Providing ‘Free’ Digital Images to Scholars: Met, ARTstor and Accessibility to Online Art Collections

Past March 12, 2007, The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced on its website, a “pioneering initiative to provide digital images to scholars at no charge.” This announcement has been immediately spread by the scholar blogosphere, as for example in the blog of The Chronicle of the Higher Education and The Attic.

This new service entitled “Images for Academic Publishing” (IAP) has been implemented in partnership with the nonprofit organization ARTstor. This service,

…will make images available via software on the ARTstor Web site. Initially, nearly 1,700 images representative of the broad range of the Metropolitan Museum‘s encyclopedic collection will be available through the more than 730 institutions that currently license ARTstor. Efforts to expand this accessibility are now underway and will be announced by ARTstor at a later date.

According to The Chronicle of the Higher Education scholars in the USA have to pay high permission rates to make use of museums’ images; a problem that, maybe, does not relate to researchers in some other countries. However, the questions here are numerous.

Although we consider this partnership among The Met and ARTstor a wonderful initiative and we really wish it would be imitated by other museums, we are especially concerned about the accessibility of this project.

This initiative is only applicable “for use in academic publications.” So, what would be considered an academic publication? Are publications outside universities and research centers -but signed by scholars- eligible? How is going to affect this to publishing companies? Are independent researchers considered scholars? About these issues you could read an interesting thread at Musematic.

Our second concern relates to the fact that, till the moment, only “the more than 730 institutions that currently license ARTstor” could have access to this service. In other words, this service is not for the overall academic community, it is just for certain institutions. Moreover, we could guess that although this service is strikingly announced as “no charge for scholars,” becoming an ARTstor member required paying a fee, as eventually it was. But even willing to pay, not anyone could belong to the community because only institutions from, United States, Canada, Australia | New Zealand, and United Kingdom are eligible.
About this, and as a disclaimer, ARTstor explains on its website,

ARTstor participation will be limited, at least initially, to interested institutions in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Intellectual property and copyright law differs from country to country; most of the content in the ARTstor Digital Library will be available to international participants, but some copyrighted materials will not be available due to copyright concerns. In time, we expect to expand the availability of the ARTstor Digital Library internationally.

Eventually, we wonder what the best formula to provide non charged uses to nonprofit organizations is in an online context for art collections. At the end, internet uses of online collections are being regulated by each country’s legal frame and within the strict boundaries of economical power. So, access to online art collections still remain restricted to certain people and areas of the world while the utopia of Web 2.0 as a universal plaza remains still as a dream. This is however, a difficult problem that requires the will of establishing international suitable laws and more partnerships like The Met has done.

However, some other improvements could be easily done for a more accurate policy on who are the potential professional users of online art collections. We wish The Met will extented the IAP service to Museum Professional Associations, from the listed and not listed countries. Do we need to be “scholars” to need access to online collections? We can guess that the members of AFRICOM, AAM, AAMC, COVICOM, ICOM, Museum-Ed, or SMA (just to provide some professional associations examples) would really appreciate and get good benefit of this gesture.

>What people say… About El Prado Museum


The video embedded on the post in Spanish depicts the times in which there was neither Social Software nor internet and when TV was almost the only way to reach new audiences for museums. The recording was broadcasted some decades ago on TVE, the public television of Spain, in the times when there were only two TV channels and both of them were public. They were also times when smoking on TV was allowed :-(

Thanks again to the Social Software we can enjoy this debate on the El Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain. The prestigious and unfortunately deceased art critic, Santiago Amón, discussed its mission, architecture and its art works climate conditions. We find especially interesting his advanced ideas about the advisability of urgently connecting museums with universities and other study institutions to train museum professionals to work and manage museums in Spain.

We wonder if such a media coverage on art museums could be possible nowadays. What it is certain is that Amón’s concerns addressed a hot debate these days in Spain, as the articles compiled at the blog of the Instituto de Arte Contemporáneo reflect.

Video: Debate sobre el Museo del Prado en TVE, added on February 28, 2007 by kmalevich

>Wish List for Art Museums in Second Life


We love Art, we love Museums, and we love Social Software. Logically, we should love the idea of art museums in Second Life (SL.) But until the moment, this is really more of a longing than a consequence of what this virtual environment is currently offering.

Although we adore the abstract idea of expanding the presence of art museums in all Social Software, we have the feeling that art museums in SL are facing basic problems of definition. So, for the sake of art museums -not only in SL but also in this first one- let us try to better focus their role in this virtual platform by starting a wish list that you can pass around to add more wishes.

