A vase display at Yume Japanese Gardens of Tucson. Photo courtesy of Yume Japanese Gardens of Tucson.
Learn how to make your collection and institution accessible all year-round even if your primary audience is seasonal.
Are you based in a tourist location where shops close when the winter chill seeps through the coastal beaches, or does your town activate with the first snowfall?
Or, do you have consistent foot traffic throughout the year and are looking for ways to engage your audiences throughout the seasons?
Either way, this spotlight on Artwork Archive client Yume Japanese Gardens of Tucson is a helpful case study in cultural exchange and audience engagement with a small staff, limited resources, and a complex collection. We’ll cover digitization strategies (going from cardboard box to website) and ways to bolster your collection and its impact with research, funding and global exchange.
We welcome you to join us and take a journey into the spirit of Japan in Tucson, Arizona, as we sit down with Cristiana Bertoldi, Curator of the Yume Japanese Gardens of Tucson.
Yume Gardens provides a haven of greenery and tranquility for the Tucson community.
Yume Gardens is so much more than just a Japanese garden. If you land on their Google search listing you see – “Japanese art and culture, museum, tea ceremony, butoh dance, ikebana, kimono, scrolls.”
Patricia Deridder founded the Gardens in 2013 with the intent to bring Japanese heritage to Arizona. The nonprofit brings Japanese culture to viewers in various ways: through their curated gardens, museum collections and art gallery, educational workshops and classes, production of Japanese festivals and ceremonies, and their healing programs.
Thanks to the active collecting of their founder and executive director, Deridder, Yume Gardens has a diverse collection of Japanese objects dating back to the 1800s. The collection spans from kimonos to scrolls to paintings to lacquer pieces to arts and crafts – everyday objects.
Seasonal shifts: connecting with snowbirds
Many Boomers flock to Arizona during the winter months for the warm weather and reprieve from the harsh elements of their coastal homes. Like many vacation locations, Tucson has the challenge and opportunity of a temporary and migratory audience.
“Tucson is a special geographic area. We have a lot of snowbirds coming from the north. They are here from December through March and then they leave,” contributes Cristiana.
Yume Gardens offers exceptional in-person experiences with their events and transformative Path to Emotional Healing Program, which consists of structured therapeutic garden walks.
But in order to be sustainable beyond the snowbird months, Yume Gardens must keep their communities engaged from afar.
Yume Gardens created a digital catalog to offer their snowbirds when they are gone – to keep the engagement alive. “The snowbirds are attached to Yume. While they are away, they can be part of the Gardens and see what is going on. We are connecting virtually much more than before,” shares Cristiana.
A screenshot of Yume Japanese Gardens of Tuscon's Public Profile on Artwork Archive. Seen here is a list of the Collections they've made viewable to the public. See more here.
What does it take to digitize your collection for continued access?
Finding an online collection management system became a priority for the Yume team. “We wanted a digital catalog because the collection needed to be managed and we wanted online tools for remote access. We also wanted a virtual platform to share our collection with the public,” asserts Cristiana.
Before Cristiana was hired, the Gardens did not have a formal inventory or catalog. That made research, access and maintenance difficult. One of Cristiana’s priorities was finding a database. And after thorough research, she chose Artwork Archive.
“Artwork Archive is what we needed since we are a small team consisting of an executive director, a curator, an operations manager, and two front desk receptionists,” imparts Cristiana.
Fortunately for Yume Gardens, they received a grant from the Japanese Foundation-NY (CGP) to catalog the collection and redesign their website. Cristiana explains that, “the grant set the momentum we needed to start this digitization project.”
The inventory process: going through box-by-box.
Without a formal catalog, the Yume team had quite the digitization project ahead of them. Christiana’s goal was to conduct a thorough inventory to know what they had and what information they were missing. They had 20 full boxes in the basement to catalog.
Cristiana explains her process:
“I created a catalog room during COVID. I’d open box by box and then sort out the content by genre, like lacquerware vs. books vs. dolls. I’d then photograph the works and upload the images into Artwork Archive. I’d make sure to categorize the objects by materials, techniques and motifs since our collection is so diverse.”
Artwork Archive simplifies complexity.
It is no small feat to digitize boxes of objects especially when your collection is as complex as Yume’s, but the team has witnessed many benefits from putting in the work. Cristiana shares:
“I love that I can easily categorize our diverse collection within Artwork Archive and then quickly find the information I need whether it is object research or compiling works for an upcoming exhibition. Our objects have multiple categorizing factors and that is simplified within a database like Artwork Archive. Let me walk you through the multiple facets of one object:
We have a Tea Ceremony bowl.
