The First Anniversary of CMA Open Access: Benefiting People Now and Forever

By Jane Alexander, Chief Digital Information Officer, The Cleveland Museum of Art

Video courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art.

It’s hard to believe a year has passed since the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) launched its Open Access program. On January 23, 2019, the CMA released high-resolution images of all its public-domain artworks, as well as collections information (metadata) for more than 61,000 art objects — both those in the public domain and those with copyright restrictions — with the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) Public Domain Dedication. The museum’s director and president, William M. Griswold, offered remarks on the occasion that emphasized Open Access as an essential way to fulfill the museum’s mission in the 21st century. The CMA’s commitment to Open Access is ongoing. To the more than 31,000 images released at the launch, the museum added 258 artworks on January 1, 2020, and will do so every year going forward as works enter the public domain.

Director William Griswold at 2019’s Open Access announcement on 1/23/19. Image courtesy Scott Shaw Photography for Cleveland Museum of Art.

To celebrate the past year — and to establish a comprehensive and best-practice model encouraging and paving the way for other museums to implement open-access initiatives — we wanted to highlight the engagement we’ve seen, the analytics we’ve collected, and the outcomes we’ve experienced to this point.

New objects enter the public domain every year. The CMA’s Peacock Table Lamp, designed by Clara Wolcott Driscoll for Tiffany Studios, is one such object. The lamp is currently on view in the exhibition Tiffany in Bloom: Stained Glass Lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany, and the 3-D model of the work is available to view and download via Collection Online.

Engagement with the CMA’s Open Access Initiative

The Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection has always been and always will be for the people. Open Access allows our collection to be used and recognized more broadly around the world. The first year of Open Access has served as a continuation of the investment the museum has made in advancing digital initiatives and making art accessible to all. The following are some of our favorite examples of public engagement with the collection from the past year, made possible through Open Access:

Twitter bots were born, giving users the ability to receive artwork in their daily feeds. Harald Klinke, noticing that our CC0 metadata fields included “fun facts,” created the @CArt_fun_facts bot and shared the code on GitHub. Andrei Taraschuk, @andreitr on Twitter, created a series of museum Twitter bots for each curatorial area that share images and data from across the CMA’s collection. You can find and follow these and other Twitter bots on his website, Off the Easel.

This account offers daily selections from the CMA’s European painting and sculpture collection.

An image of Jacques-Louis David’s world-famous 1817 painting Cupid and Psyche, from the museum’s collection, appeared on a dress both in Dolce & Gabbana’s 2019 Alta Moda collection shown in Sicily and in the exhibition Art Adorned at Christie’s in London after the launch of CMA Open Access.

Cupid and Psyche, 1817. Jacques-Louis David (French, 1748–1825). Oil on canvas; 184.2 x 241.6 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund, 1962.37

Thomas Flynn, cultural heritage lead at Sketchfab, created a 3-D model of an Edo period Japanese screen from a high-resolution 2-D image of the CMA’s Chrysanthemums by a Stream, thereby creating both new perspectives and new avenues for engagement with this artwork. Inspired by CMA Open Access’s commitment to open licensing, including for commercial purposes, Flynn’s newly created remix model is available to download with a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Thomas Flynn’s model of Chrysanthemums by a Stream

CMA Open Access images have been used for both editorial and didactic purposes, supporting scholarship and education. Dr. Asa Simon Mittman published the essay “Color” for the website Smarthistory, featuring the museum’s 1886 Pierre-Auguste Renoir pastel Mother and Child. The MHz Foundation’s educational website Curationist showcased a selection of images from the CMA’s collection in a post titled “Just Another Day — Scenes of Everyday Life from the Cleveland Museum of Art.” The Curationist images notably incorporate descriptive text imported from the CMA’s Collection Online — a practice permitted and encouraged by the museum as part of its Open Access initiative to provide context for and interpretation of artworks from the collection without restriction, enabling their use “downstream” by content creators.

