The collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art are so much more than what is hung on its walls. Literally hundreds of thousands of artworks stock their archives, more than they could ever show, even if they rotated their displays daily.
“Our comprehensive and diverse museum collection spans 5,000 years of world culture,” said Met director Thomas P. Campbell in an announcement on Wednesday, February 8th. “Our core mission is to be open and accessible for all who wish to study and enjoy the works of art in our care. Increasing access to the museum’s collection and scholarship serves the interests and needs of our 21st-century audiences by offering new resources for creativity, knowledge, and ideas.”
To those ends, more than three hundred thousand works in that vast collection will be made available to the public in digital form. To be more specific, 375,000 high resolution scans and videos will be made available for free via the museum’s website and CreativeCommons.org. Interested viewers from all over the world can take a closer look at these artifacts from their phones and computers.
To be able to host and provide these images, the Met took on a number of partners, including non-profit Creative Commons, online archive Wikimedia, and social-media site Pinterest, which does indeed seem the natural assistant to a public archival project of this magnitude.
Perhaps as noticeable as the scale of the project is the light-handed attitude of it. Loic Tallon, the Chief Digital Officer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, says that the images are there to be used however the public wants to use them, without limit. That is a first in the oft-tense relationship between the Internet and museums.
Museums have historically clung to what little intellectual property rights they can claim, which mostly involve photographs of their collections. But this is prescisely what the Met has just made available to all.