Towards Open Access at M+

Untitled (2005) by Tsang Tsou-choi / King of Kowloon, a work in the M+ Collection. © Tsang Tsou-choi / King of Kowloon

M+ is under construction on multiple fronts. Our museum building is rising up on its harbour-facing site in the West Kowloon Cultural District. We’re continuing to expand the M+ Collection. We have a steadily growing team, working in a satellite office on Hong Kong Island (#mplusHQ). We’re putting together new exhibitions every few months next door to the museum site, where we’re hosting displays at the M+ Pavilion until the building opens in late 2019. And we’re engaging the museum’s local audiences with outreach programmes like the M+ Rover, a traveling creative studio that travels to schools and other communities.

Alongside all this we’re working on building the M+ digital programme, which is what we’ll be writing about here on M+ Labs.

Open Access Goals

Opening up the M+ Collection is a keystone to what we’re planning to do digitally. Our goal is to unlock the museum’s institutional knowledge into the public domain, driven by M+’s mission as a public institution.

We already have a M+ Collection webpage at westkowloon.hk, with about a tenth of the Collection digitised. Up to now, this has been the only online home for M+ Collection information, and we’ve been updating it on the basis of whether an object has a rights-cleared image for us to share. But this is a little different.

Here’s what we want to do:

  • We want to release all of the museum’s Collection metadata into the public domain, or at least as much as we can. This won’t depend on a rights-cleared image checklist, but rather, what TMS fields are meaningful and available.
  • We want to do this in at least two languages — English and traditional Chinese — and develop our metadata and content as we go along.
  • We want to build a public API to allow users to dig into our data and use it in new and creative ways.
  • We want to build a simple, evolving Collections website where we can begin to visualise and tell stories about our Collection objects and makers, each presented in a consistent online home.
  • We want to experiment over time with ways to make our Collection interface open, generous, and discoverable.

Of course, this is not completely uncharted territory. Open access projects have been gaining traction among cultural institutions over the past few years, with open access initiatives from museums — the Met, MoMA, Cooper Hewitt, Tate — garnering headlines the world over.

As for M+, exactly how we get to open access remains to be seen, but we’ll be trying things out and learning on the way. That includes sharing and documenting our journey here on M+ Labs, where you’ll hear from key players across the museum, as well as the people we’re working with to make this happen.

We’re excited to be collaborating with Micah Walter, best known for his work at Cooper Hewitt, who’ll be building our API and Collections alpha in English and Chinese — its own challenge — and sharing updates and insights from a development perspective.

For now, you can check out the M+ GitHub page, which is already full of code. You can also visit M+ Stories, the museum’s bilingual storytelling platform, which we’ve recently soft-launched while we experiment behind-the-scenes and build out the site’s content and functionality.

More soon!