April 15-18, 2009
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Tear Down the Walls: The Redesign of ArtsConnectEd

Robin Dowden, Walker Art Center, and Scott Sayre, Sandbox Studios, USA


In the fall of 2006, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Walker Art Center embarked on a large-scale redesign of their highly acclaimed Web site, ArtsConnectEd. Since its launch in 1998, ArtsConnectEd had become a core resource for K-12 educators and their students, serving well over a million users per year.

Despite its accomplishments, museum educators eventually wanted better tools for adding new content, creating links between assets, and managing their relationships with ArtsConnectEd’s audiences. Coupled with new opportunities provided by Web 2.0 technologies, the redesign project aimed to redefine how on-line educational resources are developed and managed. The new site, internally referred to as ArtsConnectEd2, is an open source, highly flexible environment with audience-specific toolsets for building, sharing, and managing internal and external user-generated content.

This paper will provide an overview of the research, design, and development strategies employed in the creation of ArtsConnectEd2, particularly focusing on the roles and products of the internal, cross-institutional, and external collaborative teams. Extensive project research generated a unique set of requirements which illuminate new expectations for museums, staff roles, and technology, all applicable to any museum interested in developing a similar resource.

Keywords: K-12 education, collaboration, user generated content, standards, redesign, usability

1. Beginnings

ArtsConnnectEd ( first launched in the fall of 1998 as a collaborative project between the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Walker Art Center. The objective of the site was to combine the collections, educational resources, and archives of both institutions specifically for the use of K-12 teachers and students. The long-term goal was to more effectively serve a state-wide educational community while reducing the production and distribution of physical materials (slide sets, reproductions, newsletters, etc.). While the institutions are significantly different, the education departments offer many similar programs, resources, and services. Over the previous decade, the education departments had begun to collaborate on their marketing to reduce cost and teacher confusion (Wetterlund, 2009). ArtsConnectEd was designed as an extension of this idea, providing “one-stop shopping” for Minnesota teachers using the museums’ joint educational resources.

The impetus for ArtsConnectEd came from the institutions’ new media departments rather than their education departments. The departments had already been collaborating on one on-line education project, ArtsNet Minnesota, (Bridges, 1998) and were looking for another in order to take advantage of new state funding for technology projects. Both museums were seeking the financial resources to kick-start digitization of their own vast collections for contribution to the Art Museum Image Consortium (AMICO) (Trant, Bearman & Richmond, 2000) and their own Web sites. It was through ArtsConnectEd and its predecessor, the Integrated Arts Information Access project (Dowden, Sayre, & Dietz, 2000), that these separate goals were brought together.

At the time, the site and the philosophy behind it were quite experimental. Museums were just starting to put their collections on-line and very few, if any, had begun to integrate other resources (library records, audio, video, texts, educational interactives, etc.), particularly those dedicated to a K-12 audience. The technical and intellectual groundwork was in many ways unwritten. After months of data mapping, standards research, and collaborative development, the first version of ArtsConnectEd launched in 1998 - the same year as Google - with a front page containing a single form field that simultaneously searched all resources across the two institutions. The new media groups were pleased with their achievement, as were their colleagues: the project won Museums and the Web’s Best Educational Site and the American Association of Museum’s MUSE award for Best Educational Program. Unfortunately, these kudos proved to be premature when the project went to the first usability lab in late 1999. There, they found that few members of the target audience could effectively use the site, or worse, even understood its purpose. The team returned to the drawing board and redesigned the user interface, moving away from a sole reliance on queries to a more menu-based approach, which tested much better in a second, follow-up lab.

Figure 1

Fig 1: Homepage for first ArtsConnectEd site design pre usability testing 1998

The resulting ArtsConnectEd grew in popularity with its teacher and student end-users as well as the larger museum community. Eventually it was held up as a model: a number of other educational Web resources were developed following ArtsConnectEd’s lead. These sites include the North Carolina Museum of Art’s ArtNC (, the Art Institute of Chicago’s Art Explorer (, the Virtual Museum of Canada’s CollectionX (, the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Learning@Whitney (, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s MFA Educators Online ( While none of these resources are stand-alone sites or integrate the collections of multiple institutions like ArtsConnectEd, they all provide toolsets and resources designed to meet the needs of teachers and students.