1. Quality Graphics

The poor definition of SL images is an obstacle to really experience the sensorial aspects of certain kind of art works. Despite SL’s efforts of to be as much realistic as possible, the truth is that the graphics do still lack compelling quality. This fact makes difficult to appreciate certain art forms based on the quality of the materials, the technique and the detail of the finishing. In other words, those who used to go to art museums to enjoy Rembrandt, Goya or Rubens probably will not be interested in visiting art museums in SL.

Although we have experiences engaging art works in SL, this wish just want to underline that certain kinds of art expressions need a better definition of the graphics for having a room in SL.

2. Improved Technical Service

Being in a SL Art Museum is an incessant back and forth of logins and getting backs because of the continuous interruptions users have to suffer even using broad band high speed internet connections. At any moment the system might crash your trip and boot you off to the real world. Then you would have to log back on and try to recover your latter experience. It is as if in RL (which in the SL lingo means, Real Life) we had to visit museums with the permanent expectation of being asked to leave them at any moment.

In addition to this, some newcomers complain about the demanding learning curve of SL in comparison with real museums, as Leslie Madsen-Brooks certainly remarks at Museum Blogging.

3. Freedom

Although anyone could expect from SL to be a truly revolutionary tool to overcome the current struggles of art museums in RL, the truth is that most museums are surprisingly imitating the worst part of reality, such as the restrictions imposed to visitors in museums regarding the care and conservation of the pieces. “Do not touch” labels, bureaucratic organizational systems, copyrights, admissions, etc.; are posted in the same style of any RL museum. Why, again, so many restrictions?

At the moment SL Art Museums seem to impose the same constraints to visitors/users than the ones of the real world. What if we take this second opportunity to overcome all these problems? Avoiding elements such as surveillance cameras or security staff, unavoidably necessary in real museums but not in SL ones, should be the beginning of a friendlier visitor experience in virtual museums.

4. Originality and Innovation

Imitation of reality seems to be a must in SL. Despite the pretended goal of being an alternative environment, SL is in general terms one of the best efforts recently implemented of recreating realism. This idea reinforces our suspicions about being currently living in a deeply Baroque period, in which the senses tend to be led till extreme sensorial experiences. Not in vain, our society remarkably relies on appearance, which is one of the reasons of SL’s success. This behavior is also present in some art museums in SL, which try to imitate the current displays of art works in RL (distribution of the art works; pedestals; use of archaic aesthetic evoking the times of Roman, Egyptian, and Greek antique cultural empires; etc.)

Is not SL able to produce a different and original concept of art museum or are we the ones who behave limited by our own conventions? Regarding this the always intriguing Richard Urban commented some months ago at Musematic,

I’ve also been interested to see how people are modeling the real world in Second Life, even when it’s not necessary (e.g. I really don’t need a wall to hang that painting. But I’ve put one there anyway). I’m looking forward to seeing how museums adapt to this new environment and whether we make some of the same choices (OK, kiddie avatars, lets line up in a group and listen to the nice docent avatar.) I’ll also be looking for ways that SL frees us from some of the first life limitations.

We are looking forward to listen his insights at MW2007. In the meanwhile, we hope he will continue building up his wiki.

5. Revolution

Like the best tradition of Science-fiction movies, SL seems to be constrained by the limits of the human social behavior and the restrictions of the capitalist mental structure behind this product. The common rule is; if you want to become different from the standard possibilities, you have to pay to do so. To improve your body, to own a land, to have a different standard; you have to pay. At the end, this virtual environment seems to follow the same economic rules as RL. Not in vain we should remember that behind SL there are real people making real money. In fact, we wanted to create a group of Art Museums in SL but even creating a group is expensive, not to mention a whole museum as Tom Goskar comments at the Museums Computer Group mailing list.

If it is necessary to pay only for gathering a group of people, we could easily conclude that SL is fostering a kind of economical elitism. So, instead of ‘Social Software,’ SL is more about ‘Club Software.’ Although the policy of ‘exclusivity’ is worthy of respect, it does not match very well with the essence of Social Software.

At the end, SL rules seem to be the same of the real life: Money.

6. Generosity

One of the shameful consequences of the cruelest side of capitalism sustained in SL is that it also has homeless individuals. The Spanish nonprofit organization Mensajeros de la Paz created two months ago a homeless avatar “warning the residents that many people still need help and everybody can do something against poverty, injustice and abandon”. Consequently, and very smartly, this organization asked for donations.

Fundraising is in SL, as in RL, the main issue to create and support any museum. Regarding SL’s commercial nature, our expectations about finding there a context for art museums relieving from RL budget constraints, appears to be a far fetched dream. However, we will always appeal to generosity and that is why we want to take this opportunity to mention here some individuals and nonprofits which are doing it very well, such as InfoIsland, The New Media Consortium, or TechSoup. You could find most of them at Better World Island.

