Arts & Culture News

Dallas Art History Just Went Open-Source: Thanks to a Free, Digital Coffee Table Book

The Dallas Museum of Art publicly released the ePub for the exhibition DallasSITES: A Developing Art Scene Post-War to Present yesterday, thanks to some new open-source catalog-sharing software built to easier dole out information across the web. It's usable on everything from laptops to iPads and is totally free to access. DallasSITES is just the second ePub done by the DMA, and it's the first to utilize this new tech product, the OSCI toolkit.

The digital read is lovely. A detailed, neighborhood-by-neighborhood lesson in how we reached our current evolutionary state, complete with click-and-see archival documents and photos. It doesn't end there: once the geographical reading halts, there's a section of scholarly essays about who did what and where all this art we have now, came from. This is where you'll learn about the city's historically big players; the one's tagged in all of those "generous donation by..." plates and who have streets, art schools and scholarships named after them. You know, art heroes.

See Also: The DMA Gives a Shit about Local Art. It's Time You Did Too. and The DMA Got a $250,000 Grant. Here's How They'll Use It.

More interesting still is how we wouldn't have this technology were it not for Robert Stein, the DMA's still-newish Deputy Director. The software behind the ePub is the OSCI toolkit, a Getty Grant project that Stein helmed, and served as lead on back at the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2011. That project came to light thanks to Stein's 2009-established IMA Lab, an in-house commercial software consulting arm, whipped-up to develop open-source software for cultural projects like this. Stein says that momentum stayed on track after his departure -- it must have, 'cause now we've got this handy gadget.

In other industries, open-source technology like this toolkit wouldn't be so compelling, but for cultural institutions searching for ways to make their collections and exhibitions more sharable and researchable while operating on limited resources, it's revolutionary.

There's the obvious reason why this is great: Somebody did a bunch of work for us, now with a click their long-gathered research gets spoon-fed to us. But this advance is also indicative of the less visible: it's another stone added to the teeter-totter; another paved road on the slow-to-build cultural super highway; and another sign that we have lured great minds to Dallas and they're working together -- through research, curation, experience and innovative project design -- to ease North Texas into the next step.

Of course, you don't need to worry about that. All you've got to do is click.