Conference Papers

Museums and the Web: An International Conference
Los Angeles, CA, March 16 - 19, 1997

Nancy Lutz, Assistant Director
Cass Fey, Curator of Education
Lauren Smith, Writer/docent
Center for Creative Photography

Center for Creative Photography Channels a Wave of Success Through the Web

The Center for Creative Photography, a world-renowned photography museum and research center at the University of Arizona, joined the growing group of museums expanding outreach efforts through a presence on the World Wide Web. The Center's web site ( was created more than two years ago to provide general, exhibition, collection, and programming information. However, it was the development of the education component -- the educator's resource -- that coincided with a significant increase in visitors, especially educators, coming to the Center. Feedback from this component of the site has substantiated that this outreach tool can lead to new, highly motivated and involved audiences. We believe that this tool will continue to help us achieve our goal of expanding audiences for art and museums, now and for the future. In this paper, we will review:

  1. how the Center's web site, originally designed to be an online brochure, expanded to introduce search capability, thereby connecting a broad audience with the rich body of scholarly research materials housed at the Center;
  2. managing the institutional resources to achieve our expanding online goals;
  3. outcomes from our online activities;
  4. and future plans.

A Brief History of the Center for Creative Photography

A photography museum and research center at the University of Arizona, the Center for Creative Photography was established in 1975 with the acquisition of the archives of Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, and Frederick Sommer. As envisioned by then University of Arizona President John P. Schaefer and photographer Ansel Adams, the Center became a unique blend of museum, archive, and library, where research materials contributing to the understanding of twentieth-century photography can be used holistically. Access to individuals, classes, and scholars via print viewing has been part of the Center's mission from the very beginning, making most of the collection's images available for visitors, facilitated by the education staff upon request. Archives include fine prints and related materials such as negatives, work prints, contact sheets, correspondence, memorabilia, etc.

By the 1980s many significant archives were added, including those of Edward Weston, W. Eugene Smith, Herbert Bayer, Andreas Feininger, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Jerry Uelsmann, Sonya Noskowiak, Marion Palfi, Richard Avedon, and Garry Winogrand. During this period the Center's library continued to acquire all important photography publications, the fine print (museum) collection grew dramatically, and exhibitions and educational programming expanded. A publications program for making the collections available to a larger audience began in 1976 with the first issue of The Archive. The first major traveling exhibitions organized by the Center included two Ansel Adams exhibitions that traveled widely in the 1970s and 1980s and an Edward Weston retrospective that began a three-year worldwide tour in 1986.

In 1981, planning for a new building designed to Center specifications was begun, and a national advisory Board of Fellows formed to implement a capital campaign. Construction began in 1987, and on February 10, 1989, the 55,000 square foot building was dedicated, thus ending a twelve-year physical separation of the archives, library, and fine print collections in two buildings. The mission of integrating all collections for research, exhibitions, and other programs was finally satisfied.

Today, the fine print collection exceeds 70,000 works by 2000+ photographers, representing every decade of photographic art with an emphasis on American photography since 1900. The Research Center houses more than 40 complete archives and 150 collections of varying sizes, including manuscripts, negatives, and other primary resources relating to photographers, critics, educators, galleries, and historians. The Library houses more than 18,000 volumes, plus artist's books and over 80 periodicals.

The Center's extensive collections are made available to the widest possible audience through a combination of exhibitions, print viewing, traveling exhibitions, loans to other museums, publications, education, and research. The Center for Creative Photography's exhibitions feature a wide range of photographic expression and inquiry from historical to contemporary, through approximately twelve one-person and thematic exhibitions annually, more than half drawn from the Center's collections. Educational programming is planned in conjunction with each exhibition and includes lectures and gallery talks by artists, curators, researchers, and scholars from art, humanities, science, and other fields who put the work in context or add additional perspectives to the themes presented, often in unexpected ways. Educator's Guides are produced in print for each exhibition and online for several each year. These will be described and discussed in the body of this paper.

In conjunction with most borrowed exhibitions, a thematic companion exhibition is curated from the permanent collection. Smaller, timely and responsive exhibitions drawn from the collections are on view in the Center library and in other spaces throughout the building that satisfy preservation and safety requirements. The traveling exhibitions program circulates exhibitions nationally and internationally.

