DMA Puts New Federal Grant to Good Use

The Dallas Museum of Art has just come into some big bucks, an $85,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for their Access to Artistic Excellence program. It's not the first time NEA has honored the DMA with a grant. In fact, it's the fourth they've received since 2007. This grant has been earmarked for the museum's Access to Archival Exhibition Resources Online (AAERO) project.

In late 2012, when the project is scheduled to be finished, the public will have online access to 10 years of DMA exhibition documentation, including images, wall labels and program recordings. The project will also allow users to translate many art exhibition brochures and transcripts of program recordings from English to Spanish.

Another NEA grant-funded effort is underway at the DMA as well: the Exhibition Catalogs Online project (ECO). ECO involves digitizing DMA-published exhibition catalogs and checklists from 1903 to 1983. The templates created with AAERO project will also be used for the ECO project.

We caught up with Hillary Bober, Digital Archivist at the Dallas Museum of Art, to find out more about the recent NEA grant and how the DMA is using it.

How will the NEA grant effect the process of creating the Access to Archival Exhibition Resources Online ? Grants are generally best suited to fund projects that have a defined term of execution with a final product as the outcome. In the case of the DMA Archives, we started planning this project two years ago, but found that we couldn't accomplish it the way we wanted to without some additional assistance. We also knew that making the materials available from our website would require more storage space on our network, which costs money.

The grant is helping to pay for some outside help to create the template and required documentation (at our direction), as well as network storage and a translator to address wider distribution of selected materials. It also provides a deadline by which the project has to be finished, making it a priority to complete.

What is the process of collecting and archiving a decade's worth of information on DMA exhibitions? It is a gradual process which doesn't happen overnight. Records and information are generated by many different departments. So part of my job is to identify what information is needed to fully document an exhibition for future reference and research. Physical or paper records tend to be transferred to the archives a few years after an exhibition closes since they are often referenced during work on new exhibitions.

For information in digital format, such as information on the website, I need to be more proactive so information is preserved. This is where the AAERO template will be most useful internally, since it will be a place for all digital exhibition information to reside permanently.

Who will do the actual collecting and archiving? As the Digital Archivist, I will work with a range of staff to identify and catalog content so it can be both preserved and presented online. The DMA's Digital Asset Librarian will use her expertise to centrally locate and back-up the digital files according to set procedures. She will also be providing the right information for each file to appear on the website.

We do this through a central content management system that allows easy updates by staff. Once the new or revised procedures are in place and tested, staff will be able to contribute to the template as new content is created. The grant is helping us to "catch-up" first and creates procedures so we can keep the process going.

What does the completion of this project mean for the DMA in terms of its national reputation? Well, we can't say we are the first to make digital exhibition materials available online, but we are certainly one of the first to be looking at the content in a comprehensive way. Rather than just dealing with images, or recordings, or checklists, the DMA will find a way to present all of the content that is generated by departments across the whole museum from one central access point.

How do you imagine people using this database once it's complete? As we say, the process of adding new content will never be complete, but the template for gathering content and the interface should be ready for use by next summer. We imagine that visitors, collectors and art museum colleagues will browse the images and checklists of past installations and exhibitions.

Because many of the documents will be indexed by Internet search engines, it's highly likely that many people will arrive at the site or at the content as a result of a general Internet search. The possibilities are endless and we look forward to learning the answer to that question ourselves!

Can you tell us about the Exhibition Catalogs Online (ECO) project as well? The ECO project is funding the digitization of DMA published exhibition catalogs and related material from 1903-1983. This span covers many important exhibitions of local and regional artists including annual exhibitions of Texas painting and sculpture, Dallas Allied Arts exhibitions and many one-person exhibitions of Dallas artists.

We selected the University of North Texas's Digital Projects Unit to do the bulk of the digitization of published catalogs, and the grant-funded staff is scanning more fragile documents like checklists and calls for entry to the annual exhibitions. The scanned catalogs will be available through their first distribution point, The Portal to Texas History, managed by UNT's Digital Projects Unit, beginning this fall. The catalogs will be available on the museum's website through the AAERO template once it is complete.

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