Newly launched Collections Online increases access to Eskenazi Museum of Art's works

Cassi Tucker was in high school before she visited an art museum for the first time. She grew up in southeast Nebraska, where the closest one was more than an hour away.

Her background makes her latest project as the manager of museum technology for the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University profoundly personal.

"To me it's very deeply about thinking not just about the 'usual suspects' for art, but also being aware that absolutely anybody can have that interest and has the right to explore that," Tucker said.

The museum recently launched the first phase of its Collections Online, a database that will eventually contain pictures and descriptions of the more than 45,000 items in its collections. Each phase of the project will include adding 500 pieces of art from each curatorial area of the museum to the website.

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Several of the items featured in Collections Online, including these Japanese ceramics, aren't on display in the museum. Photo by Shanti Knight, Indiana University

Collections Online includes photos and an accessible, visual description of the pieces. Some will also have additional context that isn't on display at the museum, like curator's notes or research about where the art came from and who has owned it over time. The goal is to make the museum's entire, expansive collection available to the public.

"It's about enhancing the gallery experience and enhancing people's personal relationship with artwork, and feeling comfortable doing that, feeling comfortable asking questions about art and looking closely at art," Tucker said. "Because, for folks who've never been to an art museum, that can be really intimidating, just to walk in for the first time and say 'I don't have any idea what I'm looking at.'"

The website also lets the museum showcase the large amount of artwork that isn't on display. Many of the items in its Works on Paper collection can't have too much light exposure, making them a challenge to include in exhibits. People will be able to see those works online and find information about how to request an in-person viewing.

Tucker hopes Collections Online will become a valuable resource for teaching, research and those who are just curious about art.

"What we're interested in doing here is using technology that helps people look closer at the art and understand a little bit more about it," she said. "So whether it's showing a side of the art that you don't see because it's framed or it's too fragile to be displayed in that way, or whether it's giving some context about where the artwork originally had been displayed, the context that it would have originally been put in, those are all things that we have the opportunity to do."