The Archive is published annually, as are guides to research collections, exhibition catalogs, bibliographies, and books. In 1995/96, the Center began publishing electronically with its first offering, Index to The Archive 1976-1994. Future publication projects include electronic guides to the Josef Breitenbach Archive and the Mickey Pallas Archive, as well as a bibliography of A.D. Coleman's writings on photography.

All of these programs support and further the Center's goal of being an outstanding and accessible museum and research center for photography as a medium of creative expression and communication. The mission of the Center is to collect, preserve, make accessible, exhibit, interpret, and encourage the study of photographs and other materials of importance to the history of photography, with a special emphasis on photography as an art form from 1900 to the present. In pursuit of its mission, the CCP is committed to the principles of artistic and intellectual freedom.

History of the Center's presence on the World Wide Web
Our Initial WWW Debut

In 1989 the Center moved into its new, specially designed building on the University of Arizona campus. Immediately our users began expressing confusion as they entered the large building lobby. What was available to them? Where were the library, galleries, and printviewing room? Staff discussed how to clarify the many functions of this large institution to a growing audience. A printed visitor's guide and new brochure were created, but the questions and confusion persisted.

In the early 1990s, visitor kiosks began appearing at museums and other institutions nationwide. In 1994, the Center's Director of Publications and Public Information, Nancy Solomon, attended a class in CD development on her own time, with the goal of investigating options for getting information about the Center and its wide range of programs to visitors electronically. Out of her original concept of a "brochure" that would orient visitors to the Center grew the realization that technology could be used in more imaginative and informative ways. While funds were not available to make the kiosk a reality, much work had gone into the effort of creating an electronic information vehicle. Ms. Solomon explored possible applications, and the Center's web site was born.

While initially only general information about the Center, its collections, and activities, was provided on our electronic brochure, Center staff soon viewed the WWW as perfect venue for distributing scholarly information. The Center's first such electronic publication, Index to The Archive 1976-1994, appeared online in 1995. This transition from print to electronic output was relatively simple to accomplish because the document had been created in PageMaker, which was easily converted into an Adobe Acrobat portable document.

Plans for electronic publication projects arose quickly, because we saw that this mechanism not only enlarged our audience for publications, but also -- due to search capabilities and the non-linear approach to online materials -- enriched the experience. Viewers could now find us through search sites such as Yahoo, Alta Vista, or Atta Vista. They reached us by the names of artists featured on our site or the institution's name. The Index to The Archive gained an additional level of searching through Adobe Acrobat Reader's Find function. The Educator's Guides have hypertext links in HTML to help users move around the guide in a number of ways. A separate image window allows full screen copies of the featured photographs to be used with class, and a sizing function encourages discussion of the framing and cropping. These are a few specific examples of how the online version can be used in ways that go beyond what the printed version offers. Another guide to an archive is being prepared in SGML to see whether contextual search capabilities add enough value to justify the extra time needed to work in this format.

Managing Institutional Resources

The Center's efforts to expand presence and content on the WWW was the logical outcome of several significant, concurrent events. The Center is part of the University Libraries. Historically, that relationship has been one of complete independence, but over the past four years a closer relationship has been forged. Special initiatives of the Center that reflect the Library's overall goals are encouraged and must be identified annually as part of the Library's strategic planning process. In 1994/95, Center staff identified two areas of interest to pursue; digitizing photographs in the Center's collections to put on the WWW and exploration of electronic imaging projects.

An Imaging Task Force was formed to explore the relevant issues and plan for future projects. This group is chaired by the Assistant Director and includes the Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, Archivist, Cataloger, Rights and Reproductions Manager, Curator of Education, and Director of Publications and Public Information. Because this dovetailed the Library's goals, funding for staff training in the areas of image digitization, copyright issues in the technological arena, and electronic publishing was made available. Staff attended workshops and brought information back to the group to help decide what projects to pursue. The Library also provided an imaging station and a digital camera to help further these activities. Project ideas abounded, and it became clear that a "project manager" was needed. We are still in the infant stage of image digitization, copyright management issues, and access, so this discussion will not address those efforts.

As electronic publishing is clearly another project of the overall publications program of the Center, the Director of Publications has taken on the management of electronic publishing projects. This assures that the Center's format, established over our twenty-year publishing program, be continued. The institutional look and message maintain a degree of consistency even though the delivery system is quite different. But how to manage institutionally if an already over-taxed staff member is given another program to manage?