7. Cultural Diversity

Just this note to raise awareness about how are art museums in SL shaping the diversity of cultural conceptions about art. Is SL representative of the rich cultural diversity of the world? We would not like SL adding another cultural filter to the already globalized online presence of culture :(

8. Integrity

Why ‘integrity’ for art museums in SL? Just because we like this value in any organization :)

9. Self-Assessment

Second Life is a great opportunity to rethink and assess art museums’ role in the current times. By asking what art museums should be in SL we are asking indeed about their role in this first life. About the nature and current role of museums, we find very interesting Tom Scheinfeldt’s reflections on Foundhistory and Bridget McKenzie’s comment in the Museums Computer Group mailing list

Is there anything different to expect from art museums in SL after all those replication efforts? What is the impact of SL Art Museums in RL? Leslie Madsen-Brooks provides some insights about this in “What can participating on Second Life do for your museum?” Do not miss her final list of advantages and disadvantages for museums in SL at the end of her article.

An interesting initiative regarding real art museums and SL was led by San Jose Museum of Art, as Mark Wallace featured at “Submit your SL Art to San Jose Museum.

An interesting example of art museum in SL is the Aho Museum, depicted in the picture above. (You will find more photos about it at e-artcasting Photoproject.)

However, RL art museums have to deeply evaluate a possible involvement in SL. Regarding these concerns, Seb Chan describes at Fresh + New the thoughts of Powerhouse Museum,

My team here at the Powerhouse Museum has been toying with the idea of a Second Life trial too – we’ve had quite a bit of experience with 3D environments and reconstructions in the past. But a museum is unlikely to have the resources of a Dell or IBM to do a media friendly product launch type event quickly enough in SL to make a significant splash – these things in the museum sector take months (if not years) to develop properly and by the time they are done (maybe) the hype will have moved on.

In the comments to this article, a good suggestion by Richard Urban was,

“Another approach that museums may need to look at is not doing this alone as individual institutions. The New Media Consortium is creating a shared campus for educational institutions, and a collective of librarians has created Information Island (I & II). But who from the museum world is willing to play in a shared sandbox?”

However, some other people just say, Get a First Life

10. (…)

Finally, our wish is your opinion. Do not be shy about adding your wishes and passing your list around…

Image: NMC Second Life: Aho Museum View, 2006
Video: SamyoSam: Second Louvre Museum, 2007
Video: Amoration: ISEA Virtual Arts Videoblog, 2006


When Cameras Inside Museums Are Forbidden: Web 2.0 and Copyrights

Among the main qualities of Web 2.0 I like most are that it is: diverse, creative, generous, laid-back, useful, and contradictory. Today I will focus on the two last topics: usefulness and paradoxes.

As in all Guggenheim Foundation Museums, Guggenheim-Bilbao Museum does not allow visitors taking pictures or recording videos inside the building. This policy maybe had any relation with art works’ copyright or more probable indeed, with Frank Gehry‘s copyright and any possible commercial use of the Guggenheim Foundation images. However, it is my belief that this policy is pretty outdated, moreover, it is unfair for visitors and it definitively works against the institution itself.

Since visitors are paying their entrance to the building, any potential copyright issue should be considered part of the ticket fare, as it could be the case regarding museum’s maintenance expenses, personnel, etc. That used to be why visitors get upset whenever they realize of the banning of using cameras inside the Guggenheim Museums: because they had already paid the ticket and they do not want to pay two times for the same thing.

Maybe you were right now thinking that this is because of artists’ copyright reasons and that artists should be paid back in case of any audiovisual dissemination of their work. Of course that is something I absolutely agree with, but ideally this should be previously negotiated between the museum and the artists themselves without meaning any trouble for visitors. It should be a real issue if the Guggenheim Foundation was not able to negotiate the rights of its temporary exhibitions, or even worse, if it did not hold the management and the payment of the rights of its own collection. Furthermore, the use of any hypothetical photographic reproductions of artworks would be the sole responsibility of the person who would disseminated them.

So let us think that the Foundation has under control all these copyrights. In that case, anybody could think that what really happens is because of a commercial strategy to control all images of the museum to further sell them, renting the space and/or the right to take images inside. In other words, the Guggenheim Foundation seems to be choosing exclusivity as its management policy, something that is really opposite to Web2.0 principles and new trends among general public and art museum’s visitors/users.