It is ceramic, so it is placed in the Ceramics Collection.
It is also part of the Tea Ceremony, so we add it to the Tea Ceremony Collection.
If I want to create an exhibit on tea ceremony objects, I have all of them there.
If I want to further describe the object and how it relates to the rest of the collection, I can add tags.
So, I’ll add a tag for its decorative motif. This motif can be found in lacquerware and kimonos. So now I can easily curate an exhibit based on the motif – by filtering with that tag.
And I can easily create a digital catalog or the assets for a physical catalog using Artwork Archive’s Portfolio Page reports. I'll export and print all of the details and high-res images of the objects in the exhibit, and then send it to funders, partner institutions and scholars.”
A screenshot of a ceremonial tea bowl from the Yume collection. By bringing it online, viewers can learn more about the ceramic and its part within the Japanese tea ceremony. View more pieces from the Japanese Tea Ceremony Collection here.
Digitization is a project that never really ends. “It will be ongoing with the donations that we receive,” confirms Cristiana. But with these efforts, donors will be thrilled to see their gifts online and Yume can quickly share their objects with their community members of visitors, patrons and scholars near and far.
Having your collection online helps you connect with scholars – bolstering research beyond your expertise.
While inventorying their collection, the Yume team discovered that much of the collection entailed further research. “Some of the object descriptions are thorough but some are minimal,” shares Cristiana. Having access to the database online meant that Cristiana and the team could continue research from outside of the office.
Cristiana’s expertise is in Japanese and Chinese ceramics so, with such a varied collection, she needs to call upon the expertise of other scholars. Cristiana explains, “if I have a question about an object in the collection I can easily reach out to experts at a university or museum and ask them for their consultation.”
Cristiana shares an example: if she had questions about the collection’s kimonos, she could contact an expert in London. She could easily share their collection of kimonos with Artwork Archive’s Private Room and ask the consultant to fill in the gaps – like what time period the kimono was from.
In a perfect world, the expert would be able to see the kimono in person, but there are a number of limiting factors when it comes to consultations – the cost of travel, available time, access to the object, etc.
Cristiana is relieved that she can share high-res images and the details she has right from her database. “It’s an amazing way to interact and collaborate with institutions around the world.”
Plus, as institutions think about their carbon footprint, limiting travel is one small way to reduce our impact on the environment.
Having your collection online makes it easy to collaborate and communicate with partner institutions – near and far.
Japanese Gardens are a particular type of heritage site within the United States and they are not ubiquitous. Thus, it is important for the Yume Gardens team to communicate and share with other gardens like the Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego or the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix. They strive to stay connected and share resources.
“By bringing our collections online, we are establishing best practices that can easily be shared with other cultural sites and museums–enhancing and preserving our cultural heritage practices.” – Cristiana Bertoldi.
Yume Gardens utilizes Artwork Archive's Public Profile – a public-facing portal tied to their database – to quickly and easily share objects with the public.
Vases from Yume Japanese Gardens' collection. Photo courtesy of Yume Japanses Gardens of Tucson
Your online art database helps you report back to funders.
Your institution probably has a number of stakeholders that you need to report to. Yume Gardens is no different. Their grant from the Japan Foundation is a project grant meaning they need to send a report to the Foundation outlining the work they’ve done.
Cristiana can easily share their online portfolio from Artwork Archive. They create an online viewing room curated specifically for the Japan Foundation. “They were impressed,” shares Cristiana, “they are going to share our work with other institutions and gardens.”
Yume’s new web presence makes a global impact.
“By going online with our collection, we will attract more visitors and patrons to the gardens who wish to see the artwork in person at Yume,” asserts Cristiana.
“With Artwork Archive, we can now welcome both our in-person visitors and website visitors. It was extremely helpful to go digital during a time (the pandemic) when attendance was not possible,” continues Cristiana.
The Yume Gardens team is excited to create virtual exhibitions. An upcoming show features a photographer who will display her photographs in Yume’s Art Gallery. But Cristiana has more plans for the show. She will interview the artist and upload that interview and other videos to their online exhibition hosted by Artwork Archive.
“Currently, our online exhibition experience is limited. Viewers see a simple exhibition screen with one picture and a little description. With Artwork Archive, we’ll have a whole experience. We can do so many things – like uploading a video walkthrough of the exhibition.”
Digital tools make cultural exchange unbelievably easy.
When asked what the rest of 2022 holds for Yume Gardens, Cristiana shares that her goal for the year is to learn more about the objects in the collection. She’ll utilize her online tools to connect with experts across the world and upload that information into their Artwork Archive account so that they can create more comprehensive cultural heritage records to preserve and share with communities near and far.