Beautiful Data: a summer institute for telling stories with open art collections

June 16 — June 27, 2014
Harvard University
Supported by the Getty Foundation

With art museums worldwide making collections data accessible, several questions arise: where do the areas of greatest opportunity lie for transformative uses that expand the impact of collections and exhibitions, and enhance the quality, scope, and reach of scholarship and teaching? What are the most engaging and innovative things that can be done within and across collections? What sorts of genres of collections-based work are emerging within the expanding universe of open collections? And how exactly might these new collections-based knowledge forms find a home within everything from exhibition spaces to scholarly publications? The aim of BEAUTIFUL DATA, metaLAB’s summer 2014 open collections workshop, is to introduce a new generation of scholars and museum professionals to emerging forms of engagement and interaction with art-historical collections that begin to address some of these questions. Participants will be exposed to the core concepts, skills and practices necessary to make imaginative use of open collections data and assets, and to develop new forms of art-historical argument and storytelling that involve visualization, interactive media, expanded definitions of curatorial description, and hybrid analog/digital approaches to exhibition design and teaching.

Rather than providing an overall survey of digital art/humanities skills, tools, and resources, the workshop is intended as a hands-on experience, enabling art historians and museum professionals to work side-by-side within three broad domains that are central to metaLAB’s own research: critical and expressive practices of collections visualization (the critically informed use of visualization tools for analysis, communication and storytelling); digital curation, interpretation and argumentation (methods of multimedia narration that leverage open collection data and tools); and collections-centered work across the analog/digital divide (bringing 3D art objects into the digital realm, bringing digital collections content into the analog realm so as to enhance the experience of individual art objects, and rendering visible the families of objects to which they belong).

Designed for participants who have had some exposure to working with digital tools and platforms, but are neither IT specialists nor expert practitioners, the workshop will span 10 days, with each day run collaboratively by the core metaLAB team in tandem with colleagues from the Harvard Art Museums and other participating Boston-area art museums and collecting institutions. The first six days will be seminar-like in format, devoted to talks, tutorials, discussions, and short exercises that acquaint participants with tools and platforms. The remaining four days of the workshop will be studio-like, a project-based modality in which participants will engage in a cycle of problem setting, solving and critique related to their own curatorial or scholarly endeavors relating to the study of collections. The workshop will conclude with a final critique of participants’ projects in which the results will be presented to and discussed with the Harvard museum and art history community.

Applicants to the workshop will be asked to submit a short bio, a synopsis of their experience to date, and a description of a present or future project that they’d like to explore within the setting of the workshop. Eighteen participants will be selected based on experience, balance of fields and interests, and the fit between their ongoing research interests. As noted below, we are hoping that some of the final projects will involve teamwork between art historians and museum professionals, so our selection process will favor possible pairings and convergences. Apply here.