2. The Community

Despite the original site’s awards and its substantial funding for development and marketing, early use was quite limited. Museum educators and teachers often did not understand the purpose of the resource, let alone how to successfully integrate ArtsConnectEd into their day-to-day work. To address this issue, the museums secured additional funding to develop and implement a state-wide “Train the Trainer” program (Sayre & Wetterlund, 2002). This program provided laptops and extensive on-site training to a contracted group of twenty-four teacher-trainers distributed throughout Minnesota, a state with over five million residents, covering over 84,000 square miles (217,736, sq. km.). After completing the training, the teachers returned to their communities and were contracted to train a minimum of sixty teachers in their region over the next two years. By the end of 2002, over fourteen hundred teachers statewide had been trained to use ArtsConnectEd.

Beyond this initial program, over half of the trainers stayed in close touch with ArtsConnectEd and the museums. Some continued to offer training in both off-line and on-line settings. At the same time, the MIA created a position for a full-time educational technology specialist whose responsibilities included organizing and conducting ArtsConnectEd training for both in-service and pre-service teachers (college students). The training program and marketing eventually paid off, with annual user sessions peaking at over two million as of this writing (

Figure 2

Fig 2: Homepage for first ArtsConnectEd site after usability testing redesign 2000

3. A Need for Change

The MIA and Walker educators were only peripherally involved with the initial development of ArtsConnectEd, since the new media departments had secured the original funding and led the Web site development. This, combined with the involvement of externally contracted trainers, had helped expedite the site’s development, but had not engaged the museum educators. The education directors of both institutions were on the project’s steering committee, and other education staff had participated in the teacher training. Nevertheless, the internal “clients” for the project were disconnected from it. Museum educators were initially unsure how ArtsConnectEd would fit into their ever-expanding workload. It was not until job descriptions and internal work processes were formally changed that the site was fully embraced by these primary stakeholders.

In the same way they moved from the telephone to e-mail, museum educators began to use ArtsConnectEd in place of hardcopy materials. ArtsConnectEd had many advantages over print-based resources, but it began to pose some significant obstacles. The primary issue was the museum educators’ lack of ability to modify the site’s content. Neither museum had secured funds beyond the initial development funding, nor had they developed a process to continue expansion of the site. Museum educators had to put in work requests to their new media departments to change anything on the site. Consequently, educators had a difficult time efficiently responding to the needs of their audiences.

4. Birth of a New Idea

Close to a decade after the site’s initial launch, ArtsConnectEd was starting to show its age. Increasingly poor response times, out of date content, and rising expectations as a result of Web 2.0 technologies called into question the site’s relevance. In search of a solution, MIA and Walker educators worked to obtain the resources to redesign the site and develop a long-term strategy for its future growth. After numerous meetings with members of the original project team and current new media staff, the group came up with a new approach: the site would take its cues from social-networking applications and empower end-users, as well as museum educators, to contribute to and manage the content within the site.

One of the most popular components of the original site was an early Web 2.0 tool called Art Collector. This unique tool, similar to an on-line version of PowerPoint™, allowed users to assemble, annotate, save, and present collections of works of art. This versatility inspired the team to move ArtsConnectEd from impenetrable barrier to highly interactive hub. ArtsConnectEd2 was to provide a new Web 2.0 toolset to meet the needs of museum educators on one hand, and teachers and students on the other. Both groups would be able to share content in the form of Art Collector sets, and museum educators would have a mechanism to approve and distribute contributed resources back through ArtsConnectEd itself. A formal proposal was crafted, and in the fall of 2006, funding was secured through an Institute of Museum and Library Service’s (IMLS) National Leadership Grant.

