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Archives & Museum Informatics



The Museum of the Americas: A Virtual Museum for the Hemisphere

Luis Cancel, The Museum of the Americas Foundation, USA
Michael R. Alford, Vision Foundry, USA

Session: Demo Session 1

In 1998, a loose confederation led by the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Smithsonian Institution, established the Museum of the Americas Foundation (MoA), an independent not-for-profit organization. Its mandate is to reach across national boundaries to form partnerships with individuals, corporations, foundations, and institutions that share the dream of an inclusive museum devoted to the art and culture of the Western Hemisphere.

Foundation President Christopher Addison described what is to come: "Our commitment at the Museum of the Americas is to shine a bright light on the cultural heritage of the peoples of the Americas, to disseminate the knowledge of their shared achievements broadly and effectively, and to interpret collections drawn from the wealth of cultural centers throughout the hemisphere, beginning here in Washington with the Smithsonian Institution and including institutions from Canada to Chile."

To fulfill its mission, the Museum of the Americas Foundation has embraced a digital strategy that will broadly disseminate the cultural information it will collect. The immediate goal of the Foundation is to use cutting-edge information technology to establish a leadership role in creating a shared Americas Cultural Database that includes a Curriculum Database for teachers, a Research Database for scholars, an Image Library for the general public and for teachers, and a Collections Database with an inventory of objects in collections and exhibits related to the Foundation's mission. It will also feed into the Art Museum Image Consortium (AMICO) as a conduit of images and metadata from museums throughout Latin and South America.

The Americas Cultural Database is in its initial phase of development and will take several years to build. Nevertheless, the Foundation is keenly interested in learning about the types of features, artists, artworks and subjects that will interest its diverse audience. From the beginning, MoA's Web site and digital systems will operate in four languages. As it grows, MoA's system will strive to integrate several previously separate museum information functions: collections management, image libraries, research libraries, curriculum databases, online exhibits, shared digital workspaces, kiosk learning centers, and more.

The Foundation is working closely with the Smithsonian Institution as well as with museums throughout North America, the Caribbean, and South and Central America to bring public attention to the existing, rich collections that chronicle the cultural achievements that have occurred in the Western Hemisphere. The vast majority of Americas-based collections in the Smithsonian's museums, for instance, are currently in storage and not often on public display. Seeing this as a challenge and an opportunity, the Museum of the Americas Foundation is developing exhibition strategies for these objects. In a digitally connected world, the Foundation plans to prepare exhibitions for traditional spaces as well as for its evolving Virtual Museum.