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Archives & Museum Informatics



Access to Art for All Ages

David Stark, Art Institute of Chicago, USA
Margaret Farr, Art Institute of Chicago, USA

Session: Demo Session 2

A mission statement drafted in 1997 for the the Art Institute of Chicago's website asserts that its primary function is educational. To that end, a significant effort has been directed to aiding the visitor locate and interpret objects in the permanent collection through varied means. Currently 109 works from the permanent collection are accessed through a Collections menu page, which features enlargeable reproductions of collection highlights with interpretive paragraphs for each (adapted from the 1997 Pocketguide to the Art Institute). QuickTime VR 360-degree clips for twenty-five museum galleries are available as well. Each of the clips is embedded with links to images of highlights within the respective galleries.

For children, adaptations of fourteen interactive digital games (connect-the-dots, supply the missing detail, etc.) found in the Art Institute's CD-ROM With Open Eyes (produced with Voyager Co.) are linked to objects on the Collections pages, and operate through Shockwave. Young people can also link to reproductions of objects from a creatively arranged menu of artists' signatures (also on Shockwave) which can be manipulated to rotate in circular fashion. For parents, suggestions on what to do before, during, and after the museum visit are posted, along with information on workshops designed to teach parents how to look at, and make art with their children. These latter pages provide a vehicle for dissemination of information to the public about a major initiatve, Looking at Art Together: Families and Lifelong Learning, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which seeks to attract participants beyond the present body of museum members.

Among features of interest to adult researchers is exhibition history information, which resides on the Libraries and Archives page. This section contains a year-by-year grid listing titles, dates, related publications, and archival photographs connected with exhibitions held in the museum. Linked to the menu page for the Ernest R. Graham Study Center for Architectural Drawings is a section devoted to the Chicago Architects Oral History project, in which excerpts from extensive taped interviews with 57 architects are posted, accompanied with photos of both the speakers and examples of their buildings or plans. This latter section has led to a dramatic increase in requests for complete printed transcripts of interviews from numerous individuals, many of whom became aware of the Oral History project through its presence on the internet.

Numerous enhancements to the website are currently in various stages of planning and production. Projects underway include a transfer of Cleopatra, a multimedia interpretive program on ancient art in the collection accompanied by a set of 135 lesson plans for teachers; and a dramatically increased number of reproductions of objects from the permanent collection accompanied by lesson plans, family activities, glossary, and timeline. Creating and expanding the website has been and continues to be a resourceful collaboration between many museum departments—Graphic Design & Communication Services; Imaging; Museum Education; and Curatorial, among others. Funding from sources ranging from the NEH and NEA to private foundations for the improvements described will enable fulfillment of the website's educational mission at progressively higher levels.