5. Reconstructing the Collaborative Teams

The original ArtsConnectEd project was managed by four committees, each made up of members from both institutions: a steering committee, a technology committee, a marketing committee, and an education committee. As the project had matured, active technical support waned, and so too did the committees. Between staff turnover and new priorities, management of the site had dwindled down to occasional institutional meetings and informal meetings between the individual partners. With the development of the redesign proposal and its eventual funding, many of the original team returned, even though a few of them no longer worked at either institution.

With the launch of the redesign project, new collaborative committees were formed:

  • Technology Committee – composed of new media developers, designers, and directors; responsible for the site’s design and development (seven people)
  • Education Committee – composed of museum educators; responsible for the repurposing and development of new content and providing design input (fifteen people)
  • Management Committee – composed of museum project directors and external contracted project managers; responsible for coordinating the priorities and workflow between the groups (four people)
  • Steering Committee – composed of education directors, new media directors, project directors, and project managers; responsible for setting policy and making executive decisions (eight people)

In addition, a new group was formed. Called the “power users,” this group of a dozen highly experienced end-users was invited to participate as paid volunteers. Many of them were from the first ArtsConnectEd teacher-trainer group.

Shortly after the project received funding, the technical team launched a simple project site ( to serve as a communication hub. The site had three objectives:

  1. to communicate the project’s scope, progress, and research to the public and museum community,
  2. to collect and share information from the power user group, and
  3. to organize and archive communication documents from the internal collaborative committees.

One of the first efforts was to create a comprehensive list of ArtsConnectEd-like sites, as well as non-museum Web 2.0 tools and design approaches that could inform the new site design. These link lists were organized and publicly posted on the project site. Prior to the needs assessment, the museum educator committee and the power users were asked to formally review and rate these sites and tools ( It was hoped that this process would familiarize all of the committee members with the current state of on-line tools and resources, and potentially stimulate new ideas for features and functionality.

6. Needs Assessment and Consensus Building

ArtsConnectEd2 benefited from the perspective of the many returning team members, but also from the tremendous amount of assessment data that had been collected. A wide range of statistical data on site usage, search terminology, and tool usage had been collected since the original site’s launch. The museums also had results from multiple teacher focus groups and the two usability labs, in addition to evaluation data from the teacher-trainers. The project managers used this data as a foundation for a larger needs assessment to inform the development of ArtsConnectEd2. They held dozens of meetings to survey museum educators and power users. One-on-one interviews were conducted with museum educators from both institutions. A daylong focus group was conducted with the power users. The goals were to better understand the usage of ArtsConnectEd and other on-line tools, discover any perceived limitations of the site, and identify new applications and desired functionalities for the redesign.

Figure 3

Fig 3: ArtsConnectEd2 Power User group meeting 2008

The collected data was then consolidated, ordered by stakeholder group, and ranked by the number of times each suggestion occurred. The resulting list was organized into three categories: 1) general site functionality, additions, and improvements; 2) Art Collector improvements; and 3) content additions. This needs assessment summary document was then reviewed by the technology committee, who added their recommendations of potentially useful tools and functionality. Finally, the document was vetted by the steering committee, which made the first round of executive decisions on which requested features would be seriously considered. A compendium of all findings was posted on the project site ( option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=10&Itemid=25).

Items were cut for various reasons, both technical and practical. Integrating relevant educational products into search returns as a source of revenue was deemed too logistically challenging, and a number of proposed visualizations (timelines and geographic mapping, etc.) would be difficult due to the data limitations of the over eighty thousand object records. One area of significant concern for the education directors was the impact different two-way communication functionalities would have on staff time. To address this concern, submission criteria were developed and the number of interactions that required immediate or guaranteed responses from staff was limited.

After the steering committee had approved and edited this “major feature” list, it was presented to the power user and education committees. Both groups were extremely enthusiastic about the extent to which the proposed features addressed their expressed needs. Because much of the redesign focused on greatly expanding the functionality of the Art Collector tool, a number of users expressed concern about losing their personal Art Collector sets in the transition from the old site to the new. Some of the power users had created over fifty personalized sets that they used in their classrooms on a regular basis. The technical committee assured them that their data would be transferred to the new site.

