Open data dusts off the art world

Suzette Lohmeyer at GCN: “Open data is not just for spreadsheets. Museums are finding ways to convert even the provenance of artwork into open data, offering an out-of-the-box lesson in accessibility to public sector agencies. The specific use case could be of interest to government as well — many cities and states have sizeable art collections, and the General Services Administration owns more than 26,000 pieces.

Open data solving art history mysteries?

Making provenance data open and accessible gives more people information about a piece’s sometimes sordid history, including clues that might uncover evidence of Nazi confiscation. Read more.

Most art pieces have a few skeletons in their closet, or at least a backstory worthy of The History Channel. That provenance, or ownership information, has traditionally been stored in manila folders, only occasionally dusted off by art historians for academic papers or auction houses to verify authenticity. Many museums have some provenance data in collection management systems, but the narratives that tell the history of the work are often stored as semi-structured data, formatted according to the needs of individual institutions, making the information both hard to search and share across systems.

Enter Art Tracks from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA) — a new open source, open data initiative that aims to turn provenance into structured data by building a suite of open source software tools so an artwork’s past can be available to museum goers, curators, researchers and software developers.


….The Art Tracks software is all open source. The code libraries and the user-facing provenance entry tool called Elysa (E-lie-za) are all “available on GitHub for use, modification and tinkering,” Berg-Fulton explained. “That’s a newer way of working for our museum, but that openness gives others a chance to lean on our technical expertise and improve their own records and hopefully contribute back to the software to improve that as well.”

Using an open data format, Berg-Fulton said, also creates opportunities for ongoing partnerships with other experts across the museum community so that provenance becomes a constant conversation.

This is a move Berg-Fulton said CMOA has been “dying to make,” because the more people that have access to data, the more ways it can be interpreted. “When you give people data, they do cool things with it, like help you make your own records better, or interpret it in a way you’ve never thought of,” she said. “It feels like the right thing to do in light of our duty to public trust.”….(More)”