The video linked above is a fragment of the DVD Architectures, Vol. 4 (2005) produced by Facets Multimedia. I can guess that the company paid a good amount of money for being allowed to record inside both the building and behind the scenes. Although probably the original DVD holds any copyright, this documentary production is however available in Google Video, and it is free.

Despite its image quality is really bad, this online copy permits us to share its contents in this blog and to let some others to know and experiment the wonders of Guggenheim-Bilbao Museum. What is more, I am sure that after posting this video on e-artcasting, some of you will feel curious and willing to visit it (and paying the ticket.)

In the meanwhile, enjoy this interesting video available for downloading here.

PD. (Good news is short … and the video has been removed from the internet, probably because it violated the producer’s copyrights)

2.0 Photographic Project by National Museums Liverpool

National Museums Liverpool has organized a Web 2.0 photographic project to document the city of Liverpool, called “Stewart Bale 2.0” and based in the Stewart Bale Ltd. Photographic Collection, an advertising and printing business in Liverpool that specialised in commercial and architectural photography, whose collection is owned by National Museums Liverpool.

The organization invited both amateur and professional photographs using Flickr, to recreate the photographs of its collection. This intitave currently is an online photography exhibition and is a perfect example of how Web 2.0 (a new generation of Internet services that enable collaboration, shared ownership and social tagging) can not only attract new viewers to art museums, but their collections can be revisited by contemporary looks.

As it is sawn here, it is not necessary having a contemporary art collection to understand new audiences and their relation with technology. Fortunately, there is an increasing number of museums understanding it in this way.

Images: Stewart Bale: Pier Head, 1959 (original) (left); Pete Carr: Pier Head, 2006 (right)

e-learning Systems for Aged Art Museums

Mona Lisa ipod

Who said internet and e-learning systems were necessary for museums of only Contemporary Art? See on the photo (if you are able) ‘La Gioconda’ at the Louvre Museum, Paris. If you want to meet her in person, surely you will thank some extra help.

The Louvre offers virtual tours on its website, but the one devoted to La Gioconda is even more frustrating than on site. Although the extremely famous painting appears without visitors, the software does not allow getting closer to the art work. Despite this fact, what is probably the most visited museum on the World only offers traditional information systems.

In addition to check the text and the images on the website (with very good quality,) the only supplementary information option to visitors provided by the museum is audio guides. After having to queue during long time and over on receipt of 5 euros and an ID deposit, visitors will be allowed to carry an uncomfortable portable cd player model during their visit. The other option is hiring a guide tour, which because of the amount of visitors, the noise and the real movement difficulty; includes a headset service to be able to hear guides’ explanations.

Maybe the logical alternative to this entire nuisance would be an additional podcast and/or vodcast service on the website of the museum, so people would arrive to the museum provided with their respective explanations to enjoy at the same time they appreciate art works or, who knows, they queue listening to some music customized by the very Gioconda.

Images: Corneille, Petite: Mona Lisa, 2005. Photography. (left.) iPod® Nano Skin ‘Mona Lisa’ (right)

What People say… about MACBA

I just ran across this video titled “Llévame al museo, papi” (Take me to the Museum, Dad,) relating to the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona (MACBA) in Spain. Far to homage the institution, this video criticizes “the absorption of the art world and the virtually zero impact of museums on citizens’ daily life.” This is done by mixing flamenco and reggaeton in the very dubious taste of some current massive consumption video-clips.

The author of this mishmash is the artist currently living in Barcelona, Guillermo Trujillano, who produced it in 2006 for the program “” Trujillano’s concerns connect in some way to Sociable Museums’ interest about the impact of Social Software on Art Museums. With this work, the artist seems to be asking why bigger audiences relate these cheesy musical groups, and on the other hand, why art museums use to remain very far to this achievement. Are not museums containing enough significance and quality samples to also engage big audiences?

We all know that is difficult to make art museums part of common daily life. The question here is if Trujillano’s video is solving something about this or it is just stressing even more the boundaries between art museums and daily life. Furthermore, should it be the goal of art museums becoming part of peoples’ daily life and engaging ‘big audiences’?

Although “Llévame al museo, papi” is more elaborated and technically better than most of the videos available in the Social Software, I personally prefer less self-conscious responses. However, thanks to posting it in YouTube I have been able to learn about it and posting it in this blog to continue the debate started by Trujillano.

Now it is time to experience this hilarious point of view on MACBA, and why not, enjoying some of its details. Our favorite part begins at the minute 2:30, with the group of flamenco dancers in the street and when the singer says,

Yo aquí cantando en la calle (Me here singing in the street)
tu aquí bailando en la calle (you here dancing in the street)
y los museos vacíos (and museums are empty)
no hay quien gestione mi arte (nobody to manage my art)



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