7. Use Case Scenarios and Specifications

The ArtsConnectEd2 software specification development was envisioned as a series of documents:

  1. User Scenarios (needs described by type of user and the tasks and processes they are likely to perform)
  2. Information Architecture (diagrams of each page and/or process addressing the needs identified in the User Scenarios)
  3. Definitions Document (major components and functional definitions including working terminology)
  4. Specification Document (technical requirements by section and function)

A linear process for developing the specification was outlined - each document to be written in the order listed - and initiated by the technology committee. Documents drafted by the technology committee were reviewed and then approved by the project directors with input from the steering committee as needed. In theory, developers and designers would proceed with the production phase of the project after the complete specification was written. In practice, because of time constraints and a desire to start prototyping, only the first two of the four documents were written.

The prioritized list of features and functionality that grew out of the needs assessment in the research phase set the stage for the definition of user types and development of user scenarios. User tasks (e.g., register) were listed by user type (museum educator, power user, outside educator, general public, and unregistered user). User scenarios were recast as use cases that described step by step how the application or a particular process was expected to work. Over forty use cases were developed in the general categories of: 1) search, browse, and item records; 2) creating content; 3) help; 4) user account maintenance; and 5) site administrator functions. A sample use case is provided in Appendix A.

Considerable time and effort was invested in the creation of the use cases and the wireframes (information architecture) that were made in response to them. As previously noted, the definitions and specification documents were never generated. Instead, developers started building the application, applying Agile software development principles and Trac project management software to develop a roadmap.

8. New Content Development

As the technology committee began development, the museum educators identified what new content was to be added to the site. Both institutions had historically produced hundreds of physical resources that could potentially be re-purposed for delivery through ArtsConnectEd2. The education committee set upon creating a comprehensive inventory of these items, which ranged from typed worksheets to multi-component slide/tape programs. Each institution logged its resources based on format, content, and audience.

The collected resources were then divided up for review amongst the educators. A resource evaluation tool was developed to assist the museum educators in their assessment of each resource. The tool assisted the educators in assigning each resource a numeric rating of its “repurposability,” weighted by a variety of factors including: a) quality and relevance of content; b) availability of preexisting digital assets; c) copyright limitations; and d) opportunities for digital enhancement. The tool also assisted the reviewer in determining what the best format for repurposing would be: text page, PDF, or museum-educator-built Art Collector set. A summary of the selection criteria and evaluation tools was posted on the project Web site ( &id=18&Itemid=29).

After assessing all of the resources within the inventory, the museum educators gathered and separated the resources into categories: a) easy and worthwhile to convert, b) worthwhile but challenging (due to copyright issues, digitization requirements, rewriting, etc.), and c) not worthwhile. This process was extremely useful, not only to ArtsConnectEd2, but also as a larger institutional assessment of all educational resources.  Upon the completion of this process, the museum educators began the process of gathering, organizing, and digitizing all easily repurposed assets.  A temporary server space was set up for the educators to upload and organize the assets until ArtsConnectEd2 was ready for the final uploading. The review, gathering and uploading process will continue until all repurposable resources have been converted.

Figure 4

Fig 4: ArtsConnectEd2 in the usability testing lab 2008

9. New Tools for User Empowerment

At the core of the new ArtsConnectEd are two functions: finding things (Art Finder) and managing collections or sets of things (Art Collector). The thematic sections of the original site - Art Gallery, Library & Archives, For Your Classroom, Playground, and Search All - have been abandoned for a less hierarchical interface focused on actions and toolsets to facilitate user-generated content. As previously described, the drafting of use case scenarios and diagrams of the architecture preceded programming. Once the developers started building the site, individual components and features were routinely and iteratively tested by internal team members and contracted power users, reflecting the Agile software development principles the project strove to implement. In the fall of 2008, Art Finder and Art Collector were formally tested in Target Corporation’s usability lab. The original ArtsConnectEd Web site had benefited from this same lab in the mid-1990s (Dowden, Sayre & Dietz, 2000) and once again, the rigor of the lab environment was key to identifying and resolving issues.

