Introducing Open Access at the CMA: For the Benefit of All the People Forever

Cleveland Museum of Art
CMA Thinker
Published in
5 min readJan 23, 2019


By William Griswold, Director and President, The Cleveland Museum of Art

Image courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art.

Beginning immediately, as many as 30,000 images of public-domain artworks in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s (CMA) collection will be available to all as part of our Open Access program. In addition, metadata relevant to more than 61,000 works are available without restriction, whether the works themselves are in the public domain or under copyright. To make this initiative feasible, the museum has partnered with Creative Commons, a global nonprofit organization that makes possible the sharing and reuse of creativity and knowledge.

This is a logical and exciting outgrowth of the CMA’s inclusive mission “to create transformative experiences through art, for the benefit of all the people forever.” The time is right to firmly bring our mission into the 21st century.

Image courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art.

Under Creative Commons Zero, the museum waives its copyright to images and information so that a far larger audience may benefit from the CMA’s renowned collection. The CMA affirms the use of Creative Commons Zero as the Open Access global standard for public domain dedicated content such as images and data. By expanding access to the collection, we proudly contribute to best practice, both in the quality of images and the wealth of data we will release.

If our goal is to make the museum’s great comprehensive collections — of art from every period and from every corner of the globe — universally accessible and free of charge to audiences of all ages, regardless of where they live; if our objective is to facilitate the dissemination of new knowledge; if we are committed to transparency, to fostering creativity, to engaging communities within and far beyond our region, then there is almost nothing we can do that would have greater impact. With this move to Open Access, we have transformed not only access to the CMA’s collection but also its usability inside and outside the walls of our museum. Whenever, wherever, and however the public wishes to use, reuse, remix, or reinvent the objects that we hold, our collection is available — as it should be — for we are but caretakers of these objects, which belong to the artistic legacy of humankind.

Image courtesy Scott Shaw Photography for Cleveland Museum of Art.

In alignment with making our images and data available to the public domain, the CMA has also updated its museum policies. The museum encourages those who come to the museum to capture their own still and moving images of public-domain artworks in the CMA’s collection for any purpose — whether scholarly, commercial, or personal — provided they do not disrupt the experience of our other visitors.

Indeed, the CMA encourages all those who take advantage of the opportunities afforded by Creative Commons’ legal tools to consider contributing the works they create to the commons of cultural heritage that we all share and enjoy.

Additionally, the CMA’s online collection has been revamped to make it easier for users to access information on the works of art we hold in public trust, including descriptive text, provenance, catalogue raisonné numbers, exhibition history, bibliographic citations, and other enriched metadata.

Other new features of the updated online collection include a refined search, a newly incorporated elastic search, and an auto-complete search bar that proposes potential searches. The CMA has also made access to collection images and data available through a public application programming interface (API) and a GitHub repository.

Image courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art.

The CMA has a history of integrating digital technology and multimedia interactives for public engagement. Its award-winning and world-class digital experiences, including ArtLens Gallery, ArtLens App, and the CMA website, provide informative, inspiring, and user-centered digital technology tools that nurture and enhance the public’s relationship with the CMA’s collection. The museum’s Open Access program with Creative Commons Zero builds upon this tradition.

The CMA is grateful to our content partners and sponsors who have enthusiastically joined the Open Access program. Their contributions have lent dynamic energy to the launch of our Open Access program, and they have revealed some of the ways the images and data that we have placed in the public domain may be used and repurposed. The museum’s content partners include American Greetings, Artstor, Artsy, Balboa Park Online Collaborative, Interactive Commons at Case Western Reserve University, Kelvin Smith Library and Art History Department at Case Western Reserve University, Creative Commons, Europeana Foundation, Hyland Software, Internet Archive, Microsoft Corporation, Pandata, and Wikimedia. This initiative has been sponsored by MCPc, BlueBridge Networks, and Kevin and Tracy Goodman.

Admission to the CMA has long been free of charge. Now, thanks to Open Access and Creative Commons Zero, access to our collection is more accessible than ever before. Today, we celebrate the CMA’s mission, collection, curators, research, and scholarship. And, as we look forward to our second century — we invite the public to make full, creative use of the resources that we are making freely available for the benefit of all the people forever.

The Thinker, 1880–1881. Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917). Bronze, Overall: 182.9 x 98.4 x 142.2 cm. Gift of Ralph King 1917.42

None of this would have been possible without the hard work of the museum staff, and I would like to extend my gratitude especially to Chief Digital and Information Officer Jane Alexander and her extraordinary team. Special thanks are also due to Creative Commons, whose staff and community have generously shared their expertise. I’d also like to acknowledge the guidance of Neal Stimler, senior advisor at the Balboa Park Online Collaborative, as well as the incredible support of the CMA trustees.

For more information, please visit the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Open Access homepage.