Mother and Child, 1886. Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841–1919). Pastel; 79.1 x 63.5 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Bequest of Alexander Ginn, 1977.167

A digital picture frame of CMA Open Access images using the CMA application programming interface (API) was created by Michael Weinberg, executive director of the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy at the New York University School of Law. We appreciated his enthusiasm and comments: “[The] CMA has done a fantastic job of developing a comprehensive open-access policy. One year in it is clear that this was not simply a one-time announcement. [The] CMA’s ongoing support of resources such as its API make it easy for people to build new applications with the works from its collections.”

CMA Open Access artworks are often featured on the DailyArt app, which shares an artwork daily, along with interpretive details about each masterpiece.

Reproductions of images from the CMA’s collection, including Aubrey Beardsley’s Isolde from 1895 and Juste de Juste’s Pyramid of Five Men from about 1540, are available for sale as giclée prints by the Public Domain Review, an online journal and nonprofit project based in the United Kingdom that celebrates the global public domain. Sales of CMA reused images in its online shop have already earned revenue and directly contributed to supporting the journal’s ongoing work.

Isolde, 1895. Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872–1898). Color lithograph; image: 22.8 x 14.2 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of John Bonebrake, 2010.651

The Cleveland Museum of Art participated in Larissa Borck’s Open GLAM Now! series, sharing insights with galleries, libraries, archives, and museums from across the globe on how digital open data can enhance experiences for visitors of cultural institutions.

Data from the CMA API has been used for many data visualization projects, using machine learning and data mining to explore connections across the collection dataset. Justin Gosses (@justingosses) shared one of our favorites, using CMA API results to find predominant colors in artworks.

Justin Gosses (@justingosses) used CMA API results to find predominant colors in artworks.

In November 2019, in partnership with Case Western Reserve University’s (CWRU) Kelvin Smith Library, the museum’s Ingalls Library co-organized “Open Access Content in Teaching and Research: Sparking Creativity/Fostering Equity” at CWRU’s Freedman Center for Digital Scholarship. Panelist Jared Bendis’s Introduction to Video Game Design course at CWRU had students create games using Open Access images from the CMA’s collection.

Exploring the Reach of the CMA’s Collection

Throughout the past year, we’ve been collecting analytics from the CMA website and many repositories who uploaded our CC0 records, and along the way we’ve learned that it’s not always easy to gain insight or extract data. It is clear we’ve reached more people through our Open Access initiative, but we want to understand the relationship between Open Access and the ways in which virtual users interact with our collection. The important thing about collaborating with these organizations is that it enables us to improve on processes and analytic dashboards. These tools will help other institutions in the future. Additionally, we are now partnered with Pandata, a local data science firm, to explore virtual visitor traffic on multiple platforms.

Not only are we able to reach more individuals, they are engaging with different areas of our collection through our partner platforms. For example, data shows that the most popular artworks differ among users on the CMA’s Collection Online, Wikimedia Commons, and other platforms.

Our most popular image on clevelandart.org Water Lilies (Agapanthus).
Our most popular image on en.wikipedia.org Hedgehog.

By the Numbers: Analytics from the CMA and Partner Platforms

Numbers alone don’t always feel helpful — but comparing them is a great start to understanding our virtual visitor engagement in the future:

Collection Online downloads: TIFs: 645,695, JPEGs and captions: 1,362,015, metadata TXT files: 1,784,844

API total calls: 4,635,269

GitHub Repository: (Since May 2019) 644 views, 126 clones

Artsy (since January 2019): 11,000 collection views

Creative Commons Search (since June 2019): 11,770 collection page views

Internet Archive (since January 2019): 220,240 collection images views

Sketchfab (since February 2019): 20,046 views; 294 downloads; 80 likes

Wikimedia: 6,991,535 Wikimedia Commons Images total collection page views

ArtStor (since January 2020): newly added, analytics to come

“It’s been especially exciting to watch as people from all over the globe discover and use these images in their own projects via the Creative Commons Search tool. Providing true access to digital knowledge and culture requires more than just publishing content online and calling it ‘open.’ The CMA has exhibited great leadership in this space.” — Cable Green, Interim CEO and Director of Education, Creative Commons