Asset Retrieval

Of the site’s features, none has been more scrutinized than Art Finder, the combined search and browse solution. Tabs divide assets by kind - works of art, audio/video, texts, interactive resources, Art Collector sets, events, or “all” - and form fields and drop down lists within the tabs are used to filter results. In a tabbed section, the first row of filters applies to all assets. A second row provides filters specific to the asset, like “culture” in works of art and “type” in texts (e.g., article, artist statement, or bibliography).

From the beginning, the project’s technologists were interested in an orientation that began with a result set - an approach that made the breadth of resources in ArtsConnectEd visible immediately. The use cases reflected a fairly conventional strategy: search and browse were defined as discrete features, the distinction being whether the user started a session with nothing (search) or all items (browse). Early sketches showed search as part of the global navigation, allowing users to initiate a search from anywhere in the site. In subsequent versions, the search field was moved to Art Finder only, first outside of the asset tabs and ultimately within them. Search was posited as just another kind of filter, not a separate function in its own right, and testing demonstrated that collapsing the functions could yield interesting results as long as other modifications were made to the interface.

A major point of contention among team members was giving users the option to hide or show filters. Hiding filters simplified the interface, but usability lab testing demonstrated that out of sight was truly out of mind: users quickly forgot that hidden filter settings were affecting their results. The usability lab also demonstrated that starting a session in the “all” tab was a mistake. Some assumed that showing a variety of results was important to communicating the breadth of the repository, yet users were often confused by it. Today, Art Finder opens with works of art as the active tab, limited to showing records that have an image.

User Enhancement of Records

All assets within ArtsConnectEd2 can be enhanced with user-generated content. Registered users can tag, rate and comment on the utility of everything from works of art to interactive resources and Art Collector sets. Museum educators have an extended set of capabilities, including the ability to link assets to one another and endorse specific assets.

Two-way User Created Content

The central tool within ArtsConnectEd is still Art Collector. It is much more robust than the original version: users of Art Collector can build sets mixing MIA and Walker assets from any category (works of art, audio/video, texts, interactive resources, and other Art Collector sets) with external resources (e.g., Flickr images or YouTube videos). The tool is rich with features that allow sets and their contents to be easily manipulated and presented using templates that support everything from comparison slides, various combinations of text and media, links to information outside the presentation, and much more. The range of features reflects the dual audience for which Art Collector was written: museum educators as well as teachers and students. There is no separate suite of tools for our internal educators; the same interface serves external audiences, and the actions available in a particular context vary according to the administrative privileges granted to an account type. By collapsing this aspect of the authoring tool into a single set of screens, the site provides one community - outside teachers - with far more than requirements analysis suggested they needed. While usability testing forced the technology committee to rethink the complexity surrounding Art Collector’s editing functions, it remains to be seen how users take advantage of the expanded functionality.

These ArtsConnectEd2 toolsets also permit internal and external users to add their Art Collector sets to ArtsConnectEd. Internal users can directly publish their sets on the site, while external users use a submission function. Their set is then internally reviewed and approved for publication. This reviewed publishing process was adopted by the steering committee after they weighed the pros and cons of immediate publication. It was felt that the perceived formality of the submission process would improve the quality of the submitted material. It was also decided that the only real criterion for publishing submitted sets would be that they not contain any legally problematic material. Qualitative assessment would come from user ratings and the museum educator’s ability to mark a resource as “ArtsConnectEd endorsed.”

Two-way Communication

Another part of breaking down ArtsConnectEd’s barriers was developing mechanisms for communication between the museum educators and the publics they serve. A new news-oriented homepage design and an Ask the Educator section were designed to facilitate this. The new homepage contains a variety of features controlled by museum educators, permitting them to customize articles, post announcements, and highlight content. The Ask An Educator section is a blog-like toolset allowing museum educators to publish short articles as well as to respond to questions and comments submitted by external users. All of this content is indexed as text assets for potential retrieval within Art Finder.


