Letter from The Chairman & Executive Director
Welcome to ARTstor, an initiative of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
ARTstor’s purpose is to create a large – and indefinitely growing – database of digital images and accompanying scholarly information for use in art history and other humanistic fields of learning, including the related social sciences.
ARTstor will be a not-for-profit organization, and its materials will only be made available for use by not-for-profit educational institutions, such as colleges and universities, museums, libraries, research institutes and similar organizations. The goal is to enhance teaching, scholarship and learning in fields of knowledge that use images and associated scholarly materials for study and research, as well as in lectures, classrooms, conferences and similar settings.
ARTstor’s objective in creating its database is to carefully select “collections” that are intrinsically significant, and that have sufficient breadth, depth and coherence to make them genuinely useful to faculty, curators, students and others.
Over time, ARTstor hopes to build – in collaboration with other institutions – a database that will consist of millions of images and related data. It will include collections from a wide variety of civilizations, time-periods, and media, as well as from different sources, such as museums, archaeological sites, photo-archives, slide collections, and published materials that promise to be unusually helpful as scholarly tools. Users will be able to search across an individual “collection” in the database or across multiple collections, as a single large “library” of materials.
Participation in ARTstor will be through institutional site licenses. Fees will be set according to a sliding-scale based on a number of institutional characteristics. The object is to make participation as broad as possible across a great range of educational institutions, while generating some revenue to offset a share of ARTstor’s considerable operating costs. The ARTstor database will be able to be accessed directly by any individual who is an authenticated member of a participating institution.
ARTstor began as an organization in the early fall of 2001. During the past eighteen months, it has been creating its initial digital collections, addressing technology issues, consulting with members of the museum and academic communities, and preparing for the time – during the academic year 2003-2004 – when materials could be made available for use at educational institutions.
While we hope that these initial collections will be useful from the very start, we also want to underscore a number of important points:
First, even the initial collections will not be complete at the time of release, simply because the process of creating a coherent group of images and data is highly labor-intensive and time-consuming. The entire process – from choosing a project; reaching institutional collaborative agreements; undertaking photography (or digitizing already-existing images); updating catalog information; and guiding the entire production process carefully to ensure quality-control – is complex as well as costly, and it simply cannot be rushed. Consequently, the content and size of the initial database will inevitably be illustrative of what can be achieved over time as new material is added. We hope that, within the next eighteen months, we will have something in the range of 400,000 images and data online. But even that – measured against the infinite universe of art-objects – is obviously only the barest of beginnings.
Second, while ARTstor can do a considerable amount in creating an inter-institutional network, as well as building online collections, it is clear that no single organization can possibly do more than a small fraction of what needs to be accomplished if the national and international community of educational institutions is to be well-served. The hope, therefore, is that the ARTstor database and network can soon begin to function as a public utility that would eventually become a very broad-based co-operative enterprise, with participating institutions contributing digital materials while simultaneously benefiting from the growing database. ARTstor will exercise responsibility for maintaining – and adding significantly to – this database, just as it will maintain the complex systems (and staff) essential to this initiative. But we fully expect that there will come a time when the not-for-profit educational community of museums, colleges, universities and others will essentially “own” and operate the system.
Third, while ARTstor considers its primary purpose to be the creation and provision of digital images and related materials for scholarly and instructional use, it also hopes to do more than “deliver a product.” In fact, because so little is known about the most effective ways to build and use digital collections of this kind, we will need advice, criticism, suggestions – and even some patience! – from participating institutions, so that we can all learn together about users needs, software adaptations, image quality standards, metadata standards, and collection-building. As with any new technology, we expect that any number of mistakes will inevitably be made along the way, and that only a community-wide effort – sharing expertise, experience, and new ideas – can lead to genuinely useful and enriching results.
In the meanwhile, please read and ponder, and check back as we update the site over the coming months.
With best regards –
Neil Rudenstine and James Shulman