Wikimedia and Wikidata

These have been by far our most effective platforms for sharing with new audiences and engaging internationally in new ways. We’re still learning about them and the best methods for uploading images and data, but the exponential increase in engagement through Wikimedia and Wikidata — spanning multiple continents and languages — has been exciting.

The Cleveland Museum of Art’s collaborative work with the Ohio Wikimedia Users Group, Dominic Byrd-McDevitt, Andrew Lih, and Maarten Dammers has been productive through WikiProject Cleveland Museum of Art, where users help improve Wikipedia’s coverage of any artworks, artists, or topics related to the museum and its collection.

Through February 9, Ohio Wikimedians are creating articles related to the museum and its collection to commemorate the CMA’s Open Access one-year milestone. Join the CMA Open Access First Anniversary Celebration Campaign.

There are currently 62,717 Wikidata items with CMA accession numbers and 40,278 images of CMA artworks in Wikimedia Commons, representing 28,170 unique artworks. We are working to link existing images in Wikimedia to CMA-created Wikidata items.

The CMA’s bronze relief medal by American artist Hermon Atkins MacNeil became Wikidata’s 80,000,000th item, which earned it a feature on the website’s home page. Since its creation on December 27, 2019, the item has been translated into multiple languages and had its record added more than 20 times.

Images of objects from the CMA’s collection are being used to illustrate Wikipedia articles about those artworks, their respective artists, and everyday subjects in historical contexts, in more than 25 languages. The CMA’s The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16 October 1834 by Joseph Mallord William Turner is used in 18 articles in 17 different languages across Wikipedia. This file in Wikimedia Commons now links to the CMA’s Collection Online.

The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16 October 1834, 1835. Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775–1851). Oil on canvas; 92 x 123.2 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Bequest of John L. Severance, 1942.647

“It’s been great to see the impact that the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Open Access Program has had on Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. [The] CMA’s Open Access Program allows for new ways for the public to experience the breadth of the Museum’s content on a truly global scale.” — Kevin Payravi, Co-Founder, Ohio Wikimedia Users Group

Positive Internal Impact at the CMA

In the past year, the Open Access initiative has had the added bonus of improving internal processes and workflows, allowing our staff to focus their efforts on enhancing and promoting scholarship. These are examples of some particularly surprising and exciting outcomes:

100% of our curatorial areas have directly contributed new collection content in the past year, with updates on attributions, provenance, culture, and creation dates increasing monthly. Several new metadata fields have been added to our records to further refine collection search results. We now offer more than 35 fields of metadata, including interpretive text and provenance, for our collection records.

Due to the Open Access program, the CMA has received more public feedback than ever on our collection data. Collection Online visitors and scholars engage daily with our curatorial staff by asking follow-up questions or providing additional identification, attribution, or provenance content.

Curatorial staff have forged new connections with scholars and field experts. For example, we discovered a previously unpublished work by a regional artist featured in exhibitions held at the museum throughout the 1960s. Collaboration between the dealer — who reached out based on the similar works available in our online collection — the curator, and our archives staff helped provide the current and future owners with a verifiable attribution for the work, which is soon to be on the market.

Library staff, working closely with curators and curatorial assistants, have recorded citations that now appear in Collection Online to indicate instances in which a CMA art object has been written about or reproduced in scholarship, to make it as easy as possible for users to research our collection.

Staff time and resources have been reallocated from fulfillment of image requests for public-domain artworks to digitization of the collection. Though image requests have been steadily decreasing over the past few years, the overwhelming majority of users are successfully procuring the self-serve assets from Collection Online since the launch of Open Access, resulting in fewer than 100 total requests for 2019. Requests have occasionally been made for additional views, images with color bars, and new photography. This change in workload has focused the team on a new goal of having the entire collection be 100% digitized by 2021.