Museum educators also have a number of new administrative tools to empower them to control the new site. Administrative functions include tools for managing user accounts and privileges, uploading and cataloguing non-art assets (text, audio, video, interactive resources, etc,), and more. It is hoped that these tools will reduce the museum educators’ reliance on the new media departments as well as greatly increase the quality and quantity of new content.

Figure 5

Fig 5: Art Finder section of ArtsConnectEd2 2009

10. Tools and Standards

From the beginning, the technology-based collaborative efforts of the Walker and MIA have emphasized the importance of standards in the storage, sharing, and dissemination of digital materials. Under the umbrella of the Integrated Arts Information Access project (ArtConnectEd’s predecessor), the two institutions participated in the Computerized Interchange of Museum Information (CIMI) Dublin Core initiative and used AMICO’s data definitions for the descriptions of works of art in the combined ArtsConnectEd catalogue. While these early consortiums were important to ArtsConnectEd’s original development, it took the redesign of the software for the promise of these endeavors - standards-based sharing and integration - to truly come to fruition.

XML schemas and aggregation formats like RSS were identified in the IMLS proposal as the means by which the new site’s data would be imported. In part this reflected the Walker’s Web strategy, which emphasizes open standard technologies and content reuse. Ultimately, a more robust range of standards and protocols was selected, including the Categories for the Description of Works of Art (CDWA) Lite XML schema to describe the Walker and MIA’s collections; Qualified Dublin Core for audio/video and text records; iCalendar for the transfer of event data; and custom RSS feeds for audio and video podcasts, specifically the Walker’s Art on Call audio guide ( and Walker Channel archives ( The Open Archive Information Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH) was used to populate the repository, making future expansion - such as including other institutions’ holdings - possible, as well as supporting the option that either collection, or the ArtsConnectEd repository as a whole, could be contributed to another union catalogue. This harvesting model stands in stark contrast to the previous institution-specific, custom approach to moving data from the Walker and MIA.

For the MIA, which had moved to Gallery Systems TMS collections management system since ArtsConnectEd was first developed, implementing a CDWA Lite export using OAI-PMH was a particular challenge. With the help of OCLC’s Museum Data Exchange Project (, the project was able to get an early copy of an export utility developed by Cogapp as part of their COBOAT publishing system. Using this aspect of the OCLC project supports ArtsConnectEd2’s investment in open standards, ensuring the repository’s relevance and future growth.

Similar objectives informed the selection of the technologies used to develop the software itself. Here too, the emphasis on open software solutions was a departure from the proprietary tools used in the first implementation (Adobe’s Cold Fusion, Microsoft’s IIS and SQL Server, and Live Picture’s FlashPix). As the master list of system requirements and functionality was defined, the need for a development framework and a “pluggable” software design methodology was articulated. Symfony was selected as the framework, and a wide range of existing tools to develop the new site’s functionality were incorporated, from media players (JW Media Player) and presentation tools (Slidy), to image zooming (IIPImage), rating features, and much more. Over the course of the software development, this approach fostered rapid prototyping of feature sets and permitted late changes, even in decisions as fundamental as choice of Web server (from Apache to Lighttpd) and search engine (Lucene to Solr). For a complete list of the software used, see the development section of the project site,

One API the project planned to use and did not was the tagger. Having selected Symfony as the framework to build ArtsConnectEd2, it was believed that implementing the steve API - which only tags works of art - would separate the museum objects and their operations from the benefits of the framework. ArtsConnectEd2 implements tagging across all assets, and the steve tagger presented search integration issues that added a level of complexity at odds with the software development effort.

Another unrealized opportunity was the integration of the Getty Vocabularies. They were licensed, but will not be included when the redesign is publicly launched. Eventually, ArtsConnectEd2 hopes to implement the vocabularies as a means of search expansion and to provide more context about an artist.