We began by reviewing the position's tasks and reassigning where appropriate, and possible. A new employee was found to have a background in layout and design and was able to assume some of our outreach efforts. We were also fortunate to find a student employee with not only a background in the arts and writing, but also experience designing web pages professionally. We could not have afforded the individual's services at professional prices, but he was willing to work with us for one year at a student wage. We reallocated our student employee budget to make this possible. Meanwhile, the Library provided support for Ms. Solomon's attendance at several electronic publishing workshops.

Additional staff involved with our web site efforts include our photographer who is called upon to make digitized images to be scanned into Center projects. The time involved with training and experimenting has been intensive. In order to accommodate this, her assistant was paid additional hours per week for more than six months on endowment income. The Curator of Education's time has also been greatly impacted by the online Educator's Guides as described above. The Curator of Exhibitions and Collections, who plays an integral part in providing content, editorial, and writing assistance with all Center publishing projects, has realized an increase in work load with our online presence. And the domino effect impacts the development and administrative staff as well.

History of Our Educator's Guide

The decision to reach out to educators through the WWW was made in response to a crisis that the Center was trying to manage -- a crisis of sudden, over-whelming success. In brief, the Center was one of three museums funded by the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund to collaborate on the organization and creation of three exhibitions related to issues of immigration. Each of the three Points of Entry exhibitions was to be accompanied by a catalog, and a comprehensive Curriculum Resource for Teachers, containing a sampling of slides of images, overviews of the exhibitions, background information on the photographers, discussion questions, tips for interpreting photographs, classroom activities, glossaries, selected bibliography, and supplementary resources. Approximately 1,500 of these resource guides were to be printed and distributed to the three collaborating museums and subsequent museums the exhibitions would travel to during its national tour. It was anticipated that the immigration-related issues of these exhibitions and the Curriculum Resource for Teachers would expand the Center's teacher and class audience.

The scope of the educational component of this project demanded more time and energy than the Center's one-person education department could provide. To accomplish the task, therefore, funds were allocated from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund grant to hire an education assistant for one year. The new two-person department completed the Curriculum Resource for Teachers and developed an internship program collaboration with the University of Arizona's Art Education Department. Through this collaboration, forty student interns were trained as docents, participated in a teacher-training workshop at the Center, and made pre- and post-exhibition visits to local schools to introduce the Curriculum Resource to teachers and their classes. Focusing on issues such as immigration, cultural diversity, family history, and visual literacy, the exhibitions and Curriculum Resource became valuable tools for teachers who responded by bringing their classes to the Center in record numbers.

In one year, the number of school groups visiting the museum had skyrocketed from 220 to over 500. Teachers, finding the educational materials and docent support extremely beneficial, continued to call, requesting the same level of involvement and information for subsequent exhibitions. With the education assistant's year at an end, the Curator of Education was left to manage this onslaught of interest alone, but the task was clearly unmanageable. The institution, meanwhile, was not willing to let the momentum created by the grant-funded project slip away.

After weighing a number of possible solutions, the Curator of Education proposed to train teachers through a systematically developed Educator-as-Docent program, giving them the tools and training they need to schedule and lead their own school and group tours of the Center's exhibitions. Art Education students would still be recruited to serve as interns with the Curator of Education in support of this new program, but the interns would no longer make school visits, and the number and coordination of these students would be greatly reduced.

An important component of this new program would be the creation of an Educator's Guide for each exhibition during the school year. Much like the Points of Entry resource, the education guides would include exhibition overviews, themes to explore, pre- and post-tour classroom lessons and a range of opportunities and ideas for using photographs to teach and enhance curricula. After hearing of plans to create the Educator's Guide, the Center's Director of Publications and Public Information suggested adding the guide to our web site as a resource for teachers.

Access, Delivery, and Content

In brainstorming the most efficient and cost effective way to provide educational materials for each exhibition, it was decided that materials for exhibitions organized by the Center on display during the K-12 school year, written by Center staff and volunteer educators/writers, would be offered both in printed form and on the Center's web site. Since all educators and students do not have access to the internet, we feel that it is imperative to offer our Educator's Guide in hard copy and make it available within our gallery, at one-day educator training sessions, and through the mail upon request.

