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GCN : March and April 2016
42 GCN MARCH/APRIL 2016 • GCN.COM Museums are offering an out-of-the-box lesson in accessibility to public-sector agencies by finding ways to convert the provenance of artwork into open data. The approach is relevant to govern- ment as well because many cities and states have sizable art collections, and the General Services Administration owns more than 26,000 pieces. Many artworks have a few skeletons in their closets or at least a backstory worthy of the History channel. That provenance, or ownership information, has traditionally been stored in manila folders and only occasionally dusted off when art historians are researching academic papers or auction houses are verifying authenticity. Many museums have some prov- enance data in collection management systems, but the narratives that tell the history of the work are often stored as semi-structured data and formatted according to the needs of individual institutions, which makes the informa- tion hard to search and share across systems. Enter Art Tracks from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA) — a new open-source, open-data initia- tive that seeks to turn provenance into structured data by building a suite of open-source software tools so an art- work’s past can be available to museum visitors, curators, researchers and soft- ware developers. “Interactive was actually the original goal of Art Tracks, but when we start- ed to build it, we discovered that we couldn’t do it without structured data and without a thorough cleaning and normalizing of our data,” said Tracey A Pittsburgh museum is using a suite of open-source tools to create an ongoing conversation about provenance BY SUZETTE LOHMEYER Open data dusts off the art world 0416gcn_042-044.indd 42 3/1/16 8:59 AM
January and February 2016