Beyond the tools needed to build the application, ArtsConnectEd2 adopted a suite of tools to manage software development and project communications. Joomla was chosen for the project dashboard and configured with a public and private side for making information available to staff and project teams, as well as the larger community. Selected for its ease of use and range of plug-in components, which include blog-like publishing, calendars, and forums, as well as bookmark and file management, Joomla’s toolset was not robust enough to meet the demands of the technology committee. While still used for group communications and final reports, the technology committee turned to the newly-released Google Docs for document sharing, and Trac to manage the software development effort. ArtsConnectEd2 used Trac for issue tracking, roadmap administration, and browsing source revisions maintained by SVN. 

11. Collaborative Challenges

In the decade since ArtsConnectEd was first launched it has become a model for museum K-12 on-line resources. The importance of the project has been acknowledged on a number of levels, including as an outstanding example of institutional collaboration. The strength of the partnership is due in part to early efforts to define common goals and motivations. A 1998 White Paper declared a set of shared assumptions about technology and communication, the nature and value of museum information, and the role that museums play in the modern world (Dowden, Sayre & Dietz, 2000). Despite this long history and strong partnership, the challenges to complete ArtsConnectEd2 were considerable.

Team Dynamics

If managing team dynamics is a delicate process within one institution, it is even more challenging across multiple institutions. The initial design of the ArtsConnectEd2 technology committee was based on an equal distribution of work between like positions in both institutions (two developers, two designers, two managers). On paper, this approach seemed sensible, but in reality the model posed challenges. One issue was fairly balancing the workload through the life of the project. Each technologist came to the table with a unique skill set, a different approach to work, and a different set of institutional time constraints beyond ArtsConnectEd2. These differences led to the Walker taking a leadership role in the development of the software. Shifts in responsibilities, along with a six-month extension of the project timeline, caused significant tension and affected all team members. In a single institution, personnel strengths and different working styles can be managed much more easily than in a partnership, where team members reside in vastly different institutional cultures. Throughout the project, the external project manager and the new media directors worked to resolve these tensions by redistributing the work and making staff changes.

Another team-related challenge was collaboration in areas where the institutions had different standards and aesthetics. While the partners’ shared values helped navigate these issues at a macro-administrative level, the thousands of micro-decisions (design, grammar, etc.) required the staff “in the trenches” to compromise with their colleagues at the partner institution.

Mixed Expertise

In hindsight, many felt the first ArtsConnectEd site was compromised by the limited involvement of the education staff. Almost a decade later, the impetus for developing ArtsConnectEd2 came from the museum educators. More than a Web site, ArtsConnectEd had become a core component of the Walker and MIA’s school programs. When it came to the development of ArtsConnectEd2, the challenge was to balance the new media staff’s desire to innovate with the museum educators’ needs. A formal assessment conducted early in the ArtsConnectEd2 project showed that the education committee had a strong interest in Web 2.0 tools, but had the least experience using them. In contrast, the technology committee was steeped in researching, using, and developing these tools, but had limited understanding of the work of museum educators and the audiences they serve. Needs assessment and use case scenarios certainly helped, but managing each group’s assumptions - particularly regarding functionality versus practicality - was an area of continual negotiation.


Collaborations like ArtsConnectEd can be very much like marriages, and each challenge tests the relationship and partners’ commitment. Because ArtsConnectEd2 was not the sole project of either institution, competing institutional demands could easily threaten or compromise a project’s success. The ArtsConnectEd2 development project absorbed nearly all of the technology committee’s time for over a year and half. Beyond the dedication of the designers and developers themselves, the directors of these departments were instrumental in seeing the project to completion while working hard to satisfy other commitments.

12. Conclusions

ArtsConnectEd2 is redefining how museum educators and K-12 teachers work on-line. The redesign project attempted to tear down the walls between museum educators and their customers as well as the internal divisions that separate education from new media. The project’s importance to its developers and the expectations of its internal and external users set a very high bar for everyone involved and tested the strength and potential of the collaboration at every level. These expectations and the expansive product illustrate the potential and the challenges faced in user-driven software redesign.