The first Educator's Guide added to our web site was written for the exhibition Mexican Tableaux: Photographs from the Aaron Siskind and Max Yavno Archives. The exhibition dates, July 14 through September 15, 1996, coincided with the beginning of fall semesters at the University of Arizona and Tucson public and private schools. A mailing to local educators announced the guide as a component of the Center's new Educator-as-Docent program.

With an emphasis on encouraging the study of photographs as a springboard for language development and critical thinking skills, the guide examines exhibition images and themes across broad curriculum areas such as art, photography, language arts, social studies, humanities, history, etc. It was designed as a tool for educators for both this specific exhibition as well as for photographic exploration/comprehension in general.

The response from educators has been enthusiastically positive, particularly for the guide's section, "Interpreting Photographs." This material discusses the impact of the onslaught of photographic imagery in our lives and the importance of understanding and monitoring their influence. The "Learning to Look" format provides educators -- most of whom are not art specialists -- with the means of introducing and encouraging group discussion about a photographic image as a work of art with unique expressive properties. This format is easily adapted for specific age groups, and many instructors assign written responses to a photograph based on its content. The guide, offered online, serves as a resource for educators in advance of their training sessions, as well as for students in advance of Center visits and assignments.

Targeting Audiences

While initially aimed at K-12 educators, the Educator's Guide on the web and in hard copy has proven to be useful beyond our expectations. University and other community faculty have responded in large numbers to its appearance. Composition, poetry, and creative writing faculty and their classes surprisingly have responded in the greatest numbers to our educational support, proving that we are connecting across curriculum lines with audiences outside the field of art --and specifically photography -- with our outreach. In addition, ElderHostel and University of Arizona Extended University instructors are among the unanticipated audiences that have been using the guide and visiting the Center without request or need for docent assistance in the galleries. On an average, ten to twenty classes per week now visit the Center's galleries, most of these without assistance of staff or student docents.

When a Center-organized exhibition leaves our facility and moves to other venues via our Traveling Exhibitions Program, we notify the host facilities of the online Educator's Guide and offer information concerning the process of accessing our web site. By offering our educational materials on the web, we prevent these hosting facilities from unnecessarily duplicating the support information, saving them significant amounts of time, energy, and expense. Cooperative interaction, such as this, with other museums is a basic component of the Center's mission.

Conclusion: Outcomes and Benefits

With an increase in educator interest in Center exhibitions has come a corresponding increase in class visits, outside requests for information, and increased knowledge about the Center. All of these results support our institutional goals of encouraging the study of original photographs and building audiences. Over 700 web browsers have visited our Siskind/Yavno Educator's Guide online and another 400 have received hard copies. From second grade, through graduate school, and into ElderHostel, educators have used elements of the guide to enhance class instruction.

As of today, we are just beginning to collect the facts and figures that prove our web site's effectiveness in achieving goals and accomplishing our mission. We still struggle with the labor-intensive process of preparing our educational materials for online delivery, maintaining the site, obtaining feedback, and assessing our web site's worth. In addition, we have had to pull back, because of fiscal and staff constraints, from our initial intent to add every Educator's Guide created at the Center to our web site. We have had to prioritize and will offer online only those guides to exhibitions from our collection or which are curated by our staff. Educator's Guides are prepared only for those exhibitions on display during the school year.

In hindsight, we now realize what a powerful, time- and money-saving tool the World Wide Web would have been in facilitating the educational programs for the three-museum, traveling Points of Entry exhibition -- the source of our initial crisis of success. But three years ago not all of these museums had access to the web. Almost overnight the Internet has grown into a tool of communication and education, the scope of which lay beyond our imagination three years ago. With this in mind, we move forward with our presence on the web, assured that our being there is even more important to meeting our goals and accomplishing our mission than we can foresee today. In short, all of the questions that arise about the process and effectiveness of maintaining an identity on the web are not yet answered. Nevertheless, we are certain that this global exposure will result in benefits for the Center, educators, students, and web visitors around the world.

One Last Comment

It is important to note that the Educator's Guide is not meant to be an exhibition on the web nor a replacement for a visit to the museum for the student of original photographs. Rather, it is an electronic resource created to interest and empower educators by providing pre- and post-visit suggestions for incorporating art and photography into many curricular areas.

Copyright Archives & Museum Informatics, 1997

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