivian Zavataro, Director & Chief Curator at the John & Geraldine Lilley Museum of Art at the University of Nevada, Reno

 

Reach beyond your gallery walls with online exhibitions

We released Artwork Archive’s Online Exhibitions during COVID because of the need to create virtual shows while classrooms were empty and gallery doors were closed. 

Virtual exhibitions were around before the pandemic though. But, they were secondary to the physical show–something to add on if the institution had time, which was rare. 

The past few years have shown us how wonderful virtual exhibitions can be – they can enhance a physical show–providing a hybrid experience. 

Virtual shows can be standalone programmatic events for research and community engagement purposes too–giving local curators, students and faculty the opportunity to curate. 

Online exhibits open your institution beyond your physical walls. People can engage with your artworks despite time or geographical restrictions. No babysitter? No problem. Enthusiasts can view your art from their home. 

Utilizing Artwork Archive has made it possible to exponentially expand our outreach and has made it possible to present our Winter Park Paint Out  virtually during this challenging time,” Debbie Komanski, CEO/Executive Director of the Polasek Museum.

Use Artwork Archive's Exhibitions feature to create an online exhibition that compliments your physical show or, create a standalone virtual show to expand your reach and impact.

 

Fundraise more sustainably

Bringing in dollars for our institutions is very important. We’ve learned from the pandemic that we can’t be reliant on ticket sales. The Artwork Archive team has witnessed creative solutions to fundraising online. You no longer have to be reliant on in-person traffic and you can stand up campaigns like a virtual art sale, auction or gift shop with minimal staff, funds and other resources. 

Here are some success stories of using online tools to raise awareness and funds. 

Arts & Health at Duke tripled their sales from an art exhibit when they moved it online. 

“Our online presence with Artwork Archive was a lot more successful than we thought it could be. Now, we're busting at the seams. We're too successful. We are not limited to physical space. If people can’t get into the building, they can still buy it by contacting us on our Artwork Archive Public Profile. I’m even telling artists to share available artwork that we are not exhibiting because our online sales are growing so quickly" – Jennifer Collins-Mancour, Visual Arts Coordinator for Arts & Health at Duke at Duke University Hospital

The Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens in Winter Park, Florida expanded their reach and impact by offering both an onsite exhibit and sale coupled with a digital presence.

They reported the following benefits: 

  • Participating artists aren’t restricted by location. They don’t have to be onsite to participate.  

  • Artists get more space to showcase. In a physical event, artists are given a small display area.  There usually isn’t space for bigger works. With virtual exhibitions, artists can show work they typically wouldn’t be able to show in the physical event. 

  • Online sales are easy. Winter Park loves the “inquire” button which enables buyers to contact them. A staff member works directly with the buyer to set up the purchase and shipping. Alternatively, you could include a “Purchase” button to your preferred e-commerce site. 

  • Sales tracking keeps everything in order. Winter Park also uses their Artwork Archive account to track all sales, buyer information, and use this information for accounting throughout the year.

“With Artwork Archive, we were able to expand and extend the reach of our event and art sales.  And the intuitive user interface allowed our event intern and volunteers to manage the online gallery with minimal training.” – Hal Stringer, Chairperson - Winter Park Paint Out, Polasek Museum & Sculpture Garden

 

Encourage encounters with an Interactive Map

Showcase the spread of your collection with Artwork Archive’s Interactive Map. You no longer have to be reliant on platforms like ArcGIS. You can easily create a map of your artworks from your Artwork Archive account and embed it onto your website! 

If you’re a museum with artworks on loan, or a university with an expansive campus, or a hospital with multiple buildings, or a public art program that spans your county, you can market your locations and help people find your art. 

Everyone uses Google Maps these days so our Interactive Map includes directions to get viewers directly to your art, even if it’s in an alley or in a sculpture garden. 

We've seen institutions create walking and driving tours. Colleges with alumni or prospective student events can share their collection with these engaged audiences. 

 

Screenshot of Arts & Health at Duke's Interactive Map hosted on their Artwork Archive Public Profile. The Interactive Map can also be embedded onto your website so that you can drive people to your artworks, literally.

 

Share more information with QR codes

Thanks to the pandemic, QR codes are coming back in style. People use their Camera app to scan a Quick Response (QR) code, which links to websites, apps, tickets and more. QR codes give quick access to websites without having to type a URL. 

With QR codes you are not limited to a wall label or placard. You can include them in your exhibits and printed materials to provide extra context. For instance, the Lilley Museum of Art includes QR codes in their catalogs in order to share videos explaining the artists’ creative processes and the influence of their cultural heritage and histories.  

QR codes are also a great inventory tool. You can create a more thorough and modern organizational system for your collection by printing QR codes that link to your Artwork Archive object records. Print them on Avery labels and adhere them to works in storage. 

 

How do we measure the impact of the digital world?

How do you report on activities and engagement that is not physical? Consider page views as the new footsteps. Here are a few ways you can quantify and qualify your impact.

  • Track visitors with Google Analytics.

  • Collect demographic data from Google Analytics.

  • Count newsletter opens and clicks.

  • Solicit feedback from viewers with brief surveys.

  • Track sales and expenses within Artwork Archive's Income tool.

  • Store all of this information in Artwork Archive's Additional Files.

  • Share the data in your next grant application or board meeting.

“With Artwork Archive’s integration features, we get a cohesive user experience and the ability to count and understand our online visitors.” – Hal Stringer, Chairperson - Winter Park Paint Out, Polasek Museum & Sculpture Garden


 

Let’s recap: 9 ways to utilize your public presence

What is possible with your collection online? How can you use technology-based tools like online exhibitions, interactive maps, and public profiles? 

  • Provide a more accessible experience to compliment your in-person attendance. 

  • Let technology tell your stories. Show related ephemera & documentation. 

  • Reach beyond your gallery walls and engage with new audiences.

  • Promote discoverability of your institution, archive or foundation. 

  • Activate new fundraising efforts. Sell art online.

  • Enable seamless collaboration with various stakeholders. 

  • Give access to your internal and external audiences. Encourage scholarship, incite curiosity, and develop and strengthen relationships. 

  • Boost engagement with online voting and by fielding inquiries. 

  • And most importantly, utilize online tools to preserve your art collection and your institution’s legacy. Our art ages just like us. Digital may last forever but surely our documents and artworks will not. So it’s important to help our artworks age gracefully and to make sure that they are preserved for as many years to come for future generations.


 

Activate your collection 

The Artwork Archive team is passionate about making culture more accesible and to preserve our creative processes and narratives for future generations.

With Artwork Archive plans starting at $29/month and a lifetime 30% discount for nonprofits, it’s easy to make the case to switch to Artwork Archive. We welcome you to join our esteemed clients that are actively adapting and activating their collections with technology–like the Museum of African American Art, Cleveland Clinic, San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles, Nebraska's 1% Percent for Art Program, Davidson College, Villanova University and more. 

Contact us to schedule a demo or start a free 30-day trial.