ArtsConnectEd2 is the most ambitious software development effort ever undertaken by the two museums, individually or together. While there was general recognition of the scope of our aspirations going into the project, the demands that would be placed on developers and management were not entirely understood or anticipated. When finally completed, the project was six months over schedule, a consequence of the complex frameworks, staffing resources, and software development process. An unanswered question is whether the non-existent program specifications and requirements documents affected the overall project. It is possible that more detailed requirements may have shortened the development cycle, but it is also likely that the iterative nature of the work - responding to user-feedback over following a plan - led to a better product. Regardless of all the testing, the answer remains, as always, in the real-world experience of our end-users.


Bearman, Richmond and Trant (2000). Bearman, D. Richmond, K and Trant, J. Pictures and People: Collaborative Cultural Resource Creation: the example of the Art Museum Image Consortium. In D. Bearman and J. Trant (eds.). Museums and the Web 2000: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, 2000. consulted January 5, 2009.

Bridges (1998). Bridges, B. R. Collaboration and Student Involvement on an Art Curriculum Website. In D. Bearman and J. Trant (eds.). Museums and the Web 1998: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, 1998. last updated March 20, 1998, consulted January 5, 2009.

Dowden, R. (2000), S. Sayre, and S. Dietz. ArtsConnectEd: Collaboration in the integration and access to museum resources. First Monday 5 (6). consulted January 30, 2009.

Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Walker Art Center (1999) Integrated Arts Information Access: Project Description and Reports. last updated March 30, 1999. consulted January 30, 2009.

Minneapolis Institute of Arts (2009) Statistics. last updated December 31, 2008. consulted January 30, 2009.

Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Walker Art Center (2009) ArtsConnectEd 2 Project Planning Site. last updated January 2009. consulted January 30, 2009.

Sayre and Wetterlund (2002). Sayre, S. and K. Wetterlund. Pyramid Power: A Train-the-Trainer Model to Increase Teacher Usage of the ArtsConnectEd Online Resource. In D. Bearman and J. Trant (eds.). Museums and the Web 2002: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, 2002. consulted January 5, 2009.

Wetterlund, K. (2009). In prep. Keep your friends close: The history of a museum partnership and its community of teacher learners. For: The Journal of Museum Education 34 (1).

Appendix A

ArtsConnectEd2 Sample Use Case

Use Case 10: Search for an Item

Description: Any user can search for ACE assets (artwork, audio, video, document, website, collection) and external events (MIA/WAC RSS feeds) from any page in ACE.

Actors: All users

Preconditions: Non


  1. Enter search string, hit GO
  2. Returns are shown with matching search terms highlighted in context
  3. Returns include item lists sorted by relevance within category. Category headers (tabs) include item totals. System defaults to “all” tab but will remember the last category selected in a browser session.

Results may be:

  • viewed by category (artwork, audio/video, documents, websites, collections, events)
  • globally filtered by contributor (Walker-only, MIA-only, user-contributed)
  • further refined by filters that change according to the category selected
  • sorted/reordered within category by metadata yet to be defined; all categories include the option to sort results according to date added to ace
  • selected to view item detail
  • selected individually or as a page within category to add to a collection (this is an Ajax implementation: selected items are automatically added to a collection without losing focus or need to refresh)
  • paged through


  • Tagging was requested but removed as a feature available in search results (see instead uc#16a "Batch Tag").
  • Clarifying metadata searched versus what is used for display and filtering cannot be determined until metadata is defined.
  • Global filters are limited to contributor.
  • ACE2 will not have a separate advanced search
  • Some Boolean operators will be available depending on what is present in Lucene.
  • Last category selected persists for browser session.
  • User can change/specify number results displayed per page as a session preference.

Author: Jim Ockuly, Robin Dowden, Scott Sayre 7/5/07

Updated: Robin 8/29/07

Cite as:

Dowden, R., and S. Sayre: Tear Down the Walls: The Redesign of ArtsConnectEd. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2009: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2009. Consulted