by Emily Lawhead (MA, 2017)
After the spring 2017 semester wrapped up at USF, I packed my bags and shuffled off to Buffalo, New York. My entire museum experience thus far has been concentrated on the West Coast (Northern Arizona and San Francisco), and I wanted to immerse myself in an entirely different setting. I was curious about varying museum cultures around the country while figuring out my post-MA steps.
I worked with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s Publications Department for the summer, conducting research on past exhibitions and adapting curatorial writing to build exhibition pages for the website. I primarily work with the Digital Content Manager, the Digital Assets team and other Editors in the Publications Department to dive deeply into the museum’s past. Most days were spent nose-deep in “yearbooks” kept in the museum’s library that hold ephemera for every museum exhibition, event and initiative since 1862. With those resources, I could confirm exhibition dates, titles, and curators while finding all writing and information associated with each show.
This is part of a larger staff-propelled project — making the Albright-Knox’s entire collection, all past exhibitions, events, and publications available on their website. Because of a rebranding and website re-launch completed in November 2016 with support from a three-part grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the new platform is able to hold a large amount of substantive information. The website now supports a newly conceived “Search the Collection” component that features every artist, movement, and object in the museum’s more than 7,000-work collection. At the 2017 Museums and the Web conference, Digital Content Manager Pam Martin and Digital Assets Manager Kelly Carpenter said, “the overall goal of this project was to provide website users the ability to efficiently search for and retrieve images of works in the museum’s collection as well as contextual information about the works” (mw17.mwconf.org).
While this may not sound as sexy as the newly launched “Send Me SFMoMA,” it is nonetheless an incredible undertaking that is invaluable to the museum field. When complete, researchers will be able to look up an artist — let’s say Clyfford Still — and see every painting in the museum’s collection, all related exhibitions of his work since 1959, information on exhibition catalogues, events, and writings. This allows academics to trace an artist’s work and the curatorial publications that accompanied an artist throughout their career. Information is shared between the museum’s digital asset management system, Piction, the collections database, Mimsy, and the website’s content management system in order to provide copyright information and image download links when possible.
This resource is also amazing for the general public to peruse, offering an in-depth glance into the museum’s past for those left with questions after their visit. Curious individuals are able to look deep into Buffalo’s history and see the very first exhibition presented at the museum in 1905. Every past exhibition page consists of an installation view of the show, related artworks in the collection that were presented, and links to individual artists, institutions, or publications that were created in conjunction with the exhibition.
Ultimately, all of this information will be integrated into the museum’s in-house database so that all staff will be able to easily reference the museum’s past in their work.
This comes at an apropos time in the Albright-Knox’s lifecycle, as they
recently announced a campus expansion to engage with Buffalo’s current
renaissance. AK360 will “double the number of masterworks the museum can display, provide state-of- the-art space for presenting special exhibitions, and enhance the visitor experience at the museum while better integrating the campus to the landscape of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Delaware Park” (albrightknox.org). The website’s role in this development not only allows members of the community to engage with the museum’s plans, but also creates a platform to trace the campus’s history since 1862. Emphasizing the museum’s ability to instigate economic and cultural growth in the Western New York region allows the community to support rejuvenated access to museum collections and programs.
The completion of this project, though ambitious, is definitely within reach. With an extremely dedicated and organized staff, the Albright-Knox is poised to become a major resource in the greater museum community. Hopefully their work will inspire other museums to boost their website to this level of democratically accessible information.
To dive down the rabbit hole of fascinating museum history, visit
To learn more about University of San Francisco’s graduate museum studies program, click here.