CMA Digital Enhancements

During the launch of the Open Access initiative, we improved technological processes behind the scenes, which allowed for enhancements to our other digital projects. We continue to iterate on our digital tools that advance engagement with the collection.

The Open Access program provided an opportunity to upgrade both the back-end and front-end technologies of Collection Online, creating a more user-friendly interface and added features.

The home page of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Collection Online; filters show Open Access objects and collection highlights

The experience gained and technological systems in place connected to Open Access prepared the CMA to move quickly from 2-D images and data to 3-D models within six months of the program’s launch.

“The Cleveland Museum of Art’s contribution to Open Access cultural 3-D content cannot be understated — the quality of 3-D data being made available is matched by the transparency of messaging regarding how this data can be reused and built upon by artists and creators.” — Thomas Flynn, Cultural Heritage Lead at Sketchfab

3-D model of the Wade Cup via Sketchfab.

Since launching in January 2019, the API codebase has continued to evolve. In addition to incremental updates and improvements, we were able to improve integration with our custom collection management system (CCMS) and digital asset management system (DAMS). In fact, we implemented real-time messaging to reflect updates between the CCMS and the DAMS in order to provide the most current and accurate “last updated” information in the Open Access API output. As a result, all three systems benefited. Our next update to the Open Access back end will account for all the works that will fall into CC0 every January, even for artworks for which there have been no metadata changes.

CMA Open Access is now integrated into the ArtLens Wall and the ArtLens App. Users can explore curated views or save their favorite works at the ArtLens Wall or take a tour of Open Access highlights in the ArtLens App, where every Open Access artwork is denoted with the CC0 icon.

Take the Open Access Highlights tour in the ArtLens App!

Celebrate with Us!

Visit our Collection Online, API, or one of our partner platforms to engage with our more than 60,000 artworks. Show us how you reuse, remix, or create using the CMA’s collection with the hashtag #CMAOpenAccess.

You can also visit us in person and explore Open Access works at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Stop by ARTLENS Gallery, where ArtLens technicians are available to help download the ArtLens App, select Open Access artworks from the ArtLens Wall, identify highlights, and take a CMA Open Access tour of the museum.

Visitors explore Open Access highlights on the ArtLens Wall

In the Spirit of Best Practice

We believe in Open Access for all institutions, and to continue our commitment to being open, we want to share what we have learned. Here are some of our key insights from the past year:

Working with the dedicated and supportive Creative Commons staff from the beginning of the Open Access process has been critical to the program’s success. Their expertise on global legal, policy, and community engagement matters — and their incredible collegial support — have proven to be essential.

Open Access cannot be done with a “set it and forget it” mind-set. Open Access is a program, not a one-time project. The commitment and the work are ongoing.

Open Access requires a broader level of commitment than just more widely opening the digital doors to your institution; it means sustainably investing money, time, and staff into long-term partnerships and collaborations beyond the museum building and digital platforms.

Public Acknowledgment

The Cleveland Museum of Art thanks the public for their utilization of the museum’s data and digital assets with CMA Open Access. We appreciate your interest and engagement with our collections. Please share your questions about Open Access and potential opportunities for collaboration through our contact email, openaccess@clevelandart.org.

As in the concept of collaboration, this blog includes either research or contributions from the following Cleveland Museum of Art staff: Anna Faxon, digital innovation project manager; Andrea Bour, collections information data analyst; Jim Kohler, department coordinator of photographic and digital imaging services; Elizabeth Saluk, registrar for exhibitions and rights and reproductions; Ethan Holda, director of technology; and Heather Saunders, director of Ingalls Library. And as always, we appreciate the support of Neal Stimler and Balboa Park Online Collaborative.

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